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HIGHLIGHTS FROM TODAY’S COMMISSIONERS MEETING

01/28/2023

HARRISBURG, PA - The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners met today in Harrisburg. Among other business, the board preliminarily approved the 2023-24 hunting and trapping seasons and bag limits. The proposed seasons and bag limits are included in a separate news release. Other meeting highlights follow.

 

NEW ANTLERLESS LICENSE PROCESS PROGRESSING

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today took preliminary action to restructure the state’s process for obtaining antlerless deer licenses.

Until recently, state law had required antlerless licenses be issued only by county treasurers. Hunters seeking antlerless licenses would send applications and receive licenses by mail in what was considered an outdated and inflexible process.

Earlier this month, a new law took effect that enables all license-issuing agents to sell antlerless deer licenses, meaning hunters in the 2023-24 license year will be able to purchase them online or anywhere else licenses are sold.

Today’s preliminary vote by the Board of Commissioners, if given final adoption, outlines the process by which licenses would be sold.

 

  • Antlerless licenses would be purchased online and at issuing agents; there would be no application by mail.
  • Antlerless licenses would go on sale during the first day of license sales, the fourth Monday in June.
  • Only residents could apply initially.
  • Application by nonresidents wouldn’t begin until the second Monday in July.
  • A hunter could get only one license in the first round.
  •  A second round would begin the fourth Monday of July (Residents and nonresidents would be eligible).
  • A hunter could get a second license in the second round for any WMU where tags are available.
  • A third round would begin the second Monday of August.
  • A hunter could get a third license in the third round.
  • Then, in what’s being identified as the fourth round, a hunter could buy additional licenses until reaching their personal limit of six. Additional licenses, if available, then could be purchased as the hunter harvests antlerless deer and reports them.
  • In each round, antlerless license sales wouldn’t begin until 8 a.m.

 

As with any board action receiving preliminary approval, the new process won’t be finalized until the board adopts it. Adjustments might be made before a final vote, which is scheduled for the April meeting.

After the new process is finalized, the Game Commission will be making several announcements to inform hunters what they should do to obtain their antlerless licenses.

In any case, the new, modernized process will increase convenience for hunters getting their antlerless deer licenses, said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans.

“A simpler, more convenient system is better for hunter satisfaction, and ultimately, hunter recruitment,” Burhans said. “We thank Sen. Dan Laughlin for championing this change, which will fully modernize the process for issuing antlerless licenses.”

 

WMU 2G COULD ABSORB WMU 2H

Wildlife Management Unit 2H, which a decade ago was parceled out of neighboring Wildlife Management Unit 2G, might be placed back within WMU 2G for the 2023-24 license year to begin in July.

The Board of Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a measure that would dissolve WMU 2H – located in northcentral Pennsylvania, north of Interstate 80, south of U.S. Route 6, east of U.S. Route 219 and west of state Routes 155, 255, 555 and 120 – and move its area into WMU 2G, which is east of WMU 2H and shares a boundary with it.

The 2013 decision to create WMU 2H was intended to give consideration to habitat differences between that area and the larger WMU 2G. More recently, however, Game Commission staff determined WMU 2H is too small to effectively collect adequate wildlife and hunter data for big game species. Furthermore, WMU 2H remains similar to WMU 2G in deer harvests and forest management.

A final vote on this proposal is slated for April and, if adopted, would become effective for the 2023-24 license year to begin in July.

 

NEW PROCESSING OPTIONS CONSIDERED FOR HUNTERS IN CWD AREAS

Hunters who harvest deer in Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) areas soon could have more choices, in more places, for where they can take their deer for processing or taxidermy.

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a measure that updates requirements for deer hunters in the state’s CWD Disease Management Areas (DMAs) or Established Area (EA), and those who hunt deer or other cervids out of state.

Presently, hunters may not remove any high-risk cervid parts – the head and backbone among them – from any DMA or EA. When harvesting deer within these areas, a hunter must either take the deer to an approved processor or taxidermist associated with that DMA or EA, or remove the high-risk parts before transporting the meat, antlers and other low-risk parts elsewhere. Out-of-state hunters are prohibited from bringing any high-risk cervid parts back into Pennsylvania.

These protections serve to help limit the human-assisted spread of CWD within the Commonwealth.

The measure commissioners preliminarily approved today enhances those protections while eliminating unnecessary complexity and giving hunters more choices.

Under the proposal, the Game Commission would create a statewide list of cooperating processors and taxidermists. Any hunter who harvests a deer out-of-state or within a DMA or EA would be able to take it directly to a cooperating processor or taxidermist anywhere in the state.

