EDITORIAL: Game wardens have big job

York Dispatch
Pennsylvania Game Commission WCO Steven Knickel, right, reviews a citation with a hunter on opening day of rifle deer season in Manheim Township on Monday. The hunter unknowingly illegally harvested a deer with a hunting license purchased without taking the required hunter education course. The hunter was fined and WCO Knickel confiscated the deer, which will be given to a local family in need.

For some of the state's deer hunters, the Pennsylvania Game Commission may as well have a bull's-eye on its back.

After all, the organization has become a favorite target of criticism from certain sportsmen.

Each year, on the Monday after Thanksgiving, hundreds of thousands of hunters stream into Penn's Woods in search of the state's fabled whitetail deer. The annual tradition is practically a state-wide holiday.

When some of those hunters come home empty-handed, they tend to get upset, especially if they didn't even glimpse a deer. Their anger is often directed at the Game Commission in general, and its management of the state's whitetail herd, in particular.

In many ways, the commission is in a no-win situation. If there's not a deer behind nearly every tree, the hunters get upset. If the deer population grows too large, the farmers and the companies that insure their crops get equally steamed.

The commission tries its best to perform a difficult balancing act.

While managing the state's deer herd may be its most high-profile and scrutinized duty, the commission does much more than that for Pennsylvania's deer hunters.

Here are just a few examples:

►With the help of its dedicated staff of Wildlife Conservation Officers, the commission does its best to make sure that the state's hunting rules are equitably enforced.

Unfortunately, as reported this week in a story in The York Dispatch, the district covering southwestern York County consistently posts one of the highest hunting violation counts in the state. Without the WCOs diligently doing their jobs, you can rest assured that even more violations would occur, which would certainly reduce the opportunities for hunting success for the region's law-abiding sportsmen.

►The commission is also working hard to keep Chronic Wasting Disease from spreading throughout the state.

CWD affects the brain and nervous system of infected cervids (deer, elk and moose), eventually resulting in death. It's a deadly serious threat to the state's deer population. It's been detected in three locations in Pennsylvania, including a captive deer farm in nearby Adams County in the fall of 2012.  The commission has instituted a number of procedures to make sure that the disease doesn't spread in an effort to keep the whitetail population healthy.

►Each year throughout the state, the commission conducts Hunter-Trapper Education courses. Each first-time hunter must take the course before getting his or her first license.

This program is especially valuable for the state's younger hunters. It teaches them to respect the sport, the wildlife and the weaponry. It's a vital tool in the fight to keep our environment safe for hunters and non-hunters, alike.

►This year, the commission is giving hunters an assist by using bright yellow-and-green signs to steer them to sections of state game lands where it is working to restore the forest vegetation that attracts deer.

They are called "Deer Hunter Focus Areas." It's a reversal of past practice, when the commission spent hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to erect fences — which hunters generally hated —to keep deer out of areas where the habitat is being actively managed.

►Finally, the commission is a major sponsor of the Hunters Sharing the Harvest program.

HSH is Pennsylvania’s charitable venison donation program. It gives hunters the chance to share their extra venison via a state-wide network of participating butchers to food banks across the the state.

Those are just a few things to keep in mind the next time you get ready to lambaste the commission because your freezer isn't stocked with venison.

The commission has a lot of jobs to do and a lot of constituents to satisfy. It's often a thankless job.

Just remember, however, without the commission managing the deer herd, there probably wouldn't be a herd to manage.