Monday, June 24, 2013

Is Habitat Quality a Reason for Fewer Deer in Pennsylvania?

An article published in Outdoor Life caught my attention. The article was entitled Public Land Deer Hunting: How to Save America's Deer Woods by Frank Miniter. If you haven't seen it, I suggest you give it a read. The article highlights a deer hunters experience in NY's Catskill Mountains. Having worked in the Catskills I was interested in what the writer had to say. I also wondered if it might relate to public lands found in Pennsylvania. The writer is concerned about declining deer and wildlife populations in general caused by aging habitat and maturing forests. Miniter states, "These are big woods, and getting bigger. These days, both the game and the hunters are mostly gone."

Here is a quote from the article which sums it up, "Most agencies, however, have a hard time finding the funding and authority to make sure there is enough early successional habitat (what hunters often refer to as “cover”). Examples of this include overgrown pastures, thickets, and saplings. If these habitats are not mowed, burned, cut, or disturbed in some fashion, they eventually become forest. If a forest is never thinned, flooded, impacted by insects, or burned, it grows into a mature canopy that prevents sunlight from reaching the forest floor. When this happens a lot of wildlife and plant species disappear."

What the author is referring to is the process known as succession. Succession is the natural progression from one predominant vegetation type to another over time in the absence of disturbance. Understanding succession is important when managing habitat for wildlife. Some wildlife species are adapted to a specific successional stage of growth, such as grasslands or mature forest. Land managers can manipulate habitat to maintain the stage of forest succession necessary to support sufficient numbers of a particular wildlife species. White-tailed deer are adapted to a broad range of successional stages but do best in early successional habitat. One of the top threats to white-tailed deer populations is maturing forests. Mature forests do not provide sufficient food and cover to support large numbers of deer. In contrast, young forests or old fields transitioning to forest provide optimal deer habitat.

Abandoned agricultural field provide
excellent habitat for deer.
In forested areas habitat quality for deer is dictated not only by the species of trees present but also by the range of age classes found. A wide range of age classes is important as it provides a diversity of habitat types. Young forests are necessary to provide browse ie. leaves, twigs, and buds for deer to feed on. A mature deer needs between 4 and 10 pounds of browse daily. A mature forest produces on average 50-100 pounds of browse per acre while a young forest can produce 1,000-2,000 pounds of browse per acre. Based on this alone, it is clear that young forest habitats can sustain many more deer than mature forests. Mature forests are important for providing mast (acorns and nuts). But, mast crops vary from year to year, with some years being in great abundance and others completely absent. The fact is deer need a variety of habitat types and a diversity of age classes to provide their day to day needs.

In doing a bit more research I found the issue concerning the loss of early successional habitat is not isolated to New York state but is also an issue in Pennsylvania as well as many other eastern states. The 2009 Whitetail Report (pages 33-36) prepared by the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA) provides an excellent overview of the issue in the Quality Deer Habitat section of the report. QDMA authors indicate that extended deer seasons and increased antlerless licenses are often to blame as the sole reason for hunters seeing fewer deer in some areas. However, they are quick to point out, providing proper habitat is essential for maintaining any wildlife population be it deer or any other species. The authors indicate that balancing deer herds with habitat is best accomplished through a two-pronged approach consisting of harvesting the appropriate number of does while simultaneously improving habitat.

In 2006 the USDA Forest Service Inventory and Analysis data indicated that Pennsylvania had 1,795,527 acres of young forest habitat, down more than 700,000 acres from the 1989 inventory. Some of this habitat was lost to development but much of it simply grew up into a larger size class of trees, called the pole stage. This represents a significant loss of young forest habitat since young forests in Pennsylvania's make up only 11% of the total. If the loss of young forests continues our habitat will support not only fewer deer but also fewer upland game birds, numerous songbirds, and many other wildlife species dependent on this habitat type.

Many hunters have enjoyed high deer densities in the past. Often times these high numbers were directly associated with large amounts of young forest and early successional habitat. As the number of acres of young forests is reduced and forests mature, the number of deer and other wildlife species dependent upon this habitat type is also reduced. Expanded seasons and increased allocations are often to blame for decreased deer sightings but don't discount the importance of habitat. The loss of early successional habitat and young forests may just be the overriding factor as to why there are fewer whitetails in the deer woods.

Today, biologists have taken up an initiative called the Young Forest Initiative in an attempt to reverse this trend.  For more informaiton on the initiative see posts dated April 4, 2013, Young Forest Communications Toolkit, and March 25, 2013, Young Forests Equal Healthy Habitat for Wildlife.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Emerald Ash Borer Community Preparedness Manual

Bark removed to show larval galleries.
The University of Minnesota Natural Resources Extension has just released an Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) Community Preparedness Manual.  I thought I would share it with my readers since emerald ash borer is rapidly moving across Pennsylvania.  Recent maps show EAB in all counties except for the northern tier of the state and the extreme southeast.  It is also in 14 states and 2 Canadian provinces.

