Deer hunting in White’s Woods? Not so fast

Whitetail deer faun, Indiana, Pa., Aug. 19, 2020. Photo by Anne Kondo.

An opinion
By Sara King
INDIANA — There is much to consider about the plan to bow hunt in the White’s Woods Nature Center that was approved by the White Township Board of Supervisors at its June 23 meeting. Already people are raising a host of questions:
Is it really safe?  Will it be safe to walk at College Lodge?  Does it have to last 30 days?  Would two days be sufficient (as in other municipalities)? Are there more humane ways of killing these animals?  Will it really reduce the deer population on this 250-acre plot (that is surrounded by forested property owned by other entities)?  Does neighboring Indiana Borough support it?  The IUP Student Cooperative Association?  The residents who live on adjacent property?  How heavily is this recreation area used during the winter holidays?  Are there 10 people in White’s Woods on an average January day?  Or are there 100?  Isn’t it possible to keep one recreation area open for recreation and free from hunting?  How will the carcasses be removed?  Through other people’s property?  Only from the park’s public street entrances?

And, as one astute White Township resident asked at the June 23 supervisors meeting, “What is the goal of this plan?”

But before we can even get to these important questions, there is one really big problem: The bow hunting plan fails to meet Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural requirement for a White’s Woods management plan that incorporates long-term goals and objectives and a planning process informed by public input, extensive data and input from a variety of forest and recreation experts.

And the plan must be approved by DCNR in advance.

 

SOME BACKGROUND information is essential.

In 1965, the Indiana Recreation Board (which included representation from the Indiana Borough, White Township and the Indiana area schools) filed an application for funding to purchase the White’s Woods Nature Center  through the Pennsylvania Land Acquisition and Borrowing Act, popularly known as “Project 70.”  The grant application for this regional forest was approved and state funding was provided.  White Township is listed on the deed as the property owner.  Deed restrictions stipulate that the property is to be used solely for “recreation, conservation and historical purposes,” as defined in the Project 70 act.

The DCNR Bureau of Recreation and Conservation administers Project 70 grants.  As with any other state or federal grant, there are rules.

In his March 25 letter, Tom Ford, director of the recreation and conservation bureau, informed the Township that “a stewardship plan [for White’s Woods] must be completed and reviewed by the Department.  This plan must set the long-term, holistic goals to guide management of the property in a way to help sustain and enhance the recreation, economic, and ecologic values on site.”

(Mr. Ford’s restrained response followed three earlier attempts by the Township — in 1995, 2007 and 2020 — to conduct extensive timber operations in White’s Woods without prior DCNR notice or approval.)

A separate March 23 Bureau of Forestry review of the township’s stewardship plan (which accompanied Director Ford’s letter) explained that the management plan that the township is required to submit should (1) be derived from a careful and inclusive “public input process to help inform both development and implementation of this forest stewardship plan,” (2) rely on expertise from a variety of specialists such as foresters, arborists, wildlife habitat specialists, botanists, riparian restoration experts and recreation specialists, and (3) be based on extensive data, regarding the forest and its recreational/educational use.

Instead, the township came up with a spontaneous decision to allow bow hunting in White’s Woods from Dec. 26, 2021, to Jan. 23, 2022, in the absence of any public input and with the bare minimum of expert input, data or planning.

IT IS PUZZLING that the township approved their new bow hunting plan only 18 months after creating an ordinance to ban such hunting in White’s Woods “out of concern for the safety” of park users.

And it is odd that the new hunting plan was approved just weeks after township Board of Supervisors Chairman George Lenz announced that he had asked forester Mike Wolf to chair a new White’s Woods management plan committee. Yet it was Mr. Wolf who had explicitly told township supervisors that, given the extended area within which deer range, fencing is the only really reliable means for controlling the deer browse in White’s Woods. 

But the first problem is the process.  The state-mandated process dictates that community values, data, and expert input should drive management goals, and that a sophisticated, long-term planning process should be adopted to assure the preservation of this public forest for future generations.

At a township meeting in spring 2020, when citizens first raised questions about the trees marked for timbering in White’s Woods, one of the supervisors said, “I am not interested in any more public input. Especially not from the Friends of White’s Woods.”

Sara King, president, Friends of White’s Woods. Submitted photo.

Well, that’s peculiar, too.  Woods walkers are just as devoted to their recreation as any other sport-loving American.  And the community members who cherish White’s Woods’ capacity for carbon capture, pollution absorption, heat regulation and stormwater control are equally invested.

White’s Woods is a regional public forest – originally designated to remain “generally in its natural state” for “passive” recreation, such as walking, running, hiking, and bicycling.   It is a public forest that might allow limited bow hunting.   But that depends on public and stakeholder input, expertise, data, and long-term management goals.

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Sara King, of White Township, is president of Friends of White’s Woods. She is an emeritus professor of psychology at Saint Francis University.

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