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New trees planted at Pointer Haven Lodge in Centre County, Pa.

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Fewer daylight hours and crispness in the air mean it's deer season in Pennsylvania.

Landowners and hunters who initially planted trees to provide cover and food for the local white-tailed deer herd have since come to appreciate the myriad other values that trees bring.

On hunting grounds, those same trees improve water quality by reducing polluted runoff, sequestering carbon dioxide, and providing food and habitat for wildlife.

"One of the main reasons for trees was the deer population," Lancaster County farmer Rodney Garber says. "We were trying to increase our hunting capacity and wildlife and thought it would be cool if we had 20 acres of land that we could hunt. So, we began doing research on the program and saw all the other benefits, like the [stream] buffer."

Garber enrolled 20 acres in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), including nine of those acres in a streamside buffer that protects Little Chiques Creek.

Through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources and Conservation Service, CREP helps farmers create plans and provides a rental payment for transitioning some of their land toward uses that restore local streams and waterways.

CREP is one of the most cost-efficient and effective programs in the Commonwealth for reducing pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

"We have a lot more green space that is not being farmed," Garber adds. "We love the fact that there is a lot more wildlife. We have a lot more deer. We appreciate having a place that we can have more woods on our property that we didn't have before."

At Pointer Haven Lodge in Centre County, Chip Brown planted trees along Elk Creek to protect the deer on his property.

His neighbors were shooting across the creek and killing deer on Brown's land. Then, of course, they were trespassing to recover the deer.

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"People have this impression that, 'If I'm on my land and I see a deer over on your land I can shoot it and then come over and get it," says Brown. "I'm almost there where you are not going to be able to see onto my land from the adjoining neighbor's land.”

The streamside buffer was planted in 2012, and today, sycamores six inches in diameter and oak trees 12 to 15 feet tall help to shield Brown's side of Elk Creek.

"I would have liked to plant some mast-producing trees," Brown says, referring to the acorns and other foods certain trees provide for wildlife. "But the reality is, the deer just don't let it happen. They browse the trees so hard. You have to go for sycamores and tulip poplars and black locust. Deer leave them alone."

"The first few years it was a bit of a struggle," says Frank Rohrer who worked with Brown to install the buffer when Rohrer was a CBF restoration specialist. "We had heavy deer and weed pressure in here. But Chip was very determined to make this a success."

Brown and the sporting club that surrounds his property practice quality deer management (QDM) when harvesting whitetails. Brown defines QDM as harvesting anything 8-points or better with a 15-inch spread.

"It is not harvesting every legal buck, but mature bucks, and providing ample food sources," he says. "We also keep deer out of the neighbor's fields by planting food plots of forage soybeans, corn, and clover."

During the 2020-21 seasons, hunters in Pennsylvania harvested an estimated 435,180 antlered and antlerless deer. As for the current slate of hunting opportunities, deer will be legal in some parts of the Commonwealth until Jan. 29.

Rohrer, who also hunts, adds that Brown's efforts have produced ideal conditions for deer hunting.

Continue reading on the PA Environmental Digest 

This article originally ran on northcentralpa.com.

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