Good morning, my name is Richard Lewis. I am the elected President of the Pennsylvania Forestry Association, the oldest forestry association in the United States.
Commission President Layton, Commission members, and Executive Director Burhans thank you for allowing a Pennsylvania Forestry Association the opportunity to submit comments to the Commission this morning.
Some of you who know me know that I wear many hats in different forestry, fisheries, and conservation organizations. Please know that today I am only wearing the Pennsylvania Forestry Association hat and only speaking for that organization.
The Pennsylvania Forestry Association would like me to let you know how the overpopulation of deer each year consume almost all of the highly desirable commercial hardwood reproduction, or tree seedlings, on our Tree Farm member’s lands.
This damage is an economic loss for our Tree Farmers because high deer population over browsing after timber harvest results in very little or no regeneration of commercially desirable hardwoods on their lands. The overpopulation of deer negatively impacts the native forest cover we need to sustain desirable commercial species, native wild plants, songbirds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
In addition, this high deer over browsing on our Tree Farms after harvest frequently results in the proliferation of deer tolerant invasive plant species.
Virtually all of our Tree Farmers allow local hunters to hunt on their lands and many also participate in the Commission’s DMAP program. Still we find that hunting pressure on our lands is not sufficient to bring the deer population in balance with the forest. We need an opportunity for local hunters to harvest more deer.
A significant number of our tree farmers have also tried deer exclusion fencing, but these efforts are expensive and have proven not to be effective. For one reason or another the deer are able to penetrate the fencing and over browse the hardwood seedlings. Fencing has not worked.
There are only 377 Tree Farms in Pennsylvania with a total acreage of 103,000 acres. Being a certified Tree Farm means the forest land has been certified by a professional forester to be in compliance with best forestry practices for sustainable forest management.
Certification also requires that the Tree Farm have a written forest management plan that is being followed with forest management practices implemented on a regular basis. Recertification through on the ground inspections is required every five years.
Tree farmers, like crop farmers that produce corn, soybeans and alfalfa, are serious in their efforts to produce a product and earn a living. For Tree Farmers the products are firewood, pulpwood, sawtimber or veneer. Crop farmers are allowed to participate in the Game Commission‘s Red Tag program where one anterless tag is granted for each 5 acres of cropland doing certain time periods between the regular hunting seasons.
We are asking the Commission, at least on a trial basis, to allow Tree Farmers, a group seriously committed to forest products production, to participate in the Red Tag Program. This request to utilize the Red Tag Program for Tree Farmers would only entail a small fraction of Pennsylvania’s total overall forest land.
If you will allow the Red Tag program to be instituted on Tree Farm properties on a trial basis it could be studied and evaluated for possible further expansion to other forest land designations.
We think our proposal would be a significant step forward in addressing the over browsing of productive forest land dedicated to forest products production while at the same time maintaining a healthy and balanced deer population and diverse plant and wildlife habitats on our lands.
If the Commissioners agree we would like to work with the Commission staff on this trial program, we have proposed. Thanks again for the opportunity to present comments to the Commission.