That would give hunters better access to cooperating processors and taxidermists, which are approved based on their compliance with proper high-risk part disposal. It would add convenience for hunters, too. As it is now, a hunter harvesting a deer within a DMA or EA, for example, must choose a processor or taxidermist within or near that area. For a hunter living somewhere else, that might mean making a return trip to pick up their meat or mount. Under the proposal, they could likely drop off their deer somewhere closer to home.

In addition to creating a statewide list of cooperating processors and taxidermists, and authorizing any processor or taxidermist on the list to accept high-risk deer parts from out of state, the measure preliminarily approved by the board prohibits placing on the landscape any high-risk cervid parts from deer killed outside of Pennsylvania or within a DMA or EA.

This proposal will be brought back to the April meeting for potential adoption.

 

BOATS ON GAME LANDS RESTRICTED TO NO-WAKE SPEED

Technological advances that have increased the horsepower attainable by some electric boat motors have resulted in restricted operating speeds for boats used on state game lands.

The Pennsylvania Board of Commissioners today adopted regulations that limit the speed of all boats on open, game lands waterways to “slow, no wake” speed, meaning they have to operate at the slowest possible speed required to maintain maneuverability, so that the wake or wash created by the boat on the surface of the water is minimal.

Commissioners said the change is necessary in light of the power some newer electric motors possess. It better ensures boaters on game lands will continue to operate safely, without conflicts with other users.

 

OTTER HARVEST REPORTING REQUIREMENTS, TRAP SIZES CHANGING

Otter trappers in the 2023-24 license year will have 48 hours to report their harvests – the same amount of time within which fisher and bobcat harvests must be reported.

Since 2015-16 – the license year in which otter trapping returned to Pennsylvania after more than 60 years without a season – trappers harvesting otters have needed to report them to the Game Commission within 24 hours.

That will remain the case this year in the otter trapping season to run Feb. 11 through Feb. 18 in Wildlife Management Units 1A, 1B, 2F, 3C and 3D.

But in 2023-24, the reporting period will change to 48 hours, bringing it into line with requirements for fisher and bobcat harvests.

Game Commission staff said the shorter 24-hour window is not needed. The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners unanimously adopted the change.

Additionally, the board adopted a measure that removes the size limits on body-gripping traps used for otters. Previously, body-gripping traps with a spread larger than 6 ½ -by- 6 ½ inches were prohibited, except for beavers. The change would allow them for otters, as well.

The Game Commission has determined there are no significant biological concerns with this change.

 

PROPOSAL WOULD GIVE MENAGERIES MORE OPTIONS

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to amended regulations that would enable menageries to allow additional types of animals to have contact with people.

Presently, few animal species considered wildlife can be shown in such a manner. The operator of a menagerie recently approached the Game Commission and requested these restrictions be relaxed, and upon review, the Game Commission determined changes can be made to the regulations without exposing the public to unnecessary danger or harm.

The changes proposed would place wildlife into one of three categories for which separate rules apply regarding if and when they may be removed from cages to have contact with the public.

 

·         Category 1 – Ruminant animals would be allowed to be moved from cages or confinement and directly exposed to the public, specifically to include public human contact, without restriction.

·         Category 2 – All other wildlife not defined as Category 3 wildlife may be removed from cages or confinement and directly exposed to the public, specifically to include public human contact, only if the wildlife is under the immediate control of the handler to preclude danger to the public.

·         Category 3 – Members of the families Ursidae, Felidae, Canidae and non-human primates, other than those specified under paragraph (2), may not be removed from cages or confinement or directly exposed to the public. No public human contact is authorized for this wildlife.

 

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

A menagerie is defined as "any place where one or more wild birds or wild animals, or one or more birds or animals which have similar characteristics and appearance to birds or animals wild by nature, are kept in captivity for the evident purpose of exhibition with or without charge."

 

LAND ACQUISITIONS. AGREEMENTS APPROVED

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today approved acquisitions that would add about 1,889 acres to state game lands.

Among those, the commissioners approved three land donations.

  • Wellsboro Industrial Park has offered 5.6 acres in Delmar Township, Tioga County, adjoining State Game Lands 313. The parcel will expand the Game Commission’s ownership of the emergent wetland called "The Muck," an Important Bird Area known to provide habitat and breeding grounds for migratory birds.
  • The heirs of Ethel R. Snyder have offered 54 acres in Sugar Creek Township, Armstrong County, near State Game Lands 105. It offers excellent forested habitat and has the potential to connect to the game lands with future acquisitions.
  • Amerikohl Mining, Inc. has offered 12 acres in Young Township, Indiana County, adjoining State Game Lands 332. The parcel offers improved access to the game lands from state Route 286.

