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HIGHLIGHTS FROM TODAY'S COMMISSIONERS MEETING

01/23/2021

HARRISBURG, PA - The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today convened its first meeting of 2021, giving preliminary approval to hunting and trapping seasons and bag limits for the 2021-22 license year , and moving forward with a variety of other items on the board's regular agenda. Information on the preliminary seasons and bag limits is reported in a separate news release. A summary of other action appears below.

 

THREE-LICENSE LIMIT FOR ANTLERLESS DEER HUNTERS COULD BE LIFTED

Hunters statewide could get the opportunity to apply for and receive additional antlerless deer licenses, as long as licenses remain available, and provided that a hunter holds no more than four unfilled antlerless deer licenses at a time.

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a measure that would remove the three-license limit for antlerless deer hunters statewide.

If the measure is adopted, hunters will continue to mail antlerless license applications to county treasurers, as required by law. Application would follow the same schedule where residents, and later nonresidents, are permitted to apply for a license in the opening round, and in each of two successive rounds for any Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) where licenses remain. Then in early September, over-the-counter sales would begin, and hunters could pick up a fourth antlerless license in any WMU where licenses remain, either by going to a county treasurer’s office to purchase the license or sending an application by mail.

Once a hunter obtains four licenses, the hunter could not purchase additional licenses without first harvesting deer and reporting them. At no time would a hunter be able to possess more than four unfilled antlerless licenses.

But there would be no limit on the total number of licenses a hunter could obtain in a license year. As long as licenses remain available, and a hunter holds fewer than four unfilled antlerless licenses, the hunter can purchase another. A hunter without an antlerless deer license could purchase four licenses at a time over the counter; a hunter with two unfilled licenses could purchase two at a time.

During the discussion on this proposal, Commissioner Kristen Schnepp-Giger commented that, for the vast majority of hunters, this change will not have direct impact, as they already are able to purchase antlerless licenses within the initial rounds of the antlerless application process, prior to the WMU of their choice selling out. But under the proposed change, those who hunt in WMUs that have leftover licenses available will have the opportunity to buy up to four licenses, instead of the previous limit of three.

The proposal to remove the three-license limit for antlerless deer hunters statewide is intended to ensure the licenses allocated within a WMU are issued to the fullest extent possible. For instance, in WMUs 2A and 4A in the 2020-21 license year, well over 16,000 antlerless licenses remained available in mid-November, and hunters in these and other areas have questioned whether the three-license limit continues to make sense.

The new process would be simpler, since the same distribution rules would apply to all WMUs, while maintaining fair and equitable distribution. There’s potential the proposed changes would make more antlerless licenses available deeper into hunting season, perhaps giving hunters who purchase their licenses later a chance to get one. And if implemented, the proposal likely would result in the collateral benefit of increased harvest reporting.

The proposal will be brought back to the April meeting for a final vote.

 

ELIMINATING RIFLE USE FOR FALL TURKEY HUNTING COULD SPARE ADDITIONAL SEASON-LENGTH REDUCTIONS

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a measure that could provide the Game Commission an additional tool to respond to declining turkey populations without reducing fall-turkey season length.

The commissioners voted preliminarily to eliminate the use of manually operated centerfire and rimfire rifles for fall-turkey hunting.

Recent survey data indicate only 14 percent of Pennsylvania fall-turkey hunters primarily use rifles, but rifles are responsible for 33 percent of the fall-turkey harvest. That’s because many who harvest fall turkeys with rifles do so opportunistically while hunting other game. By eliminating rifle use in fall turkey season, it’s estimated the statewide harvest could be reduced by 20 percent, while most turkey hunters would be unaffected by the change in requirements.

Reducing fall-turkey season length currently is the primary method to help out declining populations. Season-length adjustments are based on standards set forth in the Game Commission’s Wild Turkey Management Plan.

At present, turkey populations are declining in 15 of 23 Wildlife Management Units, and shorter season lengths have been proposed in response. Depending on the actual impact of removing rifles from fall turkey seasons, recent fall turkey season length reductions could eventually be reversed and more hunting opportunities added.

