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HIGHLIGHTS FROM TODAY'S COMMISSIONERS MEETING

07/09/2022

HARRISBURG, PA - The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners met today at the Game Commission’s Harrisburg headquarters to hear public comment and take action on several items. A summary of the meeting appears below.

 

ADDITIONAL FALL TURKEY FIREARMS RESTRICTIONS APPROVED

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave final approval to a measure that simplifies regulations and provides the Game Commission yet another tool to respond to below-goal turkey populations.

In years past, reducing the length of the fall turkey season was the primary method to increase turkey populations. But last year, the Game Commission eliminated the use of centerfire and rimfire rifles in fall turkey season, noting that relatively few hunters used rifles, but rifles were responsible for about one-third of the fall turkey harvest. That provides an additional means to protect turkey populations without reducing season length.

The measure the board adopted today eliminates the use of other single-projectile firearms – muzzleloading rifles and handguns, and slug guns – in the fall turkey season. It’s expected to take effect in about six weeks, after publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. The Game Commission will issue a news release soon after the change takes effect.

Eliminating the use of muzzleloading rifles and handguns, and slug guns in fall turkey season would seem to impact less than 1% of hunters. The change makes for simpler regulations. Once it takes effect, only shotguns and archery gear will be lawful for fall turkey hunting.

“Fall turkey season length in a given wildlife management unit often varies from one year to the next because of adjustments intended to meet turkey population goals,” said Commissioner Michael Mitrick, who represents District 6 in southcentral Pennsylvania. “But with this change, one thing is constant: regardless of the season or where you’re hunting turkeys, only shotguns and archery gear are allowed. It can’t get much simpler.”

 

DMAP TO BE MADE AVAILABLE ON LEASED HUNTING LAND

Lands where hunting rights have been leased and where a fee has been charged for hunting will be eligible to enroll in the Deer Management Assistance Program, commonly known as DMAP.

With the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners’ final vote today, leased hunting land no longer is excluded from the program.

That means in 2023, leased lands will be eligible for the program, which enables public and private landowners to better address their own deer-management goals for properties. The application period for landowners runs from April 1 to July 1 each year.

Lands enrolled in DMAP are allotted a number of antlerless deer permits that can be purchased by hunters. Landowners can make the permits available directly from license-issuing agents, or they can choose to issue coupons that then are redeemed for permits. In either case, DMAP permits cost $10.97 each. Hunters can obtain no more than four permits each for properties where coupons are issued, and no more than two permits each for other properties. Each DMAP permit can be used to hunt and harvest an antlerless deer during any established deer season.

The adoption by the board won’t have major impacts on the DMAP program, but will make a significant difference for landowners who had been excluded.

The Game Commission has determined only about 5% of hunting lands are leased. On those properties, however, the only tool landowners and lessees presently have to address deer-population concerns is WMU-based antlerless licenses allocations, which might not be enough.

Applying the same rules to leased lands and private lands enrolled in DMAP makes sense because public access isn’t required to enroll in the program. Additionally, restricting DMAP to certain lands to encourage public access historically did not lead to significantly more public access or the prevention of leased lands. Leased lands still exist and are part of the Pennsylvania landscape.

 

MUZZLELOADERS USING CAPTURED POWDER CHARGES CONSIDERED

Legal definitions presently prohibit hunters from using muzzleloading firearms that accept breech-loaded, captured-powder charges.

That could change, based on a measure the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners preliminarily approved today.

As their name suggests, muzzleloading firearms typically are loaded from the muzzle. And present law prohibits any muzzleloaders that accept cartridge ammunition, most of which contain both powder and projectile. Some modern muzzleloaders accept charges that are similar to cartridges, but contain only powder. The captured powder charges are loaded from the breech while the projectiles are loaded from the muzzle. Those muzzleloaders presently are prohibited because of the prohibition on cartridge use in muzzleloaders.

The commissioners said the prohibition on cartridge use in muzzleloaders originally was intended to restrict modern firearms that accept cartridges containing both projectile and powder. Amending the law to allow muzzleloaders that accept captured powder charges would preserve that original intent.

Hunters using captured powder charges in appropriate firearms also might find greater convenience in the ability to more easily unload their muzzleloader without firing it. 

The measure will be brought back to the September meeting for a final vote and, if approved at that time, could be in effect beginning in 2023.

 

MARTEN REINTRODUCTION TO BE FURTHER EXPLORED

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today took the next step in considering American marten (Martes americana) reintroduction by directing the Game Commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management to develop a plan for reintroduction and management.

