Posted on Thu, Dec. 23, 2004
Retiring from the line of fire
Gary Alt had an impossible job. When the highly respected bear biologist
agreed to take on the Pennsylvania Game Commission's deer-management
program, Alt immediately acquired three constituencies -- farmers,
traffic-safety advocates (also known as the insurance industry) and hunters
-- the interests of whom were often, if not always, at odds.
Farmers saw too many deer -- "rats with hooves," according to some --
damaging their crops.
Drivers and insurers saw too many deer wander onto the state's highways,
causing accidents resulting in property damage, injury and death.
Hunters -- well, hunters, God bless them, never see enough deer.
Although Alt's policies were credited with increasing the number of
trophy bucks and restoring the herd's male-female ratio to a more natural
state, he quickly became a controversial figure.
Alt, whose Dec. 31 retirement was announced by the Game Commission
earlier this week, became a particular target of a segment of the hunting
population allied with the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania, an
increasingly vocal critic of what members insist has been a significant
reduction of the deer population due to an increase in the number of doe
permits issued by the Game Commission and, therefore, the number of does
killed by hunters each year.
A recent letter from the legislative director of that organization
accused Alt of "a violation of public trust" by misrepresenting --
overstating -- the size of the deer herd.
Another letter charged that Alt deliberately reduced the number of deer
in Penns Woods to appease the lumber and paper industries and, of course,
the insurance companies.
Yet a third writer insisted that the Game Commission's policies are
designed actually to increase the size of the deer herd so it can sell more
hunting licenses, thereby taking in more money -- causing more serious
traffic accidents in the process.
Farmers, presumably, were too busy chasing deer from their fields -- or
"harvesting" them for crop damage -- to write. But their allies in that
ever-sprawling region known as suburbia have complained about deer in their
rose bushes and deer in their gardens.
And some botanists have said that too many browsing deer are destroying
significant portions of the state's forests.
No matter which side of this multi-faceted argument you lean toward, you
should agree with this: Gary Alt proved to be a stand-up guy.
He believed in his program and worked tirelessly to promote it, regularly
facing hostile crowds of sportsmen -- or homeowners or insurance or lumber
industry representatives -- armed with nothing but his experience,
expertise, statistics and genuine love for the Pennsylvania outdoors.
Whether you think the Game Commission is on target or badly misfiring in
its management of the deer herd, here is something to consider:
An environmental management expert at Penn State recently concluded that
hunting generates more than $1.5 billion annually for the Pennsylvania
That, as one writer noted, is quite a bang for your buck.
But also consider this: At least four people were killed and 26 wounded
in deer-hunting accidents during the recently concluded rifle season.
Hunting remains a veritable birthright for the many thousands who grow up
in rural Pennsylvania; a way to put food on the table; a boon to the state's
economy; a controversial activity for animal-rights activists; a dangerous
pursuit for those who refuse to follow safety recommendations and
Alt, himself, is a deer hunter -- perhaps the only one in the state
unable to blame his lack of success on those cursed policies of the Game
And without taking sides or passing judgment on those policies, we will
say this: Enjoy your retirement, Gary. You have certainly earned some
out of the line of fire.