“I applaud the Board of Commissioners for proposing this additional step to decrease the fall harvest,” said Mary Jo Casalena, Game Commission wild turkey biologist. “With declining population trends in most Wildlife Management Units the proposal to remove rifles for fall turkey season may help turn the tide more quickly and eliminate the need for additional fall season reductions in the following years.”

The preliminarily approved measure will be brought back to the April meeting for a final vote, and it will not take effect unless it’s adopted.

 

BOARD PRELIMINARILY APPROVES CONCURRENT ANTLERED AND ANTLERLESS SEASONS STATEWIDE

The Board of Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval to a slate of deer seasons for the 2021-22 license year that will allow for concurrent hunting for antlered and antlerless deer through the duration of the firearms deer season in all Wildlife Management Units (WMUs). The board had authorized concurrent seasons in 10 WMUs in the 2020-21 seasons, mainly in WMUs in which Chronic Wasting Disease had been detected in free-ranging deer.

By expanding the number of WMUs with a concurrent season, the board responded to hunters who requested this change in order to be provided with more opportunities to harvest antlerless deer, and to reduce confusion regarding which WMUs are open for concurrent seasons.

A change to a concurrent season is not intended to increase the antlerless harvest, as the antlerless allocation is the primary tool for managing deer populations. If the proposal for concurrent seasons is approved by the board at the April meeting, the antlerless license allocation will be reduced accordingly to reflect the additional seven days of hunting opportunities. The antlerless allocation is based on the estimated number of tags required for hunters to harvest the number of deer necessary to meet the population objectives within a WMU. If the season is extended an additional five days, fewer tags will be required to meet the population objectives than would have been required in a shorter season.

Providing for the concurrent antlerless and antlered season would provide hunters with additional time to meet the deer-management objectives in each WMU and take into account the potential for inclement weather to negatively affect hunting opportunities during the firearm deer season.

 

BOARD TAKES STEPS TO ALLOW DIGITAL LICENSES

Pennsylvania’s new hunting and furtaker licensing system, HuntFishPA, is expected to provide hunters and trappers electronic versions of the licenses they buy, and the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today started the process of allowing hunting and furtaking eLicenses to be carried afield as an alternative to carrying certain paper licenses.

Harvest tags would continue to be issued in physical form on durable stock. No electronic versions of these documents would be issued or authorized for use, and durable-stock harvest tags would need to be carried in the field when hunting in big-game seasons or trapping in seasons where harvest tags are used.

But for other hunting and trapping opportunities, eLicenses would be a permitted substitute for hunters and trappers to carry in the field, based on the measure preliminarily approved by the board. The proposal will be brought back to the April meeting for a final vote.

If adopted, hunters and trappers buying licenses online would continue to be mailed all durable-stock license panels, including harvest tags, and would also be given access to eLicenses. Those buying licenses from an issuing agent would be issued harvest tags at the time of purchase and would have the opportunity to have digital licenses provided through email.

“We’re always looking to improve our customer’s experience, and with the launch of our new HuntFishPA online system, we’re able to provide the additional convenience of a digital license, which provides hunters and trappers access to their license documents on any mobile device ” said Deana Vance, director of the Game Commission’s Bureau of Automated Technology Services. “It’s an option many might prefer.”

There would be no additional fee to retrieve eLicense products from HuntFishPA, but regular fees still would apply for the replacement of harvest tags, or where the customer opts for a physical reprint of the license.

 

LANDOWNERS COULD GET MORE TIME TO APPLY FOR DMAP

Landowners could get two additional months to apply to enroll their properties in the Deer Management Assistance Program (DMAP).

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today voted preliminarily to extend the annual application deadline from May 1 to July 1.

Many DMAP landowners consider the May 1 application deadline too early because it does not allow adequate time to collect post-winter data, analyze it and incorporate those findings into their applications. A later deadline would allow landowners more time to prepare and submit applications.

The proposal will be brought back to the April meeting for a final vote.

“This change represents a win-win for hunters and landowners,” said Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “It affords landowners additional time to enroll, which will increase the number of properties participating in the program. As a result, hunters will have more properties and tags available to assist landowners in controlling deer populations.”

