Frequently Asked Questions about Forests and Deer Management


Why does DCNR care about deer management?
The mission of the Bureau of Forestry is to ensure the long term health, viability, and productivity of the Commonweath's forests and to conserve native wild plants.  In meeting that mission the bureau recognizes that while deer are an integral part of a forest ecosystem, too many deer can negatively impact the long term health of the forest.

 

How do deer impact the forest?
The health of both deer and the forests is closely tied together. Deer feed primarily on "browse", the tender shoots and buds of young trees and plants. They also depend on a lush forest understory to hide from predators and protect their young. When deer are out of balance with their habitat, they can quickly degrade the forest environment for themselves and other plants and animals. With the right balance, both the deer and the forest can thrive. To learn more, visit our pages about forest habitat and DCNR's role in deer management.

 

Why is forest regeneration important?
While a healthy forest is many things, one of the most reliable indicators is what is called the forest understory, the young trees and plants that grow in the lower layer of the forest, close to the ground. In a healthy forest, the understory has several layers and consists of many different species of young trees, shrubs, and wildflowers. A well developed understory is not only an essential habitat element for many plants and animals, it also demonstrates a forest's capacity to renew itself. The young trees that will one day replace the canopy and become the next forest grow in the understory.

 

Why is DCNR involved in deer management issues?
The mission of DCNR Bureau of Forestry is to ensure the long-term health, viability and productivity of the Commonwealth's forests and to conserve native wild plants.
 
White-tailed deer are perhaps the most influential wildlife species in the forest ecosystem. Through selective browsing of native plants, shrubs, and trees, they influence the vegetation that grows and the health of the forest. Deer also influence other wildlife species and forest values, and can impact their habitat. 
 
To accomplish its mission of conserving Pennsylvania's forests, DCNR must manage deer on its own lands and promote sustainable deer management on all Commonwealth forest lands.
 
Is acid rain a factor in the lack of forest regeneration?
Many factors influence the health of the forest, including invasive insect and plant species, acid precipitation, changing weather patterns, soil quality, and competing vegetation. The complex interaction among these factors, in addition to local deer populations, greatly influences a forest's capacity to renew itself. Both research and operational experience, however, continue to demonstrate that deer are a large part of the equation. Balancing deer populations is key to establishing a healthy, biologically diverse forest.

 

Why does DCNR use deer fences?
On tracts where local deer populations outstrip available habitat, fences are used to protect the young forest. Deer fencing is expensive so it is preferable to grow young forests without their use. That is why the Bureau of Forestry advocates deer management strategies that seek to balance deer populations with available habitat. In current fenced areas, research has shown that forest regeneration would be insufficient without them.
 
How long will the forest take to recover from overabundant deer impacts?
How will we know when we've found the right balance? It's all about reading the forest. When we find a wide variety and abundance of young trees, shrubs, and wildflowers-a healthy forest understory-and the forest exhibits the ability to replace itself, then we know we are close to that critical balance. Different locales will take varying amounts of time for recovery.