SEMIAUTOMATIC RIFLES OK’D FOR SMALL GAME, FURBEARERS
Hunters heading afield in the 2017-18 seasons will be able to carry semiautomatic rifles for hunting small game and furbearers, but not for big game, based on regulatory changes approved today by the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners.
The commissioners in January preliminarily approved a proposal that would have allowed semiautomatic rifles to be used in any season where manually operated centerfire rifles now can be used.
The board today amended that measure, giving final approval to hunting small game and furbearers with semiautomatic rifles beginning in the 2017-18 seasons. It made no changes to the list of lawful sporting arms for hunting big game.
Commissioners said a clear majority of Pennsylvania hunters voiced opposition to hunting big game with semiautomatic rifles at this time, and the board’s vote reflects that opinion.
Between the Board of Commissioners’ preliminary vote and the vote today, Game Commission staff conducted a scientific survey from a random sample of 4,000 of the state’s hunters, more than 2,000 of whom responded. The findings of that survey were presented to the commissioners at the board’s meeting on Monday.
The findings of the survey show clear support for hunting furbearers (55 percent support or strongly support), woodchucks (51 percent support or strongly support) and small game (42 percent support or strongly support, and 12 percent neither support nor oppose) with semiautomatic rifles.
For big game, while 28 percent of survey respondents expressed support or strong support for semiautomatic rifles, 64 percent of respondents said they opposed or strongly opposed semiautomatic rifles for big-game hunting, with 52 percent saying they were strongly opposed.
The results bolstered the expressed opposition to hunting big game with semiautomatic rifles that appeared to a lesser extent in the written comments the Game Commission received in recent months.
“We listened to our hunters,” President Commissioner Brian H. Hoover said.
With the changes, semiautomatic rifles in .22 caliber or less that propel single-projectile ammunition and semiautomatic shotguns 10 gauge or smaller propelling ammunition not larger than No. 4 lead – also No. 2 steel or No. 4 composition or alloy – will be legal firearms for small-game seasons in the 2017-18 license year, which begins July 1.
Semiautomatic firearms that propel single-projectile ammunition also will be legal sporting arms for woodchucks and furbearers, and there is no caliber restriction for woodchucks or furbearers.
The measure also approves the use of air guns for hunting small game and furbearers.
Air-guns will be legal for small game in calibers from .177 to .22 that propel single-projectile pellets or bullets.
For woodchucks and furbearers, air-guns must be at least .22 caliber and propel a single-projectile pellet or bullet. BB ammunition is not authorized for small game, furbearers or woodchucks.
Pennsylvania historically prohibited the use of semiautomatic rifles for hunting, but a law that took effect in November enables the Game Commission to regulate semiautomatic rifles and air guns for hunting.
With today’s vote, Pennsylvania becomes the last state in the nation to approve semiautomatic rifles for hunting uses.
Following their vote, the commissioners said if growing support for hunting big game with semiautomatic rifles emerges at some point in the future, they will give consideration to further regulatory changes.
Fact-finding by Pennsylvania Game Commission staff revealed no higher incidence of hunting accidents in any state where semiautomatics are permitted, and many firearms experts have said they believe semiautomatics are safer in that they allow for continuous focus on the target and often require the shooter to absorb less recoil.
The survey on hunting with semiautomatic rifles also showed greater support among younger age groups for semiautomatic rifle hunting, including the use of semiautomatic rifles to hunt big game.
But no such provision will be adopted for the 2017-18 license year.
PHEASANT PERMIT NEEDED IN 2017-18
Adult and senior hunters in Pennsylvania who pursue pheasants will need to purchase a pheasant permit in addition to a general hunting license in the 2017-18 license year.
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave final approval to creating a pheasant permit that would be required for all adult and senior hunters who pursue or harvest pheasants.
The permit would cost $25 for adults and seniors, including senior lifetime license holders. Junior hunters would not need a permit to hunt pheasants.
While Pennsylvania once was home to a robust wild pheasant population, in recent decades, pheasant hunting has relied entirely upon the stocking of farm-raised birds.
The Game Commission annually has raised and released about 200,000 pheasants for release on state game lands and other properties where public hunting is permitted. While the program has been popular with hunters, it has been costing the agency about $4.7 million a year. And without a permit, there’s no funding mechanism in place to help sustain it.
Meanwhile, fees for general hunting and furtaker licenses haven’t been adjusted for inflation since 1998, leaving the Game Commission in recent years to make difficult financial decisions, including budget reductions to the pheasant program.
In December, the agency announced it would close two of its four pheasant farms – a move that is expected to reduce annual program costs by about $1.7 million. Additionally, Game Commission staff have projected a pheasant permit would generate about $1.5 million a year in new revenue.
