Tri-State 2008 Wildlife Update

Tri-State 2008 Wildlife Update

Here's the latest news on what New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland sportsmen can expect for the coming seasons concerning white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, waterfowl and more. (July 2008)

Photo by Ralph Hensley.

Eight years into this new century, the hunting landscape is changing in all three of the Mid-Atlantic States.

Deer, geese and bear populations are thriving -- so much so that they've mandated more diversified wildlife management plans. Likewise, external factors such as the price of fuel and less discretionary income affect how often sportsmen hunt, and how far they're willing to travel.

I spoke with representatives of each state's fish and wildlife departments to discuss the health of wild game populations, numbers of hunters and specific management plans, plus other information to give our readers an overview of hunting in each state.

For the scoop on the Garden State's varied wildlife populations, I spoke with Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) Director Dave Chanda at a recent Fish & Game Council meeting.

Chanda's been with the DFW for over 20 years and has served as its director for three. Having worked his way up, he has a unique prospective on the state's wildlife and the problems of managing it in one of our most densely populated states.

White-Tailed Deer
G&F: What's the current size of the state's deer herd?

Chanda: Currently around 150,000 deer, which is down from the 200,000 that were estimated in 2000.

Exploding deer numbers in the 1980s and '90s led to the Division putting in place an Earn A Buck program, by which hunters had to harvest an antlerless deer before taking a buck. In addition, the state uses a deer-management zone system that can be adjusted from year to year. This strategy worked and brought the numbers down to the current levels.

G&F: Is the Earn A Buck program still in effect in New Jersey?

Chanda: The Earn A Buck program was abolished a couple of years back, and the state is now managing the deer within the zones to keep their numbers in check.

G&F: How many deer hunters are there in the state?

Chanda: License sales in 2007 indicate there are about 80,00 hunters, most of which are deer hunters. While this is down from 10 years ago, the number of hunters has leveled off with a difference of only 2,200 hunters between 2005 and 2008.

Chanda also mentioned that with the new computerized electronic licensing system that went into full operation in 2006, New Jersey is now compiling data that will target certain segments of the population, help bring new people into the sport and bring back some of those who have left the sport. Statistical information has also been better with the new system, he said.

G&F: How is the new system -- of having the regulations in effect for two years at a time -- working out?

Chanda: So far, it's been working fine. However, a few bugs have to be worked out. Since regulations are made for two years at a time, everything has to be planned out well in advance. And once the regulations are set, they're in place for two years.

A recent problem with some deer management zones (DMZs) in the southern part of the state involved a downturn in the harvest in certain zones, which proved there needs to be more flexibility in the system.

G&F: Has there been any Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) or other health problems detected within the deer herd?

Chanda: Since the 1970s, the state has tested hundreds of deer samples annually and found no health issues.

G&F: Has the recent addition of a second buck permit had any effect on the number of deer hunters?

Chanda: It was decided that with the state dropping the Earn A Buck Program, a second buck permit would help make up for the loss in revenues.

While some hunters did not like the additional permit, it has not cut into the numbers of sportsmen hunting.

G&F: What shape is the waterfowl population in? How many waterfowl hunters are there in the state?

Chanda: Waterfowl populations in the state are in very good shape.

New Jersey is an important stopover on the eastern migration route, so populations in the state will vary depending on the overall population along the flyway. There are about 12,000 hunters in the state, and their numbers have remained pretty much steady for the last several years.

G&F: What is the number of resident geese in the state?

Chanda: The population is estimated at around 100,000 birds. However, last year's mild winter kept a larger than normal number of migratory birds in the state. Large numbers of birds did not fly as far south last year as they usually do.

G&F: How is the access for waterfowl hunters?

Chanda: The state has been working with Ducks Unlimited and the New Jersey Waterfowlers, who have helped secure a lot of access in recent years. Many of the wildlife management areas along the coast and the Delaware River and bay offer excellent access for waterfowl hunters.

G&F: Any problems with the black duck populations?

Chanda: Their numbers are good, and no problems have been detected with the duck or geese populations.

