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Deer put Pa. farmers on defensive

April 05, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

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Deer fence

McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. - Reed Englert remembers shooting 150 deer in one two-year period on his 600-acre northern Fulton County farm because they were eating his crops almost as fast as he could plant them.

"I had to stop because my neighbors and the sportsmen were getting up in arms," he said. "Intense hunting is the only way to control the deer. I'd like to see the deer population in Fulton County cut in half."

Or at least close to half, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

Agency biologists say there are 34 deer per square mile in Fulton County. State biologists want the ratio cut to 20 per square mile, based on the number of healthy deer that can be supported in a particular habitat, said commission spokesman Bruce Whitman. "It varies by county," he said.

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There are 1.2 million deer in Pennsylvania. The count is determined by the number killed each year by hunters, vehicles, dogs, farmers and other means where kills are reported, Whitman said.

About 3,700 deer were killed by hunters in Fulton County in the last two years. Nearly 3,000 were shot last year in Franklin County, about 50 more than in 1996, the commission said.

Farmers can shoot as many deer as they want, provided they field dress them and drag them to the edge of the road where game commission personnel can tag them. The carcasses often go to needy agencies for food, Whitman said.

Englert said farmers have no time to shoot the number of deer it would take to make a difference under the state's rules. They want to shoot as many as they need to protect their crops.

"If the state allows farmers to kill all the deer then sportsmen will be up in arms," said Greg Strait, an agent in the county's agricultural extension office. Some farmers in the county are being hit harder by deer than others. "There are hot spots," he said.

Farmers say posted land that bans hunters and private hunting clubs that surround their crop lands increase habitat for deer.

Englert's farm on Narrows Road abuts posted land and a huge private hunting club that is also posted. Deer leave the private forests at night to feed on his crops and retire to the safety of private posted land in the day.

Instead of his rifle, Englert, 54, now depends on his deer fence to protect his crops. He said the fence, which winds for 16,000 feet around his fields with another 4,000 feet to be added this summer, is 90 percent effective against the deer.

The state contributes to the cost of the fencing, which consists of wooden posts holding six strands of electrified wire. The farmer can determine which strands to charge depending on where deer try to pass through or jump over the fence, Englert said.

"The fence keeps the big herds out of my fields. Only a few penetrators come in," he said. The fence has more voltage than a cattle fence. "It's got some real zing to it," he said.

R. Boyd Cromer, 67, installed the first deer fence in Fulton County at his farm on Forbes Trail Road in Dublin Township 12 years ago.

Cromer, president of the Fulton County Farm Bureau, said he's seen as many as 80 to 100 deer in his fields.

"One year my corn never got more than knee high," he said.

"Some farmers around here have quit growing corn. They just don't know what to do anymore," he said.

He said his son, who runs the family farm now, lost 10 acres of soybeans to deer last year. Three or four deer eat as much as a cow," Cromer said. Some farm bureau members claimed to have lost as much as $15,000 a year in crop damage by deer, Cromer said.

Farmers can buy federally subsidized crop insurance to recover some of their losses from deer, said Richard Ernst, an adjuster for a North Carolina crop insurance company. Ernst covers Fulton County.

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