A native furbearer, the marten once was found commonly in portions of Pennsylvania, but extirpated from the Commonwealth in the early 1900s due to deforestation and unregulated harvest. Adult martens weigh between 1 and 3 pounds and measure between 19 and 27 inches, the same size as adult mink.

The Bureau of Wildlife Management, in accordance with the agency’s 2020-23 Strategic Plan, has completed a feasibility assessment of marten reintroduction. The assessment considered current habitat suitability, future climatic impacts, interactions with other species and public opinion. It concluded that based on literature review, diet studies, expert evaluations, and prior, out-of-state reintroduction efforts, marten impact to other species is minimal while impacts from other predators to marten are also minimal.

Habitat suitability modeling shows that there is sufficient habitat within Pennsylvania for a marten population. Extensive research from across the marten’s range proves that most of their diet consists of small mammals such as voles, mice and shrews, as well as insects, and plants.

A large majority of the public supports marten reintroduction, and it would likely be successful based on the assessment. Reasons for reintroduction cover ecological, political, social, and cultural aspects and this is an appropriate next step in the Game Commission’s history of species restoration within the Commonwealth. The assessment is available here. More information on American martens can be found here.

The American Marten Reintroduction and Management Plan to be developed by the Bureau of Wildlife Management will identify optimal release sites, potential source populations, as well as provide specifics on translocation methodology, research and monitoring, cooperative partnerships, and long-term management. An important part of this plan will also be providing the public with information and education on the marten and its ecology. Once completed, this plan will be made available for public review and comment prior to being presented to the Board of Commissioners for their review and final approval to move forward with reintroduction.

 

BOBWHITE QUAIL RECOVERY AREA ESTABLISHED

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave final approval to a measure creating a bobwhite quail recovery area surrounding Letterkenny Army Depot in Greene Township, Franklin County.

The goal of the recovery area is to help quail – a native species considered extirpated from Pennsylvania since perhaps the 1990s – and a host of other grassland-dependent species, some of which also are in real trouble.

 Field sparrows, eastern towhees, yellow-breasted chats, dickcissels, eastern meadowlarks, cottontails, American woodcock and assorted pollinators all use portions of the same kind of old-field habitat as quail. And most need assistance. Many of those songbird species are, at least, “species of greatest conservation need” here, while others are outright threatened or endangered on a state level.

Populations of yellow-breasted chats, for example, have declined across Pennsylvania by about 6% annually since 1966. Helping quail helps them, as they use similar habitat.

The boundary of the recovery area was developed using major roads surrounding the Letterkenny Army Depot that are easily identified. The recovery area boundary extends no less than 7.4 km beyond the depot boundary, a distance that should – based on average spring quail dispersal – offer two benefits.

First, it will protect wild quail imported from other states and released onto Letterkenny from harvest. That reintroduction of wild birds is planned to begin in spring 2024 and continue for three to four years, total.

Second, it will minimize any potential negative genetic effects from interbreeding with captive-reared bobwhites originating outside the boundary area.

All told, the wild bobwhite quail recovery area will cover 177.65 square miles.

 

MEASURE ALLOWS NEW ROAD-KILLED DEER DISPOSAL OPTION

Permitted professionals hired by those wishing to address nuisance-wildlife problems now have the authority to pick up and dispose of road-killed deer.

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today adopted a measure that allows nuisance wildlife control operators, who already are regulated by the Game Commission, to offer road-killed deer pick-up from roadways and private property.

Previously, the responsibility for picking up and removing deer carcasses from roadways was split between the state Department of Transportation and the Game Commission, which sometimes hires contractors to collect and dispose of deer.

Each year, the Game Commission receives thousands of calls from the public concerning deer carcasses along roadways and on private property. The agency often will assign its wardens to collect and properly dispose of these carcasses as their schedules and work duties permit, which in some cases doesn’t meet residents’ expectations.

Nuisance wildlife control operators will provide the public an additional resource for road-killed deer removal.

 

MONTHLY REPORTS TO BE REQUIRED

Those who hold wildlife capture and transportation permits will need to begin making monthly reports to the Game Commission, based on a measure adopted today by the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners.

The reporting requirement will help ensure wildlife capture and transportation permit holders aren’t exceeding the limitations of their permits. While these permit holders are authorized to pick up wildlife anywhere statewide, at any time, and transport it to the closest properly permitted wildlife rehabilitator, the Game Commission has observed instances where wildlife capture and transportation permit holders used their permits to pick up wildlife, then held it rather than transported it, acting as a wildlife rehabilitator, but without the required permit.

Monthly reports will require permit holders to document the species and quantity of all wildlife captured or transported, the locations where wildlife was captured, the locations to where wildlife was transported, and the disposition of deceased wildlife.

