Deer Management Plan

Submitted by:
Bruce and Marcia Bonta
PO Box 68
Tyrone, PA 16686

Description of Property

The property consists of 648 acres of mountain land in Snyder and Tyrone Townships, Blair County, near Tyrone, in Management Unit 4D. Approximately 30 acres are old field habitat, kept open primarily for invertebrates (e.g. monarch butterfly) and birds (woodcock, field sparrow). Over 120 acres are in early forest successional stage following a 1991 clearcut and the devastating ice storm of January 2004. Most of that area has been impacted by a series of human and natural disturbances dating back into the 19th century, including plowing and pasturing of livestock on steep slopes with thin, acid soils. Since 1991, ailanthus, barberry, privet, and stiltgrass have become dominant on many southeast-facing slopes, with only small patches of native vegetation persisting. Before 1991, white oak, red oak, hickory, tulip poplar and black cherry were the dominant overstory species in this portion of the property. Most of the rest of the forest consists of maturing second-growth forest nearing the 120- year-old mark considered by some ecologists to satisfy at least a minimal definition of old growth. This is primarily in the dry oak – heath forest type (see description in Terrestrial and Palustrine Plant Communities of Pennsylvania, by Jean Fike, published by the Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory), grading into a rich hemlock – mesic hardwoods forest along the stream that bisects the property (Plummer’s Hollow Run). A number of indicators of high-quality, interior forest habitat are present, including basswood, pink lady’s slipper orchid, Acadian flycatcher, cerulean warbler, and at least one resident fisher. Abundant dead snags and fallen woody debris are present throughout the property.

Deer Management Goals

  • Recover a diverse forest ecosystem dominated by native species
  • Maintain old field habitat
  • Preserve opportunities for wildlife watching and nature education for ourselves, our hunter friends, and other members of the local community, including students in Environmental Studies from Penn State Altoona
  • Help preserve hunting traditions and promote responsible, sustainable hunting

Site Access and Hunting History

Though we have owned some portion of the present property since 1971, we only gained control of the entire Plummer’s Hollow watershed following the clearcut in 1991. Prior to that time, most of it was un-posted, and the mile-and-half-long, private road that follows Plummer’s Hollow Run to the old farm near the top of the watershed was completely open. Poaching was common, and perhaps as a result, deer numbers were low through the 1970s and the early 80s. In the mid-80s, we watched once-abundant plants such as blackberries, raspberries and elderberries disappear as deer numbers skyrocketed. By the early 90s, herds of 70-80 deer were a common sight at dusk.

With the gating of the road and the institution of a permission-only hunting program in 1992, we were able to reverse this trend. We befriended a small number of skilled hunters and their families who hunt for free (including turkey and small game seasons) in exchange for a commitment to take out as many antlerless deer as they can. With their help, we have constructed two parking areas on the property and a number of trails, and the hunters are encouraged to use portable tree stands and cooperate on drives. We encourage them to hike the property in all seasons so they can better understand where the deer are and how they are impacting the forest.

Our deer hunting program has been a success, both in our terms and in theirs. Around 18 hunters every year get a quality hunting experience, and they have been able to harvest consistently around three times the average for the management unit (formerly for the county).

Justification for Additional Antlerless Deer Permits Through the DMAP Program

This year, after carefully polling our hunters to see who would use them, we are requesting 20 DMAP permits.

Decades of overbrowsing by deer have severely degraded understory diversity and canopy recruitment throughout the wooded portion of the property. We have constructed two, permanent deer exclosures to help us measure the success of our deer management program. The larger of the two, constructed five years ago, gave us a strong indication of the extent to which deer browsing has impacted such species as wild grape, black gum and witch hazel – all valuable sources of wildlife food and cover. Even mountain laurel sprouted vigorously inside the exclosure.

In the last three years, however, we have seen a jump in the recovery of deer-sensitive species outside the exclosures, too. Spring ephemeral wildflower species are beginning to spread beyond their refugia on the steepest slopes in the hollow, with Solomon’s seal and perfoliate bellwort showing up in places where we’ve never found them before. Canada mayflower plants are lasting long enough to blossom. Red elderberry seedlings are appearing everywhere in mesic sites, along with rhododendron sprouts and eastern hemlock seedlings. We attribute this to the long-term hunting success of the hunters on our property, but recognize as well the impact of the higher antlerless allocations and longer seasons introduced by the Game Commission.

The problem is that our property is long and narrow, and is bordered by forested lands, most of them posted, in which a few hunters each year kill very few deer. In one, large property bordering ours for half a mile, no doe hunting is permitted. Another neighbor feeds deer throughout the winter. All of the properties bordering ours have been logged in the last twenty years. The rich farm fields of Sinking Valley are less than half a mile away. In addition, while anterless allocations have thankfully not been decreased for our WMU this year, some of our hunters would appreciate the security of an extra DMAP permit, as opposed to the uncertainty of applying for a bonus tag. And with the recent antler restrictions in place, we need the assurance that the deer will continue to be taken off.

For the recovery of the wooded portions of Plummer’s Hollow, this is a critical time. The many acres opened up by the ice storm of 2005 are regenerating, and it’s an open question whether they will grow up to black cherry, sassafras, Hercules’ club and white oak, or whether they will become hayscented fern savannas dotted with barberry and ailanthus. For the rest of the property, while some deer-sensitive species are returning, others – such as ginseng and hobblebush – have yet to appear. Deer numbers are currently low, and we need to make very sure they stay that way into the foreseeable future.