 

AMENDED REGULATIONS COULD BETTER ADDRESS WILDLIFE DISEASES

Diseases that threaten Pennsylvania’s wildlife populations will be able to be met head-on through a regulatory change adopted today by the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners.

Noting the emergence of wildlife diseases such as rabbit hemorrhagic disease (RHD), which is having damaging effects in the southwestern United States, the board unanimously voted to amend a section of the Pennsylvania Code to expand the Game Commission’s ability to address wildlife diseases through executive order. Presently, the Game Commission is permitted to address chronic wasting disease (CWD) by executive order. The amendment would enable other diseases to be addressed in this manner as well, if needed.

“Wildlife diseases can threaten wildlife, domestic animal, human, and environmental health within the Commonwealth,” said Game Commission Wildlife Veterinarian Andrew Di Salvo. “These regulatory changes enable the Game Commission to swiftly enhance disease surveillance strategies and enact preventive measures to mitigate any such negative impacts. Being prepared and having the ability to respond quickly could prevent a wildlife disease from emerging within the Commonwealth or should it emerge, prevent its further spread.”

Scott Weber, communications liaison and senior research investigator for the Pennsylvania Wildlife Futures Program – a collaboration between the Game Commission and the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine – said the program recognizes the threats of existing and emerging diseases that constantly challenge native wildlife populations.

“Working collaboratively, it is important to control or to prevent these existing and emerging diseases, and to quickly diagnose these diseases when they do occur,” Weber said. “This often requires coordination and collaboration with multiple stakeholders, Commonwealth departments, and federal agencies. As the Game Commission makes critical updates and changes to its regulations, it allows partners such as the Wildlife Futures Program to work collaboratively to help facilitate and strengthen wildlife disease surveillance and research to better ensure the protection of wildlife species, humans, and domestic animals within the Commonwealth.

Further changes to CWD-specific regulations also were given final approval. The term “Established Area,” which is contained within the agency’s new CWD Response Plan, has been included in regulatory language. High-risk deer parts, including the head and backbone, may not be removed from the Established Area.

 

ELK LICENSE REGULATIONS COULD BE CLARIFIED

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today voted preliminarily to approve a package of amendments to elk license regulations, which would better define the licenses issued for separate elk-hunting seasons and the random drawing among license applicants, and better delineate the elk management area and elk hunt zones.

The amendments will be brought back to the April meeting for a final vote.

“The changes discussed by the Board of Commissioners will help clarify some finer details of how our elk hunt runs and provide a clear structure for the hunt zones and their associated allocations,” said Game Commission elk biologist Jeremy Banfield. “While much of this was already known and understood by elk hunters, adding additional language to the regulations ensures that it is understood by everyone.”

 

GAME COMMISSION THANKS FOX FOR SERVICE

Today’s meeting was the last for Commissioner Charlie Fox, of Troy, who served the board since 2012, most recently as president, and whose term expires April 15.

Game Commission staff and fellow commissioners thanked Fox for his service to the board and for his leadership, especially in the past year, when the COVID-19 pandemic presented new challenges to how the board communicates and conducts business.

“Your ability to keep us communicating has shown your leadership and your ability to get things done within this agency,” Commissioner Tim Layton told Fox.

Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans said Fox’s enduring commitment to the Game Commission and wildlife conservation was evident in his always being available and willing to work toward common goals. On behalf of the agency’s staff, Burhans expressed gratitude for Fox’s leadership.

Fox, who began his association with the Game Commission 53 years ago as a deputy game warden, said he never imagined then he’d wind up serving as commissioner, but he’s glad he did. From habitat workers, to law-enforcement personnel to executive staff in Harrisburg, his work with the Game Commission has been nothing but a positive experience.

“It has been an honor and a privilege,” Fox said.

 

STAFF WILL STUDY NEW MENTORED OPPORTUNITIES, STAIGHT-WALLED CASE AMMUNITION FOR STATEWIDE USE

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today directed agency staff to investigate the use of straight-walled case ammunition for rifles statewide, and report back to the board at its April meeting.

