Begin Main Content Area

 PA.Media.BreadCrumbs - MediaBreadCrumbs

Media > Game Commission > Details

News Image



HARRISBURG, PA - Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans today presented the agency’s annual report to the General Assembly, and delivered testimony before the House Game and Fisheries Committee.

To view a copy of the agency’s annual legislative report, please visit, and click on the link under “Quick Clicks” on the homepage.

Burhans’ testimony before the House Game and Fisheries Committee follows:


“Good morning Chairman Gillespie, Chairman Neilson and members of the House Game and Fisheries Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.

Before I begin, I would like to congratulate and thank Chairman Gillespie on the passage of House Bill 1122, which creates a discounted license for those who volunteer to teach the Game Commission’s Hunter-Trapper Education program. This legislation is a great way to thank them for the countless hours they provide in service of the future of hunting and trapping and will undoubtably lead some individuals to follow in their footsteps and become instructors as well. I know you championed this legislation for several years, and thank you, and the other members of the Committee who supported this bill and helped it become law.

It is my great pleasure to deliver the Game Commission’s 2021 annual report. I am proud of the work done over the past year by Game Commission employees, volunteers, and board members in fulfilling our mission to manage and protect wildlife and their habitats while promoting hunting and trapping for current and future generations.

As provided for in law, a central part of our mandate is to manage wildlife through the regulation of hunting and trapping. And this past year we continued our efforts to provide more opportunities for Pennsylvanians to participate in these activities.

One way we have done so is by investing in managed dove fields to create dedicated locations across the state for fast-action wing shooting. The popularity of these fields, and dove season, continues to grow as a result. Last year, we expanded the number of fields across the state to 63, spread out across all 6 regions, and covering over 850 acres, which represents an increase of over 50% in the acreage from the previous year.

We also continued to provide resources for our pheasant stocking program, raising and releasing, over 220,000 pheasants this past season – a 5% increase over the previous year – across over 230 properties in 62 counties. The number of stockings includes over 16,000 birds for the youth pheasant season, over 180,000 for the regular fall season, and almost 25,000 for the late small game season. In addition, this winter we extended the stocking later into the season than ever before, to continue to provide pheasant hunting opportunities for upland bird hunters.

And we continue to experience a return on our investment into this program. We issued 62,997 pheasant hunting permits in the 2020-21 license year, which is up almost 30% from 2018-19, the first year when permits were required for both adults and juniors.

The recreational benefits of our pheasant program are highly valued by hunters. We recently surveyed hunters who purchased a pheasant permit to obtain a better understanding on their views, and a majority of those surveyed expressed an overall satisfaction with pheasant hunting in the state, as well as with the Commission’s program and the quality of the birds stocked. In addition, over 70 percent of the respondents expressed support for the pheasant permit expressly because the proceeds go back into funding the program.

Black bear hunting opportunities have also expanded in recent years. Responding to an increasing bear population and concerns from farmers regarding bear damage to crops, the Board of Commissioners created a muzzleloader and special firearms bear season and extended the statewide archery bear season beginning in the fall of 2019. Those seasons were continued for the fall of 2020, which saw a harvest of 3,621 bears. That harvest ranked sixth-best in state history. Thirteen of those bears were harvested during the early season, 955 during the statewide archery season, 1,041 during the muzzleloader and special firearms seasons, and 1,177 during the regular firearms season. Another 435 were harvested during the extended season.

In addition, we recently received the totals from this past hunting season, and once again bear hunters had a historic year, with a harvest of 3,659 bears, which ranks as the fifth-highest recorded harvest.

The creation of these new seasons generated the need to understand how they impact bear populations. In the summer of 2019, our staff began a research project to measure how these season changes are affecting the harvest of female bears.  Preliminary results from this project are expected by this fall and will be used to guide the season structure moving forward.

Turkey hunters in the state continue to experience excellent turkey hunting opportunities in both the spring and fall seasons. In the spring of 2021, an estimated 159,000 hunters went afield, harvesting approximately 28,000 turkeys. Fall turkey hunter success rate and participation, meanwhile, remains stable.

Regarding turkeys, we are encouraged by the findings of a recent study which found that turkeys may survive West Nile Virus infection at greater rates than other game birds. The study involved collecting wild turkey eggs from across Pennsylvania in 2019 and inoculating the poults with the virus, then testing them for antibodies. The study was conducted at the University of Georgia and is part of a larger study assessing antibody levels of West Nile Virus in wild turkey, grouse, and woodcock across the United States. We are proud to not only be a participant of this study, but to provide funding as well for this important project.

The resurgence of our elk population is a conservation success story that has also created some amazing hunting opportunities. Today, the Commonwealth is home to approximately 1,400 elk.

Hunters wishing to pursue an elk participate in the elk license lottery. Hopeful hunters must apply by July 31st, as licenses are drawn around the middle of August.

