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HUNTING ACCIDENTS AND VERY INTERESTING COMMENTS

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 economy.

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 regulations.

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 Commission.

And without taking sides or passing judgment on those policies, we will say this: Enjoy your retirement, Gary. You have certainly earned some time out of the line of fire.

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