Pheasant & Quail
G&F: Will the state be stocking the same numbers of pheasants and quail in the 2008 season?

Chanda: For the 50,000 small-game hunters in the state, the state will be stocking 60,000 pheasants and 11,000 quail, the same as last year.

One problem the Division has been having with the raising and stocking of the birds is staffing. Because there is a hiring freeze on in the state, the Division has not been able to hire personnel lost by retirements or people who have left for other jobs. This is causing a loss of federal money, because some of those salaries were partially funded by federal grants.

G&F: What's the status of the state's wild turkey population?

Chanda: Current estimates show about 24,000 birds in the state. Populations have been good in the lower part of New Jersey, but numbers are down in the northern part of the state.

Biologists believe the main reason for the decline in the northern part of the state was a decline in reproduction due to three years of rain. This rainfall produced poor breeding conditions, causing a drop in the hunter-success rate from 17 to 14 percent.

Black Bear
G&F: Is there a bear hunt in the state's future?

Chanda: The legislature approved an $850,000 appropriation for non-lethal means of controlling the state's exploding bear populations.

Basically, the money is being used for educating people on how to deal with their garbage and bird feeders in areas where there are bears.

For our assessment on the Delaware's wildlife, I spoke with Pat Emory, the director of Delaware's Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Director Emory has been leading the Division for several years now. He said that in that time, the Division and many of its programs have seen a lot of changes.

White-Tailed Deer
G&F: What's the current size of the state's deer herd?

Emory: The 2007 estimate of the herd showed about 48,000 to 50,000 deer. There have been no problems with CWD.

The state manages deer by zones, just as most other states do; however, the deer management plan underwent a complete overhaul in the last four years. One of the first things was to hold a series of meetings to get input from the public on the state's deer problems. After that, a Deer Management Task Force was put together to work out a more diverse and effective management plan.

Emory said that flyovers of the 17 deer management zones are used to count numbers of deer, combined with the information gathered by hunters.

The state also instituted a Deer Damage Assistance Program. Farmers and others with deer-damage problems may harvest unlimited numbers of antlerless deer by permit during the normal hunting seasons.

And a Severe Deer Damage Assistance Program allows an unlimited antlerless deer harvest from August 15 through May 15.

"We also opted to break up the different deer seasons into smaller segments instead of one long season," Emory added.

"Our data showed that when a season runs for a lengthy time, it breaks up the deer's habits and cuts into the success of the hunters. By breaking up the seasons with time between them, the deer will resume their migration and feeding habits, giving hunters a better-quality hunt."

The state also brought in experts from out of state to help set up a quality-deer management program, which is how the state is now managing its 17 deer management zones.

Delaware also has a Hunters Feeding the Hungry Program to ensure that the deer harvested not only by hunters, but also as part of the Deer Damage Assistance Program, to put these harvested deer to good use.

G&F: How is the access for hunters in Delaware?

Emory: The state manages some 60,000 acres under its Wildlife Management Area Program. In addition, the Division works with farmers and private landowners to open up acreage for hunters, especially in relation to deer management.

G&F: How many licensed hunters are there in Delaware?

Emory: There are approximately 19,000 licensed hunters in the state, and that number has remained relatively stable for the last several years.

G&F: How is the turkey hunting in the state?

Emory: This past year, turkey hunters harvested about 50 birds.

While the harvest numbers have stayed steady, the overall population is down because of poor conditions during the breeding season.

Small Game
G&F: What's your assessment of small-game hunting in the state?

Emory: When it comes to game birds, our state has very little in the way of pheasant hunting. While some pheasants are taken each year, quail is the favorite small-game bird.

Quail numbers began dropping in the 1980s due to loss of habitat because of development. In recent years, however, hunters are starting to see increasing coveys of birds, which points to some rebounding of the quail population.

G&F: How is the rabbit population doing?

Emory: Rabbit hunting has been holding on. However, a growing fox population is cutting into the numbers of rabbits in some areas.

At present, foxes can be taken only with a damage-control permit. We recently had a law passed that will allow trappers and hunters to sell their fox pelts; it is hoped that this will bring more interest in trapping foxes from sportsmen.

