The separation of factions in what has been termed “the deer wars” appeared to have split the Pennsylvania Game Commission on Tuesday, when the board took nearly four hours to fill the largely ceremonial post of president.

The election is held annually at the January commission meeting. The job holds little power beyond the duties of running meetings. Usually, it is filled by ascension through the ranks of other offices.

Last year, Roxane Palone of Greene County was next in line for the presidency, but she stepped aside and allowed the post to go to John Riley of Monroe County, who was serving his final year on the commission.

But this time around, Thomas Boop of Northumberland County and Palone were both nominated to the post, and two subsequent roll-call votes tied the eight-member board at four for each. Greg Isabella (Philadelphia), Russell Schleiden (Centre) and Riley lined up behind Palone while Steve Mohr (Lancaster), Dan Hill (Erie) and David Schreffler of Everett supported Boop.

Palone, Schleiden, Riley and Isabella have generally been willing to allow the present five-year deer plan to run its course before making significant management changes. Boop and Mohr have been outspoken critics of the plan, and both have regularly proposed major changes that were voted down. Hill and Schreffler are new to the board.

After the second tie vote, the commissioners decided to hold an executive session, but backed off when reporters challenged the decision. Efforts to reach anyone at the state attorney general’s office qualified to offer advice on the legality of such a session were unsuccessful.

Four more votes were held by secret ballot, each ending in a tie. Boop twice rejected suggestions to decide the matter with a coin-flip, the first from Riley and the second from Palone, before Palone, who had also been nominated as vice president, withdrew her name from consideration.

“I took an oath to uphold the resources of the commonwealth for all citizens,” Palone said. “In the spirit of cooperation and for the good of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, and all of its stakeholders, I respectfully request that my name be withdrawn.”

Palone’s sacrifice drew a standing ovation from the sparse audience that had sat through the hours of deliberation, and from each of the commissioners. She was then unanimously elected to her third consecutive term as vice-president.

At a press conference held after the meeting, Boop, a lawyer, said he is not opposed to doe hunting as some have said, and would not push for immediate, wholesale changes in deer management.

But, he was not otherwise expansive when asked why he was so determined to be board president that he was willing to keep the deadlock going for hours.

“To put it in perspective, I’ve waited three days for jury verdicts, so I didn’t think it was a long time,” he said. “I’ll let you all answer that. I think it was fairly obvious.”

Prior to electing officers, the commissioners voted unanimously to postpone final adoption on seasons and bag limits for all wildlife until their April 17-18 meeting.

During a period of staff reports on Monday, Bureau of Wildlife Director Cal DuBrock had recommended that action on bear, turkey and deer seasons be postponed until April to allow biologists more time to gather and compile data.

But, the game commission’s legal counsel advised that the board could not separate those species from others in adopting seasons and bag limits, so the commissioners decided to delay voting on the entire package.

The commissioners also gave tentative approval to including the atlatl and dart among legal devices for the taking of deer. The unanimous vote was against a recommendation by agency staff.

The board also approved a federally funded study by Jeffrey L. Larkin and Matthew R. Dzialak of Indiana University of Pennsylvania to gather information on the range, density and size of the state’s fisher population.

Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission also held a formal meeting on Tuesday, giving tentative approval for a special muskellunge enhancement program, part of which calls for a year-round season, an increase of the minimum size and a reduction of the daily limit to one.

The commissioners also tentatively approved year-round seasons for pike and pickerel, setting those size limits at 18 inches with four-a-day limits. And, they gave the go-ahead for staff to investigate creation of a youth fishing license for those younger than 16.

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