By making the program more self-sufficient, creation of a pheasant permit helps to ensure the future of pheasant hunting in Pennsylvania, the commissioners said.
DEAL WOULD CREATE REVENUE, ADD 800 ACRES TO GAME LANDS
A company’s plans to build a 435-foot tower on State Game Lands 34 in Elk County will provide the opportunity to hunt and trap on an additional 800 acres of game lands in nearby Centre County, based on a proposal approved by the Board of Game Commissioners today.
The land transfer is part of a contract with New Line Networks LLC (NLN), which hopes to construct, operate and maintain a self-supporting, fenced-in tower on no more than 0.52 acres within State Game Lands 34 in Benezette Township, Elk County.
NLN was granted a right-of-way license earlier this year, allowing the company to move ahead with construction in exchange for the tracts to be conveyed by way of the commissioners’ vote. As part of NLN’s agreement with the Game Commission, NLN also has paid for habitat and surface damages, and will pay an annual license fee in excess of the Game Commission’s standard license fee. The annual license fee, which will become effective in 2019, also carries a provision to increase 3 percent a year to adjust for inflation beginning in 2020.
But the land approved for transfer is a more obvious benefit for hunters and trappers.
The 798 contiguous acres would be added to State Game Lands 100 in Burnside Township, Centre County. The acreage fronts over a mile of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, and encompasses all or parts of tributaries to Redlick Run and Laurel Run. The habitat is a mix of mature and regenerating oak forest, herbaceous openings and pine plantations from past mining and reclamation, with a few reverting old fields.
Access will be available by way of the existing State Game Lands road near Pine Glen, as well as by three road rights-of way northwest of Pine Glen.
Both tracts will serve to increase the Game Commission’s ability to manage habitat to benefit the area’s growing elk herd.
DEER-BAITING PERMITS LIKELY TO CONTINUE IN SOUTHEAST
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today took action to ensure deer hunters in the Southeast Special Regulations Area will continue to have the option to apply for permits to use mechanical feeders to dispense bait at hunting locations on private property.
The board first voted to create deer-attractant permits in 2014, but attached to the measure a sunset clause that would force the board to revisit the issue by July 2017.
The board today preliminarily removed the sunset clause to allow the permits to continue being issued.
The use of mechanical feeders that dispense bait at fixed times during lawful hunting hours is intended to increase hunter success in an area of the state where deer populations are high, but hunter access is limited.
For information about the permit and how to obtain one, please see the Game Commission’s website at www.pgc.pa.gov.
SHOOTING-RANGE RULE CHANGES ADOPTED
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave final approval to a package of regulatory changes regarding the use of Game Commission-owned public shooting ranges.
One change allows shooting ranges on state game lands to open longer – from 8 a.m. to sunset – on Sundays within the firearms deer and bear seasons.
Shooting ranges on game lands regularly are open from 8 a.m. to sunset Monday through Saturday, but regular Sunday hours are noon to sunset. On the Sundays immediately preceding the firearms deer and firearms bear seasons, however, ranges are open from 8 a.m. to sunset.
Commissioners said the proposed expansion of Sunday hours within the deer and bear seasons, while minor, would create a convenience for hunters who might find themselves pressed for time to adjust sights or scopes on firearms at the height of the hunting season.
Other amendments prohibit range users from intentionally shooting at or damaging the frames and stands on which target backboards are mounted, using firearms in negligent disregard for the safety of others or loading or discharging a firearm that contains more than six rounds of single-projectile ammunition.
An amendment clarifying that automatic firearms cannot be used Game Commission ranges also was passed as part of the package, and another amendment clarifies that Game Commission shooting ranges, regardless of length or size, are designated by default as rifle ranges, and may be designated as handgun-only ranges if posted as such by the commission.
The amendments are expected to take effect in about two months, after a review period.
MEASURE LIMITS DOG-TRAINING ON GAME LANDS
Training dogs on small game will be prohibited on state game lands for about three weeks in the fall, based on a measure that serves to keep pheasants nearer their release sites.
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave final approval to a measure that would close small-game dog training on game lands from the Monday prior to the start of the youth pheasant season until the opening day of the statewide pheasant season.
In casting its vote, the board noted that pheasant-hunting opportunities in Pennsylvania are directly linked to and limited by the existence and availability of pheasants stocked by the Game Commission, and that dog-training activities that occur after pheasants are released consistently cause birds to scatter and disperse far away from their designated release sites.
By prohibiting dog training during this period, the board hopes more pheasants will await hunters on game lands.
The measure does not limit dog training on any other public or private lands or waters not designated as state game lands.
CWD CONTROLS TO BE WRITTEN INTO REGULATION
Chronic wasting disease is a permanent threat to Pennsylvania’s deer.