G&F: What's your assessment of the state's waterfowl numbers?

Emory: We're still having problems with the resident Canada and snow geese populations, mainly because there are so many places where there is no hunting. One problem is that because the state is a major stopover on the flyway, hunters get only the first two weeks of September for hunting the resident geese (a 15-bird daily bag limit) before the migratory birds start arriving (and a two-birds daily limit goes into effect).

The migratory season runs from Nov. 19 through Dec. 1 and from Dec. 14 through Jan. 21.

The snow geese season runs from Oct. 15 through Nov. 8 and again from Nov. 19 through Jan. 26.

G&F: How are the state's duck numbers doing?

Emory: Mallards are the No. 1 small duck; however, the state has a sizable black duck population in the marshes along the coastal areas.

G&F: How do you think the price of gas will affect hunters?

Emory: Because Delaware is a small state, hunters don't have as far to travel to hunt. So more than likely, it will have less of an effect than on sportsmen who live in larger states.M

Paul Peditto, director of the Wildlife & Heritage Service in Maryland was not available at press time.

However, Pete Jayne, chief of the Wildlife Bureau, gave us the scoop on the state's wildlife populations.

White-Tailed DeerG&F: What is the current s

ize and health of the state's deer herd?

Jayne: The estimated size of the herd is 235,000 whitetails and some 5,000 to 7,500 sika deer.

There haven't been any problems with Chronic Wasting Disease. The largest concentrations of deer are in the eastern part of the state along the Interstate 95 corridor. There are about 121,000 hunters in the state, of which about 22,000 -- or about 18 percent -- are out-of-state hunters.

About 67,000 hunt for deer. In recent years, the number of out-of-state hunters has been increasing.

G&F: Have there been any changes in the deer regulations?

Jayne: The seasons and bag limits will stay the same for the near future.

We have three seasons: bow, muzzleloader and firearms. In Region A (Garrett and Allegany counties), the bag limit is one antlered and antlerless deer per season.

In Region B (all other counties), the bag limit is two antlered and 10 antlerless deer per season.

During bow season, there's an unlimited antlerless limit in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Prince Georges counties.

Black Bear
G&F: How did this past season's bear hunt turn out?

Jayne: Maryland has about 550 bears, mainly in the western part of the state. We deem it necessary to keep the population under control, so it doesn't get out of hand like it has in other states. Hunters harvested 51 bears this past season, and the Division allows hunters to harvest only a limited number of bears.

Small Game
G&F: What's your assessment on the small-game populations in the state?

Jayne: Rabbits are the No. 1 small- game species, and their numbers are in good shape. There is no sizable pheasant population in the state. However, quail hunting is good in the eastern counties, and grouse hunting is the top small-game bird in the western portion of the state.

Both bird populations have remained stable in recent years. Maryland has several programs working to protect the habitat for these birds.

G&F: Give us a rundown on the turkey population and hunting.

Jayne: Gobbler hunters enjoyed a good spring season by harvesting 2,455 birds. Fall hunters bagged 205 birds.

Hunters may harvest two bearded birds a season, either two in the spring, or one in the spring and one in the fall, with either a shotgun or bow.

G&F: Give us a rundown on the waterfowl populations in the state.

Jayne: The resident Canada goose population is estimated at about 85,000 birds, while the migratory populations varies from year to year.

Because the weather this past winter was mild, the numbers of migratory birds was higher.

The largest numbers of small ducks are mallards. Maryland has a healthy black duck population in coastal areas. It's very hard to characterize duck trends because the birds move from state to state along the flyway.

Hunters did have a good waterfowl season this past year.

G&F: Have there been any health issues with waterfowl?

Jayne: The state constantly checks for avian influenza, which has not been a problem in Maryland.

G&F: Do you think the price of fuel will affect hunting in Maryland?

Jayne: We don't expect too many problems with resident hunters because there is plenty of land throughout the state. Sportsmen can find places to hunt close by. Fuel prices will more than likely cut into hunters traveling across the state to hunt and might affect the numbers of out-of-state hunters coming to Maryland.

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