This proposal was supported by the Wildlife Rehabilitation and Educational Council, an advisory council to the Pennsylvania Game Commission in matters concerning wildlife rehabilitation permits and wildlife possession permits for public education use.

 

RANGE REGULATIONS COULD BE ADJUSTED

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to new regulations that would govern shotgun ranges on game lands.

At present, there are only a few ranges designated specifically as shotgun ranges, but with their increasing popularity, more are planned.

The regulations approved by the board set forth the types of firearms, ammunition and targets that may be used on shotgun ranges, and would help ensure safety at ranges.

In addition to approving regulations for shotgun ranges, the commissioners also voted preliminarily to eliminate regulations specific to the shooting range on State Game Lands 176 in Centre County. Existing regulations set different hours of operation for the State Game Lands 176 shooting range compared to all others on game lands statewide. The period during which groups and organizations may reserve the range also is different.

If the changes are adopted, there would be no regulations specific to the State Game Lands 176 shooting range, meaning it would be open from 8 a.m. to sunset Monday through Saturday, and noon to sunset on most Sundays. Groups would be able to reserve the range from Jan. 1 through Oct. 1.

These regulations will be brought back to the September meeting for a final vote.

 

LAND EXCHANGE ADDS TO GAME LANDS

Pennsylvania hunters and trappers will benefit tenfold from a land exchange approved today by the Board of Game Commissioners.

The Game Commission will convey 2.63 acres of land that’s part of, but detached from State Game Lands 40 in Carbon County. And in exchange, the agency will receive 240 acres that adjoin both State Game Lands 91 and Pinchot State Forest in Luzerne County.

The land exchange with Raceway Holdings LLC is being made possible, in part, through the efforts of The Nature Conservancy, which applied for supplemental funding from the Open Space Institute and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural resources C2P2 Grant Program. Based on an appraisal of the property, Raceway Holdings also will provide $85,000 toward the acquisition of the 240-acre property, and the Game Commission will provide an additional $169,000 lump sum – money collected as compensation for habitat and recreational losses on game lands associated with other projects.

The Game Commission has determined that the 240 acres it will receive is of greater value than the 2.63 acres it will convey.

 

ENERGY AGREEMENTS TO BRING BENEFITS

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today approved two energy agreements that will add revenue to the Game Fund and result in other benefits.

Kingston Gas LLC, of Wexford, Pa., will develop coalbed methane gas interests within a 1,500-acre mineral reserve owned by the Game Commission in Westmoreland County. The reserve was gifted to the Game Commission in 1969 by the Loyalhanna Coal & Coke Company. The Game Commission does not own any surface area above the reserve. Kingston Gas will pay royalties to the Game Commission for all gas produced and sold.

Additionally, Greylock Production LLC will develop oil/gas interests under about 140 acres of State Game Lands 223 in Greene Township, Greene County. There will be no surface disturbance to the game lands as a result of the project. The five-year agreement will result in a one-time bonus payment to the Game Commission of $560,440, plus future royalties.

 

COMMISSIONERS IDENTIFY FUTURE INITIATIVES

Following the conclusion of official business at today’s meeting, Pennsylvania Game Commissioners directed staff to further explore a handful of new initiatives.

Commissioner Dennis Fredericks, who represents District 2 in southwestern Pennsylvania, directed staff to develop regulatory language that would eliminate the purchase limit for antlerless deer licenses.

As it is now, hunters may possess up to six unfilled antlerless deer licenses. Most hunters do not purchase that many. antlerless licenses in many wildlife management units sell out during the initial rounds for mail-in application and before over-the-counter sales begin. But the limit of six unfilled licenses has affected some hunters in the state’s Special Regulations Areas, who prior to a recent change, weren’t limited as to the number of licenses they could purchase, so long as the allocated number of licenses remained available.

Fredericks said removing the antlerless license purchase limit would have little effect in most areas but would better accommodate some hunters.

Regardless of any future board action on a hunter’s personal limit of antlerless deer licenses, the antlerless deer harvest will continue to be controlled by the number of licenses allocated.

Meanwhile Commissioner Michael Mitrick, who represents District 6 in southcentral Pennsylvania, asked Game Commission staff to develop regulatory language for a potential ban of the use of urine-based deer attractants. Staff on Friday presented information to the board on the risk attractants pose in the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, which is always fatal to deer and elk.

 

FUTURE MEETING DATES ANNOUNCED

The Board of Game Commissioners is scheduled to meet next on Friday, Sept. 23 and Saturday, Sept 24 at the Game Commission’s Harrisburg headquarters. More details about the meeting will be announced in the coming months.


MEDIA CONTACT: Travis Lau - 717-705-6541

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