 

The Game Commission also approved the purchase of multiple properties. They include:

  • Roughly 109 acres in Columbus Township, Warren County, adjoining State Game Lands 197. Funding comes from the Game Fund and Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
  • Seventy-two acres in Huston Township, Clearfield County, adjoining State Game Lands 331. Funding comes from the Game Fund.
  • About 100 acres in Horton Township, Elk County, adjoining State Game Lands 44. Funding comes from the Game Fund.
  • Roughly 57 acres in Marion Township, Centre County, adjoining State Game Lands 323. Funding comes from the Game Commission’s restricted account, which includes third-party funds collected as compensation for habitat and recreational losses that occurred on state game lands.
  • Fifty-seven acres in Boggs and Spring townships, Centre County, adjoining State Game Lands 323. Funding comes from the Game Fund.
  •  About 588 acres in Penn Forest Township, Carbon County. This property connects two tracts of State Game Lands 141. Funding comes from Wildlands Conservancy and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funds through the Pittman-Robertson Act. There will be no cost to the Game Commission.
  • Roughly 437 acres in Forkston Township, Wyoming County, adjoining State Game Lands 57. Funding comes from the Game Commission’s restricted account. Access is from Windy Valley Road.
  • About 229 acres in Forkston Township, Wyoming County, near State Game Lands 57, with funding coming from the Game Fund.
  • About 130 acres in Shohola Township, Pike County, adjoining State Game Lands 116. Funding comes from the Game Fund and The Nature Conservancy. The parcel is an indenture to the existing game land.
  • Roughly 28 acres in East Rockhill Township, Bucks County, near State Game Lands 139, with funding coming from the Game Fund, Natural Lands Trust, and USFWS through the Highlands Conservation Act.
  • Roughly 100 acres in Horton Township, Elk County, adjoining State Game Lands 44. Funding comes from the Game Fund.
  • About five acres in Lehigh Township, Northampton County, an interior to State Game Lands 168. Funding comes from the Game Fund.
  • The commissioners also approved two land exchanges.
  • Gerald P. and Marjorie L. Jones have offered roughly six acres in Franklin Township, York County, adjoining State Game Lands 243 to the Game Commission in exchange for one acre of the same game land. Access to the new parcel is through the existing game lands.
  • Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Company LLC will exchange land for a new right of way to remove an old natural gas pipeline and construct, operate and maintain a new one on State Game Lands 91 in Plains and Bear Creek townships, Luzerne County.

 

The commissioners also approved a right of way in Springdale Township, Allegheny County, to convert an open State Game Lands 203 road into a township road. The road services several private residences and the township will take on maintenance and other costs associated with the road.

Finally, in an earlier notational vote, the Board of Commissioners approved a deposit into the Game Commission’s restricted revenue account to be used for the future purchase of lands to mitigate the temporary loss of wildlife resources and/or recreational values. Range Resources-Appalachia LLC is providing the money in exchange for a Special Use Permit granting the temporary privilege of constructing, operating, maintaining and removing a total of 10,000-plus feet of above-ground waterline and two isolation valves in a 25-foot wide right of way, along with the temporary privilege of using and reclaiming a total of 9,658 feet of existing access roads and 0.38 acres of additional workspace on State Game Lands 117 in Smith Township, Washington County. The agreement minimizes the potential for pollution and impacts to sportsmen and wildlife on the game lands.

 

BOARD SUPPORTS DEVELOPMENT OF CERVID URINE PRODUCTS REGULATIONS

While much remains unknown about Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), it’s clear that it poses a threat to Pennsylvania’s deer and elk and its hunting traditions.

So at its quarterly meeting, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners adopted a resolution in support of the development of regulations that would govern the collection, testing, manufacturing and distribution of cervid urine or biological products. The goal is to make sure that no CWD-infected products are spread on the landscape.

