Attitudes of Pennsylvania sportsmen towards managing white-tailed deer to protect the ecological integrity of forests

Duane R. Diefenbach, William L. Palmer, William K. Shope

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


We analyzed 13 years of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) population data for Pennsylvania and conducted a mail survey of Pennsylvania hunters to compare trends in deer populations to the opinions of hunters on deer management. We used deer harvests, estimates of deer population parameters, and forest inventories, for 1982-1994, to monitor deer densities relative to overwinter carrying capacities (deer-density goals). The overwinter deer density that Pennsylvania forests could support without adversely affecting tree regeneration declined, statewide, from 23 to 21 deer/259 ha (1 mi. 2) of forest between 1978 and 1989. In contrast, deer densities statewide peaked at 34 deer/259 ha of forest in 1987 and declined to 29 deer/259 ha of forest by 1994 (41% above goal). The decline in deer densities was the result of harvest regulation changes designed to increase the antlerless harvest. However, a 1995 hunter survey revealed 66% of hunters believed deer populations were too low in the area where they did most of their hunting. The majority (44%) of hunters agreed that antlerless permits should be reduced, and 19% believed they should be eliminated. The majority of hunters agreed that controlling deer populations was necessary (87%), that deer populations should be kept in balance with natural food supplies (89%), and that deer affected plant and animal communities (56%). The majority disagreed that damage to Pennsylvania forests by deer was a problem (57%) or that deer caused serious conflicts with other land uses (44%). Support from sportsmen for programs to reduce deer populations and protect forest ecosystems will require that hunters understand the adverse ecological effects of too many deer on forest communities. In the meantime, support for Pennsylvania Game Commission management recommendations will be needed from other special-interest groups, including farmers, foresters, conservationists, the timber industry, and the scientific and conservation communities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)244-251
Number of pages8
JournalWildlife Society Bulletin
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1997

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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