And for several years now, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has addressed that threat through actions intended to keep the disease out of areas where it hasn’t been detected, and to suppress it in areas where it’s known to exist.
Those measures all have been enacted by executive order of the Game Commission.
But the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave final approval to placing them into regulation. The move is intended to provide more permanent status and structure to the requirements and restrictions that have been addressed by executive order.
It will not impact the Game Commission’s ability to act quickly in response to new cases of chronic wasting disease (CWD) because additional executive actions still could be taken.
Among the restrictions now covered by regulation is the prohibition on importing into Pennsylvania any high-risk parts from deer, elk, moose or other cervids harvested within states or Canadian provinces where CWD is present.
In areas like Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia, where the ban applies only to counties where CWD has been detected, the ban continues to apply only to those counties.
Restrictions that apply within Disease Management Areas (DMAs) – such as the prohibition on removing from a DMA the high-risk parts of deer harvested within the DMA, and the prohibition on feeding deer within a DMA – also are covered by the regulation
For a complete list of the preliminarily approved regulations, please see the meeting agenda on the commissioners page at www.pgc.pa.gov.
WMU BOUNDARY CHANGE APPROVED
The boundary between Wildlife Management Units 2C and 2E will change for the 2017-18 hunting and trapping seasons.
U.S. Route 22 is the new boundary between WMUs 2E and 2C. Previously, the boundary had followed U.S. Route 22, as well and U.S. Routes 422 and 219.
The change makes for an easier-to-follow boundary that expands WMU 2E southward into WMU 2C.
WMU 2C now will be defined as – from the West Virginia/PA state line, US Rt. 119 north to Toll Road Rt. 66 near New Stanton. Toll Road Rt. 66 north to US Rt. 22 near Delmont. US Rt. 22 east to I-99 near Hollidaysburg. I-99 south to US Rt. 220 near Bedford. US Rt. 220 south to the Maryland/PA state line
WMU 2E would be defined as – from near DuBois, I-80 east to PA Rt. 53 near Kylertown. PA Rt. 53 south to US Rt. 22 near Cresson. US Rt. 22 west to US Rt. 119 near Blairsville. US Rt. 119 north to US Rt. 219 near DuBois. US Rt. 219 north to I-80 near DuBois.
BOUNDARY CHANGE APPORVED FOR CENTRAL SUSQUEHANNA WPRA
The Central Susquehanna Wild Pheasant Recovery Area will become smaller.
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave final approval to a boundary change that reduces the size of the WPRA.
The measure also enables the Game Commission’s executive director to authorize permit-based, youth-only pheasant hunting opportunities in the Central Susquehanna WPRA. Such a hunt could occur as early as 2017-18.
And the measure would shorten in all WPRAs the period within which dog-training is restricted, and eliminate in all WPRAs the restrictions on hunting for small game other than pheasants.
Pennsylvania has four Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas in which wild pheasants trapped in other states have been released in an effort to restore wild ring-necked pheasants to the state. It has been unlawful to hunt pheasants in any WPRA, and unlawful to train dogs or hunt small game other than woodchucks, crows and waterfowl within a WPRA from the first Sunday of February through July 31.
With the changes, pheasant hunting will continue to be prohibited in WPRAs, except when specially authorized, but other restrictions on small-game hunting will be removed. The restrictions on dog training will begin March 1 instead of on the first Sunday in February.
The proposed reduction in the size of the Central Susquehanna WPRA is in response to how wild pheasants have taken hold there. Huntable populations have been established in some portions of the WPRA, while other portions contain few or no pheasants.
By adjusting the WPRA boundary to center on areas with more wild pheasants, and removing from the WPRA acreage where wild pheasants haven’t taken hold, those removed acres can be reopened to pheasant hunting and otherwise-restricted small-game hunting.