The number of elk licenses awarded reached a new high for the 2021 season with a total of 187 available. Of those, 29 licenses were for the September archery season, 109 were for the November firearms season, and 49 were for the January late season. Included within the late season, for the first time, were 10 bull tags. The response to these additional opportunities has been unprecedented, with application sales more than tripling in recent years. 

When it comes to deer hunting, we are proud of the successes we continue to experience and the opportunities we continue to provide our hunters, as evident by the harvest in the 2020-21 season of over 435,000 whitetails. Pennsylvania is consistently recognized as being among the top five states in deer harvest. In recent years, for example, hunters have harvested more deer per square mile in Pennsylvania than in any other state in the nation.

The Board of Commissioners enacted a change to the season this past year, to allow hunters to harvest antlerless deer during the entire firearms season. That made season dates consistent across the Commonwealth and provided more flexibility and choices for hunters.

The board also continued, for the second year, the extension of the archery deer season further into the rut than ever before. Given the continued growth in the popularity of archery hunting, this expansion is greatly appreciated by our hunters who enjoy these additional opportunities to pursue the world-class trophy whitetails that Penn’s Woods has to offer.

Additionally, the board once again started the firearms deer season on the Saturday immediately following Thanksgiving, thus allowing for the first two days of the season to take place over a weekend.

When the board first moved to a Saturday opener in 2019, Commissioners said they wanted it to remain in effect for three years. They promised then to survey our hunters to measure their thoughts on whether they preferred a Saturday opener or the traditional Monday start to the season. 

To remain true to that commitment, after the 2021 season, we contracted with Responsive Management, a Virginia-based survey research firm specializing in natural resource and outdoor recreation issues, to conduct a telephone survey of Pennsylvania hunters and measure their opinion on the Saturday opener.

The survey found that 60 percent of hunters support a Saturday-after-Thanksgiving start to the firearms deer season, 12 percent have no preference between a Saturday or Monday opener, and 27 percent oppose a Saturday opener.

Support for a Saturday opener is higher among those under the age of 55 and among those who have a child who hunts. The top reasons cited by hunters who support a Saturday opener are that they have work obligations on Monday, that a Saturday opener provides increased hunting opportunities for themselves and others, and that it is more convenient, meshing with their child’s school schedule.

According to the survey, 62 percent of hunters said the change had no impact on their hunting, while 25 percent of hunters said it actually had a positive impact. Only 11 percent said it had a negative one.

These results are consistent with an earlier study we conducted of “lapsed hunters,” meaning those who stopped purchasing licenses for a one year or more but who bought a hunting license again in 2020. This study found that those who returned to hunting in 2020 said the Saturday opener had a positive impact on their decision to buy a license. Specifically, 53 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they started to hunt again in 2020 because the firearms deer season now opened on Saturday.

Taken together, these studies can only lead to the conclusion that the change to a Saturday opener had the intended effect of making the firearms deer season more accessible for the majority of Pennsylvania’s deer hunters.

While my testimony so far has focused on managing wildlife through hunting opportunities, that is only part of the equation and part of what we do at the Game Commission. We also recognize that healthy and thriving wildlife populations need habitat to survive, and hunters and trappers need public land to recreate. And we meet that need by actively managing the almost 1.6 million acres that make up the state game lands system.

In the past year, we added over 1,900 acres to that system by purchasing 2 interior holdings, 1 indenture, 6 acquisitions to improve access into existing game lands, and 1 entirely new state game lands, a 579-acre tract in Lawrence County.

Meanwhile, more than 26,000 acres of forest habitats on game lands were improved for wildlife through the agency’s forestry program this past year. That included more than 11,300 acres of non-timber-sale forest improvements, such as crop tree release and aspen cutting, and more than 5,690 acres treated with selective herbicides to promote vegetation that is valuable to wildlife.

In addition, over 10,000 acres of timber on game lands were harvested through timber sales. While timber sales can generate revenue for the Game Commission, when it is advantageous to do so, we will negotiate for services in lieu of cash to conduct improvements on game lands. This past year, those services included 10.8 miles of new roads built, 89.8 miles of roads improved, 120 culverts placed, 2 new stream crossings constructed, 8 parking lots either built or improved, 11 new gates installed, and the creation of 67 acres of new herbaceous openings.

We also treated 50,125 acres of state game lands in the spring of 2021 for gypsy moth, a non-native species that, left untreated, can cause substantial damage to Pennsylvania’s forests. Treatment occurred on 25 different state game lands during late April and May to coincide with the hatch of gypsy moth egg masses.

We actively managed roughly 23,000 acres of herbaceous openings on state game lands in the past fiscal year. That work included planting grasslands, controlling invasive species, improving shrublands, and mowing goose pastures and elk foraging areas.

Game Commission staff also worked hard at maintaining nesting structures for wildlife and constructed and managed about 11,000 brush piles, nest boxes and other wildlife habitat structures.

Recognizing the importance of providing access to game lands for our hunters and trappers, more than 30 miles of roads on game lands were created or maintained through grading, road base installations and the construction of culverts and bridges over the past fiscal year.

