Pennsylvania hunters win first round in court.
Unless you have been in Guatemala for the sailfish bite, you should know the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania sued the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) for capricious and arbitrary management of the Pennsylvania (PA) deer herd. Actually, this is their second lawsuit against the PGC; the first case was dismissed. This conundrum has sprawled across almost three years and has played out like a "who dun it" novel. Their first lawsuit was a writ of mandamus, a difficult legal approach. Mandamus is Latin for "we command". The premise was to have the court command the PGC to manage deer per the parameters of PA's Title 34. Title 34 is the PA Game Code, the Bible by which the agency is supposed to operate. The court did not believe Unified's attorney accurately presented a writ of mandamus.
With no other alternative to stop the high doe harvests, Unified sued for the second time with the more conventional "capricious and arbitrary" approach. Written and oral arguments were made and the three-judge panel took three months to dismiss the PGC's preliminary objections. The Pennsylvania Game Commission has a tendency to claim they own the wildlife in Pennsylvania, and as such no one can question their management. While there was an old case in which the court seemed to give the PGC strong authority over management, newer cases dismissed the notion of real property ownership. The PGC is being defended as a state agency by PA's Office of Attorney General, which is controversial in its own right. The PGC is known as one of the last remaining "independent" wildlife management agencies in the nation, financed by Pennsylvanian hunter license fees, public relations money and resource extraction dollars. The sometimes state agency and sometimes independent agency has many critical of the inconsistency.
The reason why this case is so important to both parties is, of course, the precedent that may be established for the nation. Can sporting groups successfully sue their management agencies when management policies seem to defy science and common sense; when social, recreational and economic impacts of hunting are ignored? Will the hunting community be shut down by the court and simply forced to accept the policies of the state employees they pay even if a management program appears to be damaging the resource? I will tell you this for certain. I have radio-interviewed almost every deer project leader of every state east of the Mississippi, and Pennsylvania has undoubtedly the most political deer management in the nation. I am not saying those words; my deer project leader radio guests are saying those words.
Anytime one goes to court, it is a crap shoot. Anything can happen. There is great apprehension on both sides of this battle. The PGC is in for a rough ride. There will be interrogatories to answer and sworn depositions to provide. The PGC will be grilled and drilled. Then, it will be their turn to lock horns with the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania. Legislators, biologists, and wildlife management people from across the nation will be watching closely. Perjury is a serious offense for anyone in that deposition hot seat.
Let us not forget the entire deer reduction program in Pennsylvania was started on the belief that deer were destroying the regeneration of PA forests. Seven years later and with more than 3 million deer dead, forest regeneration has not significantly improved. The Unified Sportsmen of PA insisted at the onset of the deer program that it was acid deposits from the Ohio coal burners that were destroying our forests, not the deer. New Yorkers know this for certain. Coal is too big and powerful in PA for such political and scientific candor.
Antler restrictions have also provided marginal results. The PA boys are relentless hunters. Anything with a legal rack is aggressively pursued right to the last day of the season. Deer managers speak of "E" for effort. Well, the PA homeboys get an "A" for "E". They don't quit until the last legal buck isn't standing.
The deer management lawsuit in Pennsylvania is a story of national significance. I will follow it closely for you. It is the hardwood forestry industry versus the sportsmen. The outcome may provide an answer to that never-ending debate.
Should wildlife policies be subservient to forestry demands, or should forestry demands be subservient to sound wildlife policies?
Jim Slinsky is the host and producer of the "Outdoor Talk Network", a nationally syndicated, outdoor-talk radio program. For a station near you or to contact Jim, visit his website at www.outdoortalknetwork.com