The boundary would be defined as follows if the changes are given final approval: Portions of WMU 4E in Northumberland, Montour and Columbia counties, bounded and described as follows: Beginning in the Southwestern extent of the WPRA at the intersection of Interstate 80 and Interstate 180, proceed north on Interstate 180 for approximately 7.2 miles to the intersection of Hughes Road The boundary follows Hughes Road east for .2 miles to Susquehanna Trail. Follow Susquehanna Trail south for .2 miles to Schmidt Road Follow Schmidt Road for 1.6 miles to Miller Road Follow Miller Road east for 1.1 miles to intersection of Hockey Hill Road Go right on Hockey Hill Road then left onto Pugmore Lane. Follow Pugmore Lane for .7 miles to Harrison Road The boundary follows Harrison Road south for .7 miles to Showers Road. Follow Showers Road for 1.2 miles east to intersection of Gearhart Road. Turn right on Gearhart Road and go south for .6 miles to the intersection of Hickory Road. The boundary follows Hickory Road east for .6 miles then left onto Mingle Road for .9 miles until rejoining Hickory Road for another .8 miles to the intersection of Muncy Exchange Road. The boundary follows Muncy Exchange Road south for 1.4 miles to bridge over the West Branch of Chillisquaque Creek near the intersection of State Highway 44. The boundary follows the West Branch of Chillisquaque Creek south for approximately 2.1 miles to the bridge on Arrowhead Road. The boundary follows Arrowhead Road west for .8 miles to the intersection of State Highway 54. Follow State Highway 54 south for 2.6 miles to the intersection of State Highway 254. Follow State Highway 254 east for 5.9 miles to the intersection of State Highway 44. Follow State Highway 44 south for 1.1 miles to the intersection of State Highway 642. Follow State Highway 642 southwest for 2.3 miles to the intersection of Billhime Road. Turn right onto Billhime Road and go 1.1 miles to the intersection of East Diehl Road. Turn left on East Diehl Road then right onto Cameltown Hill Road. Follow Cameltown Hill Road for 1 mile to the intersection of Blee Hill Road. The boundary follows Blee Hill Road northwestward for .6 miles to the intersection of Hillside Drive. Turn left onto Hillside Drive and follow west for 3.2 miles until State Highway 54. Cross State Highway 54 onto Steckermill Road and go .4 miles to the intersection of Keefer Mill Road. Turn right onto Keefer Mill Road and follow north for .8 miles to the intersection Mexico Road. Turn right on Mexico Road for .1 miles and then turn left onto Keefer Mill Road for .6 miles to the intersection of State Highway 254. The boundary follows State Highway 254 west for 5.5 miles to the intersection of Interstate 80. Follow Interstate 80 west for 3.4 miles to the intersection Interstate 180 and the point of origin.
RANGE OF FALCONERS COULD HAVE CHANCE AT PEREGRINE PERMIT
Each year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) allocates permits that allow licensed falconers in states throughout the Atlantic Flyway a chance to capture migrating Arctic peregrine falcons.
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners in 2015 adopted a measure that allows the state’s falconers to apply for any permits the USFWS might allocate for Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania issued its first permit last year, and this year, even more permits could be made available due to Arctic peregrine population gains.
As it is now, Pennsylvania only accepts Arctic peregrine permit applications from master-class falconers who reside in Pennsylvania. That limits the pool of applicants. And if the allocation continues to rise, it eventually could create a situation where there are more permits than people eligible to apply for them.
To address this issue, the Board of Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a measure that would expand the eligibility requirements to include a greater range of falconers. Under the proposal, holders of general-class falconry permits would be eligible to apply for a peregrine permit. Nonresident general-class falconers could apply if they live in a state that allows Pennsylvania residents to take migrating Arctic peregrine falcons there.
However, applications from nonresidents would be only entered into the drawing for permits if the total number of permits allocated exceeds the number of applications submitted by Pennsylvania falconers.
Still, accepting permits from nonresidents is another way to ensure the number of permits allocated to Pennsylvania can be awarded each year.
The measure will be brought back to the June meeting for final adoption.
ACREAGE ADDED TO GAME LANDS
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today approved three land acquisitions that will add a total of about 74 acres to the game lands system.
George and Ann Brojack donated 5 acres in Archbald Borough and Carbondale Township, Lackawanna County, which is an indenture into State Game Lands 307.
The habitat is a dry oak-heath forest. Acquiring the tract will straighten the existing boundary line and reduce future boundary line maintenance.
The board also approved an addition of 3.5 acres located in Smith Township, Washington County, adjacent to State Game Lands 117 in exchange for a right-of-way agreement authorizing Smith Township to expand its existing right-of-way for Harmon Creek Road by 0.014 acres within State Game Lands 117.
The 3.5-acre addition is part of a larger tract owned by De Terra LLC. This larger tract will be subdivided to facilitate conveyance of the 3.5 acres from De Terra to the Game Commission.
The habitat primarily is young hardwood forest, with a small reverting old field interspersed with conifers. Access will be from the existing game lands.
The board also approved the acquisition of a 65-acre tract of land, a portion of which was in a boundary dispute, adjoining State Game Lands 55 in Columbia County.
In an attempt to avoid court costs and litigation, the Game Commission and the owners of the adjoining tract, Levi M. Beachey, Linda A. Beachey and Perry M. Beachey, agreed to transfer their interest in the whole of the parcel, which includes any interest in the disputed acreage, to the Commission in return for $66,500.
The settlement will both protect the integrity of and add acreage to State Game Lands 55.
MEDIA CONTACT: Travis Lau - 717-705-6541
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