The Game Commission continues to use prescribed fire as an important tool for managing wildlife and their habitats. Fire has been demonstrated to improve habitat, and hunting opportunities, by increasing soft-mast production, rejuvenating browse plants, and maintaining the vegetation sought by brooding turkeys and grouse. In addition, prescribed burns often reduce the risk of wildfires by reducing the fuel load on the landscape.

In fiscal year 20-21, we were able to treat more than 18,000 acres on state game lands through prescribed fire. That was more than double the acreage treated the year prior.

Shooting ranges on game lands continue to be a popular destination for recreational shooters and hunters. Our game land crews rehabilitated and upgraded rifle and pistol ranges in Pike, Greene and York counties during the past year, creating and improving shelters, upgrading backstops, creating accessible benches, and improving parking lots. We are committed to continuing to invest in shooting ranges on game lands, with a new range planned for Elk County, and new archery ranges in Lancaster and Lehigh counties.

It is also important to note that the benefits to the local governments where these game lands are located go beyond increased tourism and property values. The Game Commission paid over $1.8 million in payment in lieu of taxes to the counties, townships, and school districts where state game lands are located. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board paid an additional $3.6 million, resulting in almost $5.5 million paid to the local governments.

The other service we offer to the public comes by way of our law enforcement personnel, which includes some of the best trained, equipped and dedicated game wardens in the country.

In fiscal year 2020-21, wardens issued 4,199 warnings and conducted 6,810 prosecutions. The successful prosecution rate remains above 95 percent, demonstrating the professionalism and judgment used by wardens when deciding to bring charges.

In order to replenish our ranks, 27 new game wardens were assigned to districts across Pennsylvania in March of 2021. Following behind, the 33rd Class to go through the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Ross Leffler School of Conservation graduated earlier this month, adding 24 new game wardens to the ranks. Another new class is scheduled to commence this March.

Eighteen of our game wardens are part of a specialized group known as the “Woodland Tracking Team.” Those officers are specially trained in the art of tracking lost or missing persons.

Since its inception almost a decade ago, the team has been involved in countless search and rescue missions, found missing persons, and conducted criminal investigations. The unit’s ability to operate day or night has also attracted the attention of other law enforcement agencies, such as the Pennsylvania State Police, FBI and the U.S. Secret Service.

The Tracking Team was deployed 24 times during the 2020-21 fiscal year. On one occasion, members of the team were able to locate an individual, unconscious, covered by snow, and suffering from extreme hypothermia and frostbite. The wardens immediately administered first aid to the victim and saved the individual’s life.

As I conclude my remarks, I would like to add that while I am pleased with the work done by the Game Commission on behalf of wildlife, wildlife enthusiasts, and our license buyers, I believe there are still areas of progress to be made and opportunities for us to work with this Committee on important pieces of legislation.

In particular, I encourage the Committee to consider legislation that would allow the Commission to offer a much-more-efficient process for hunters to apply for antlerless licenses. Every year, there are failures in the current system, and we hear from hunters who did not receive the antlerless license of their choosing due to delays inherent within a process that requires the hunter to fill out an application and self-addressed stamped envelope, submit the correct amount of payment, and then mail the package to a County Treasurer, all the while hoping it is received and processed before the Wildlife Management Unit sells out of licenses.

This past summer, we were contacted by several hunters in Lancaster County whose applications were delayed for over two weeks at the U.S. Post Office. By the time their applications were received, the unit they applied for had sold out of antlerless licenses and these hunters weren’t able to receive a license, despite having done nothing wrong on their end of the application process.

Commenting on this incident, the Lancaster County Treasurer was quoted in an article in LancasterOnline as saying, ‘We have proven the current system is not the fairest way to produce doe licenses. It’s actually the most antiquated and frustrating for both hunters and my team.’

I agree with these sentiments and believe hundreds of thousands of our hunters do as well. The current process is outdated, unpopular, and provides no benefit to our customers.

With our new licensing system, the Game Commission is ready and able to implement a process that would allow hunters to apply for and receive antlerless licenses at the point-of-sale when they purchase the rest of their licenses. Now is the time to update Title 34 and we would be happy to work with you on amending the law and creating a more equitable and efficient process for selling antlerless licenses. 

We also would like to build upon the successes of Act 107 of 2019, which provided for three days of hunting on Sundays. This change was implemented in 2020 and was met with great enthusiasm by our hunters. We support opening additional Sundays to hunting and welcome the opportunity to work with this Committee to craft legislation giving full authority to the Board of Commissioners to incorporate Sunday hunting into additional seasons when it is feasible to do so.

This concludes my prepared testimony. I thank the Committee for this opportunity to share the Game Commission’s accomplishments and to discuss ways we can work together to improve wildlife conservation for all Pennsylvanians.

I am happy to answer any questions you may have. “

MEDIA CONTACT: Travis Lau - 717-705-6541

# # #

 Content Editor

 PA.AgencyPortal.Media - MediaPageTitle