The full text of the resolutions reads:

WHEREAS, chronic wasting disease (CWD) is an always fatal brain disease with no cure or treatment that affects members of the Cervidae family, which includes deer and elk; and

WHEREAS, CWD is spread via small doses of prions directly from a deer or indirectly from the environment, including exposure to feed buckets, water, and bedding materials; and

WHEREAS, CWD prions are shed by infected animals in saliva, feces, and urine, and remain infectious; and

WHEREAS, urine attractants can contain natural cervid urine and possibly other excreta from captive cervids; and

WHEREAS, the use of synthetic or natural urine attractants may unnaturally attract cervids to a single site leading to higher transmission rates of CWD and other diseases; and

WHEREAS, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS), in cooperation with State animal health and wildlife agencies, and farmed cervid owners, oversees a voluntary CWD Herd Certification Program (HCP) for Cervidae Livestock Operations (CLO) in the Commonwealth; and

WHEREAS, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the Commonwealth’s regulatory authority over CLOs, oversees a mandatory CWD Herd Monitoring Program (HMP) for all CLOs in the Commonwealth; and

WHEREAS, neither program provides complete protection from CWD as evidenced by 12 HCP and 39 HMP facilities in the Commonwealth detecting CWD as of January 9, 2023, including an HCP facility that shipped a CWD infected deer to another state; and

WHEREAS, there are no existing regulations or independent authority to test for the presence of CWD prions in urine attractants; there is no listing of facilities that produce urine attractants; and there is no traceability of these products; and

WHEREAS, the spread of CWD across the Commonwealth has significant costs to Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) operations and negatively impacts the Commonwealth’s deer and elk hunting traditions and wildlife watching activities; and

WHEREAS, much remains unknown about CWD; and

WHEREAS, preventive measures are needed to avoid distribution of infectious material on the landscape; and

WHEREAS, it is the PGC’s responsibility to limit exposure of all species to known pathogens and be responsive to the threats they pose to public wildlife resources.

NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Board of Commissioners of the Pennsylvania Game Commission does hereby support the development of regulations to govern the collection, testing, manufacturing, and distribution of cervid urine or biological products, including continued validation oversight of methodologies by the USDA-APHIS National Veterinary Services Laboratories (NVSL) or other laboratories that are part of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) and fully-accredited by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians (AAVLD).

Given under the hand and seal of the Board of Commissioners of the Pennsylvania Game Commission on this 28th day of January, 2023.

 

PROPOSAL WOULD ALLOW FALCONERS TO HARVEST FURBEARERS

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a measure that would allow permitted falconers to harvest furbearers including minks, muskrats, foxes, opossums, raccoons, striped skunks and weasels.

These additions also are reflected in the 2023-24 falconry seasons and bag limits.

This measure, which was requested by members of the falconry community, will be brought back to the April meeting for a final vote.

 

 

SCIENTIFIC NAME CHANGES CONSIDERED

The scientific names of three bird species could be changing to conform with the currently accepted taxonomic nomenclature.

The yellow-crowned night heron would change from Nycticorax violaceus to Nyctanassa violacea, the sedge wren would change from Cistothorus platensis to Cistothorus stellaris, and the northern harrier would change from Circus cyaneus to Circus hudsonius.

All three of these birds are classified as either threatened or endangered in Pennsylvania. While the change in scientific names would not affect the protection, management or common names of these species, it would ensure Pennsylvania’s lists are consistent with changes adopted elsewhere.

The board preliminarily approved these changes today. A final vote is expected in April.

 

REGULATIONS FOR SPECIAL WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREAS COULD BE UPDATED

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a series of updates to the regulations governing special wildlife management areas, such as Middle Creek and Pymatuning.

A recent review by Game Commission staff determined the existing regulations are needlessly complex, redundant and outdated, and simply are inconsistent with available technologies, particularly as related to the management of controlled hunts at these facilities.

Among other adjustments, the proposal better organizes and more clearly defines the areas that may be designated within special wildlife management areas, including hunting and trapping areas, controlled hunting and trapping areas, and propagation areas and public recreation areas where no hunting is permitted.

The application process for controlled hunts within special wildlife management areas also is outlined in the proposal, and outdated language is removed.

This measure will be brought back to the April meeting for potential adoption.

 

BOARD REORGANIZES FOR 2023

At its first quarterly meeting of 2023, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners reorganized and appointed officers for the new year.

Kristen Schnepp-Giger, who represents District 1 in northwestern Pennsylvania, will serve as president; Scott H. Foradora, who represents District 3 in northcentral Pennsylvania, will serve as vice president; and Dennis R. Fredericks, who represents District 2 in southwestern Pennsylvania, will serve as secretary.

Commissioner Fredericks praised outgoing board president Michael F. Mitrick, who represents District 6 in southcentral Pennsylvania, for his leadership.

“It was a pleasure to serve under your leadership,” Fredericks said. “I thank you so much.”

Commissioner Mitrick, who has served on the board for six years, said he appreciated those comments and the time he’s spent working with agency staff and board members.

“This is really a great organization and I’m proud to be a part of it.” Mitrick said.

 

NEXT MEETING

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners announced that it will hold its next meeting on April 14 and 15, 2023 at the agency’s Harrisburg headquarters.

 

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