The Governor Dick Park Board of Directors heard a presentation Thursday from the Pennsylvania Game Commission on options for archery hunting in the park.

The around 1,100-acre park has a deer overcrowding problem, directors were told – a problem exacerbated by its close proximity to state game lands. And, as no hunting is currently allowed in the park, deer essentially have a refuge during hunting season.

Director of the Game Commission’s Southeast Region Pete Sussenbach said the region in general has had deer overpopulation issues over the last few years.

Pete Sussenbach of the Game Commission presents Thursday.

“The mission to reduce deer population, reduce deer damage, is something that we’ve really been pushing hard on,” he said.

He said that specific restrictions on hunting, whether timing restrictions or limitations on who can hunt, would ultimately be up to the board.

Sussenbach mentioned the Norristown Farm Park, which last year required archers to finish up by 5 p.m., two hours before dark.

He noted that a one-day hunt previously enacted by the farm park was ultimately unsuccessful. He suggested the board not consider a one-day or several-day hunt, or a hunting plan expected to stop after one or two years.

“The long-term goal is to have a long-term sustainable type of hunting program,” said Sussenbach. “Places that I know that they went in and really hit the deer population hard, in three or four years, it was right back up to about where it was when they started.”

Sussenbach said that adjacent state game lands are struggling with habitat work due to an overpopulation in the Governor Dick Park that spills over.

“Talking to my foresters just today, they’re pleading to get some sort of hunting to have over here because your population over here is definitely impacting the habitat work that we’re doing across the street,” said Sussenbach. “We’re actually getting to a point now where we are once again considering fences all along the game lands on the upper side of the road because the regeneration significantly declined over the last eight to ten years.”

Sussenbach suggested that limited archery be allowed in the park throughout buck season, with a lottery system determining which archers can partake. Selected archers would need to complete an orientation day and pass a test to ensure accuracy.

“Everybody knows who the hunter is, where they are in that day,” he said, explaining that he isn’t worried about unregistered archers coming to the park.

The board would ultimately determine whether to charge archers a fee, and if so what fee to charge. The board could also separate the parks into zones and decide which archers are allowed to hunt where.

One option is that archers could hunt a buck for each doe they take down, Sussenbach said.

In response to concerns about park usage by hikers, bikers, and other visitors, Sussenbach said that archery is safer than rifle hunting.

“You’ve got to be more than, say, 30 yards, 50 yards off of the trail,” he said, going on to explain that Norristown Farm Park has 100,000 users and has not had issues having the park open to select archers.

Park board member David “Chip” Brightbill noted that the park’s deed of trust prevents hunting, and in order for any hunting to be allowed the board will need to seek a court amendment to the deed.

He described an occasion around 30 years ago, where the board eventually obtained permission to hold yearly hunts for five years.

However, hunts were ultimately only held for three years and were difficult to organize.

“We have deer in the winter today, but nothing like we had 30 years ago,” he said. “The court really put a lot of burden on us to set aside the deed of trust.”

The presiding judge required the park to complete a three-year deer density study. After a hearing the park was given a five-year window to hold hunts.

Brightbill said he felt it was unlikely the court would be willing to consider a long-term allowance of hunting, as Sussenbach had suggested.

He also emphasized that many users of the park see it as a safe place during hunting season, and would likely be opposed to any hunting in the park.

“I’m not closing my mind toward this as an option,” he said, but added that “there are people that are intended for the use of this place that, they’re not gonna want us to do that.”

No action has been taken as of now, but the board will be reaching out to the county solicitor to ask about next steps.

Nothing is going to happen overnight, board members asserted. Most likely no hunting will be allowed for 2024.

The Friends of Governor Dick group is in support of allowing some hunting in the park.

“We approve of the proposed hunting, as the overpopulation of deer is the root of the forest regeneration crisis,” said Friends of Governor Dick president Ryan Fretz in an email.

The board will be seeking public opinion on allowing select archery hunting at its March 21 meeting.

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Emily Bixler was born and raised in Lebanon and now reports on local government. In her free time, she enjoys playing piano and going for hikes.


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