Emerald ash borer is a devastating wood-boring tree pest that has killed millions of ash trees in the eastern and central U.S. A large percentage of urban and community trees in Pennsylvania are ash species, all of which are vulnerable to EAB. While EAB is all but impossible to eradicate once it arrives in an area, well-planned response efforts can slow its spread and reduce the impact on urban and community forests. A response plan is important because it provides a community with the opportunity to plan ahead to spread the costs and losses associated with the impacts of EAB. The new EAB Community Preparedness Manual can help communities plan ahead to reduce costs and losses from this invasive pest.

The manual includes numerous resources from across the country compiled to help a community prepare for the arrival of EAB, including topics such as general emerald ash borer information, managing emerald ash borer, tree inventories and replacement, quarantine and regulation, firewood information, insecticide options, wood utilization, and examples of available educational outreach materials. The manual was compiled by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the University of Minnesota with assistance from other organizations. For more information click here. (University of Minnesota Forest Resources Extension, June 2013)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Tutorials Available for Youth Address Water's Role in Shale Gas Drilling

Water's Role in Gas Drilling - On-line Curriculum Resources for Educators, Teens, and Adults

Penn State Extension has just released new curriculum on water's role in gas drilling and is excited to share it those who might find it of interest. Two new, youth-oriented online presentations explore the role of water in shale-gas drilling and production in the mid-Atlantic region. These self-running presentations were designed for use by educators in both formal and informal
educational settings. Although geared towards youths in grades 6 through 10, they also are appropriate for adults who may want to learn more about this topic.

The first presentation, "A Water Drop on a Journey -- Shale Gas Drilling in the Mid-Atlantic," is aimed at the 6th- through 9th-grade levels. It is based on the recent Penn State Extension publication, "Water's Journey through the Shale Gas Drilling and Production Processes in the Mid-Atlantic Region."

The second presentation, "True or False -- Common Concerns About Water and Shale Gas Drilling in the Mid-Atlantic Region," addresses current environmental issues and misconceptions surrounding shale-gas drilling and production and is targeted to 8th- through 10th-grade viewers.

CDs of these presentations are also available by contacting Sanford Smith,, and providing a complete mailing address.

You can access additional Penn State water resources for youth by clicking here.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Woods in Your Backyard Workshop Opportunity

Penn State Extension-Centre County and its partners are pleased to be offering the Woods in Your Backyard Workshop. This workshop is scheduled for Saturday, June 22, 2013 at the Forest Resources Building, Penn State University Park Campus. The workshop is scheduled from 9:00 AM - 3:15 PM.

Do you have woods in your backyard? Would you like to reduce your lawn, plant trees, and invite wildlife to your suburban lot? Would you like to learn how to be a better steward of your parcel of land? If you answered yes to any of these questions then this workshop is for you.

Penn State Extension, Forestry For the Bay, Clearwater Conservancy, Penn State Master Gardeners, and the Centre County Conservation District have assembled outstanding speakers who will share their knowledge with you about creating or improving wildlife habitat, tree identification and care, tree planting and native landscaping, forest ecology, woodlot management techniques, invasive plant identification, and more.

Enhancing or creating natural areas and woodland on your property reduces mowing, welcomes wildlife, and creates a backyard forest. Owners of even just a few acres can make a positive difference in the environment through planning and implementing simple stewardship practices. If your lot connects to other lots, there’s ample opportunity to make an even bigger impact by getting neighbors involved!

To register go to: or call Penn State Extension at 814-355-4897. Participants must be pre-registered by Monday June 17, 2013. A $20.00 fee is being charged per person to cover program costs ($35 for multiple registrants from the same household, (Includes lunch and educational materials). For questions please contact the Penn State Extension office in Centre County at 814-355-4897 or e-mail

The workshop uses the manual The Woods in Your Backyard: Learning to Create and Enhance Natural Areas Around Your Home. The full-color, 139-page manual guides land owners to:

•Learn why you should manage your land.
•Map your land, assess why you bought it, and decide what you hope to get out of it.
•Understand how your land relates to the land around you.
•Identify land management units on your property.
•Learn basics of tree identification, forestry, and wildlife habitat management.
•Assess your property’s water resources, recreational possibilities, and aesthetic appeal, and ways to improve each.
•Choose a few land management projects to help meet your goals.
•Set a timetable and mark progress.

The manual is provided at the workshop and is included in the registration fee. Manual also available separately from: Publication Number: NRAES-184, cost: $18.00 / Published: 2006.