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Deer abundance and its relationship to factors that affect forest vegetation conditions


January 2013 - June 2022


In the last decade, deer densities were reduced in many Wildlife Management Units (WMU) in Pennsylvania. These decisions to reduce deer densities were based on the assumption that forest conditions, especially regeneration, would improve with lower deer populations. Primarily anecdotal observations suggest forest regeneration has improved but the large-scale, quantitative Forest Inventory Analysis (FIA) monitoring program has failed to provide strong evidence for changes in tree regeneration. Consequently, the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) has developed a decision model for deer harvest allocations based on deer browsing impact as measured by the FIA in addition to estimates of tree seedling density.

The ability to explain the lack of change in tree regeneration despite deer population reductions is critical to the credibility of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s deer management program. In recent years, deer population reductions have caused the deer program to be sued by a sportsmen's group and audited by the legislature. Additionally, the application of the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP) on state forest lands has been questioned because DMAP has been used by the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry (BOF) to attempt to reduce the effect of deer browsing on forest vegetation.

The PGC needs a better understanding of how the deer browsing impact measure is related to deer densities and whether this measure is valuable for making deer harvest decisions. Similarly, the BOF needs to better understand how the application of the DMAP affects deer harvest and hunter behavior. Both agencies require a better understanding of how vegetation responds to changes in deer density in the context of existing monitoring programs and management activities.

This research proposes to stabilize deer populations at different densities on four study areas and quantify changes in vegetation with respect to other forest conditions (seed production, advanced tree regeneration, etc.) and management actions (e.g., herbicide to remove competing vegetation).

Research Products and Activities


  • Begley-Miller, D. 2018. Shaping Pennsylvania's Forests: Effects of white-tailed deer, soil chemistry, and competing vegetation on oak-hickory forest understory plant community composition. Dissertation, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA.Download  | 


  • Begley-Miller, D. R., D. R. Diefenbach, M. E. McDill, C. S. Rosenberry, and E. Just. 2016. Greater than the Sum of its Parts: Understanding Forest Habitat in the Context of Deer, Soil Chemistry, and Competing Vegetation. Annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Chapter of The Wildlife Society, 16 April 2016, State College, PA.
  • Begley-Miller, D. R., D. R. Diefenbach, M. E. McDill, C. S. Rosenberry, E. Just. Soil Chemistry and its Effect on the Occupancy of Understory Plant Species. Presented at Pennsylvania Chapter of The Wildlife Society annual meeting, 1 April 2017, Raystown Lake, Pennsylvania.
  • Begley-Miller, D. R., D. R. Diefenbach, M. E. McDill, C. S. Rosenberry, and E. Just. 2017. Soil chemistry and its effect on central Pennsylvania's forest wildlife habitat. Annual meeting of The Wildlife Society, 27 September 2017, Albuquerque, NM.
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Current Staff

Federal Staff: 3

Masters Students: 4

Phd Students: 3

Post Docs: 1

University Staff: 3

5 Year Summary

Students graduated: 21

Scientific Publications: 92

Presentations: 121



Funding Agencies

  • Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
  • Pennsylvania Game Commission


Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit Cooperators

  1. Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission
  2. Pennsylvania Game Commission
  3. Pennsylvania State University
  4. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  5. U.S. Geological Survey
  6. Wildlife Management Institute