Currently allowed for hunting in Pennsylvania in all but Special Regulations Areas, these centerfire cartridges essentially are a short-range option for rifle shooters. They lose velocity quickly, but at their optimal ranges, they can be highly effective ammunition. In many states, they have become an alternative in shotgun-only areas given their limited range, which is similar to a rifled shotgun, inside 200 yards.

The board also directed staff to explore new opportunities that might be offered to Mentored hunting Program participants. Currently, mentored hunters may hunt only squirrels, rabbits, hares, ruffed grouse, bobwhite quail, pheasants, crows, doves, porcupines, woodchucks, coyotes, deer and turkeys.

 

BOARD APPROVES OIL AND GAS AGREEMENT

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today approved a five-year, restricted-surface use oil and gas cooperative agreement with Chief Exploration & Development LLC, of Dallas, Texas to develop 1,440 acres in Barclay and Overton townships, Bradford County, on State Game Lands 12 and 36 in Bradford County. The company already has successfully developed about 27,426 acres under six agency-approved gas-rights agreements.

Under the agreement, Chief will not establish drilling pads on the 1,440 acres. The tract will be developed through horizontal drilling from current and planned operations located on adjacent private lands.

The Game Commission will receive a bonus payment of $2,160,000 which will be deposited in three installments into the Game Fund. Chief also will make a $432,000 wildlife enhancement payment to the Game Fund or into an interest-bearing escrow account to be used for the future purchase of wildlife habitats, lands, or other projects incidental to hunting, furtaking and wildlife-resource management. Future royalty and rental payments will be deposited into the Game Fund.

Game Commission staff negotiated the proposed terms of the agreement with Chief in an effort to prudently develop the Commission’s oil/gas reserve and simultaneously protect the wildlife resources and recreational use of State Game Lands 12 and 36. These oil and gas development will be regulated by the Commonwealth’s Oil and Gas Regulations and the Commission’s Standard Restricted Surface Use Oil and Gas Cooperative Agreement.

 

MORE THAN A SQUARE MILE ADDED TO GAME LANDS

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today approved two land acquisitions that will add 650 acres to state game lands. The following acquisitions were approved:

• The donation of 15 acres in Haycock Township, Bucks County, an indenture in State Game Lands 157 from the Natural Lands Trust Inc., which had purchased the tract through funding received through partnership grants provided by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Highlands Conservation Act. Covenants, conditions, and restrictions associated with these funding sources will be required to accept the property. Access is through Game Lands 157.

• The purchase of 635 acres adjoining a detached portion of State Game Lands 147 in Freedom and Greenfield townships, Blair County, from May Brothers L.P. and Ben L. May Excavating Inc. for a lump-sum option price of $1,040,000 to be paid from the Indiana Bat Conservation Fund and subject to USFWS approval. This fund was established by the USFWS to finance projects important to the conservation and recovery of the federally endangered Indiana bat in Pennsylvania. The northern hardwoods tract would be managed primarily for the benefit of Indiana bats, in accordance with an Indiana bat management plan developed cooperatively by the Game Commission and USFWS. Four tower sites are located on the property and would be conveyed with the property. Two of the towers provide annual revenues, which would be transferred to the Game Commission’s Game Fund.

• The exchange of 0.043 acres near State Game Lands 249 in Huntingdon Township, Adams County, from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for 0.043 acres of Game Lands 249. PennDOT is replacing a bridge over an unnamed tributary to Bermudian Creek on State Route 1009, commonly known as Wiermans Mill Road. The project is located on land acquired with funding authorized by the Project 70 Land Acquisition and Borrowing Act and will require approval from the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Staff has determined the exchange is in the best interest of the Commission.

 

BOARD REORGANIZES FOR 2021

At its first quarterly meeting of 2021, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners reorganized and appointed officers for the new year.

Stanley I. Knick Jr, of Dupont, who represents District 7 in northeastern Pennsylvania, will serve as president; Michael F. Mitrick, of York, who represents District 6 in southcentral Pennsylvania, will serve as vice president; and Kristen Schnepp-Giger, of Warren, who represents District 1 in northwestern Pennsylvania, will serve as secretary.

MEDIA CONTACT: Travis Lau - 717-705-6541

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