HARRISBURG, PA - The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners met today in Harrisburg, hearing public comment and conducting official business. The commissioners gave preliminary approval to the 2024-25 hunting and trapping seasons and bag limits, which are outlined in a separate news release. Other highlights from today’s meeting follow.
DECISION ON AMERICAN MARTENS TABLED
The Pennsylvania Board of Commissioners, in a split vote, tabled plans to reintroduce American martens into the state.
The vote was 6-3, with Commissioners Robert Schwalm, Scott Foradora, Allen Di Marco, Kristen Schnepp-Giger, Stanley Knick and Todd Pride voting in favor of tabling the plan. Commissioners Dennis Fredericks, Michael Mitrick and Haley Sankey opposed.
Commission staff developed an American marten reintroduction and management plan for Pennsylvania that outlines a long-term, 10-year strategy to translocate the species back to the state and then conduct long-term monitoring to evaluate the reintroduction. It included strategies on communications, partner engagement, costs and timelines.
Commissioners authorized staff to put the plan out for public comment in September. Nearly 1,000 people weighed in, with the majority of those being supportive of the idea. Likewise, surveys of public opinion on the matter were favorable. And nearly two dozen people, including the Pennsylvania Trappers Association, testified at Saturday’s meeting to echo those comments.
However, a Game Commission survey of hunters – which generated nearly 9,000 responses – found that 37% supported marten reintroduction, 32% opposed it and 31% were neutral.
That final figure is highly unusual, several commissioners noted. While the commission’s marten plan is well-researched, the results of the survey indicate the agency has some work to do with hunters before moving forward, they said.
Schwalm added he’s also concerned Pennsylvania’s climate and forests have changed substantially since martens – a native species to Pennsylvania – went missing about a century ago. He wants more time to explore whether a reintroduction would serve them well or set them up to disappear again.
Fredericks, though, said the commission’s marten plan is “impeccable” and he would have been confident moving forward with it now.
WILD PHEASANT HUNTING SEASON COULD BE COMING
Pennsylvania has two Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas (WPRAs) where wild ringnecks translocated from other states were released and have established populations.
And in one of these WPRAs – the Central Susquehanna WPRA – there’s been a limited opportunity to hunt wild pheasants in recent years, with the young hunters selected by drawing for their chance to take part.
But hunting pheasants in Pennsylvania’s WPRAs could open to more hunters.
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a measure that would allow the Game Commission’s Executive Director annually to decide whether a WPRA would be open to rooster-only pheasant hunting, and if so, the season length and bag limit that would apply.
That’s not to say there will be such a season in the coming year, even if the board adopts the change at its April meeting.
But if the change wins final approval, and a season is put in place, it would be open to all hunters eligible to hunt pheasants.
Those seeking to hunt wild pheasants might find themselves asking for landowner permission, given that much of the WPRAs are comprised of private farmland. But the opportunity would be there.
If a WPRA is opened to pheasant hunting, limiting harvest to roosters would adequately control the biological impacts of hunting on the wild population, the Game Commission has determined.
HUNTING FURBEARERS WITH DOGS IN FIREARMS DEER AND BEAR SEASONS PROHIBITED
Dogs no longer may be used to hunt furbearers during Pennsylvania’s regular firearms deer and bear seasons.
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave final approval to a measure that will be in place for the 2024 seasons.
This change will not impact the in-season, nighttime hunting of furbearers with dogs in weeks when the regular deer and bear firearms seasons are open.
In the past several years, the Game Commission has received an increasing number of complaints related to hunters using dogs to hunt coyotes during the regular deer and bear firearms seasons, resulting in both the intentional and unintentional pushing, driving or killing of deer and bears.
While it’s unlawful for any hunter to hunt deer or bears with dogs in Pennsylvania, and those doing so intentionally are in violation of the law, coyote dogs pushing deer or bears also pose potential problems for otherwise-lawful hunters in the same area, as well as interfere with lawful hunting by others.
The measure adopted by the board prohibits the hunting of any furbearer through use of a dog during the overlap of any regular deer season or regular bear season. Because deer and bear hunting closes one-half hour after sunset, there is not a season overlap from one-half hour after sunset until one-half hour before sunrise the following day, meaning nighttime hunting of in-season furbearers continues to be permitted during this time.
‘ICE-EATERS’ TO BE LEGALIZED FOR HUNTING
“Ice-eaters,” which disturb water to melt ice and prevent ice formation, are popular among waterfowl hunters in states that allow their use – and Pennsylvania will be added to that list.
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave final approval to a measure that will add “ice-eaters” to the list of approved electronic hunting devices. The change will take effect upon publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, which typically takes about six weeks.
Electronic devices generally are prohibited for hunting in Pennsylvania. Over the years, however, several devices have been reviewed by the Game Commission and authorized for hunting use.
When considering electronic devices, the Game Commission reviews to what degree their use might negatively impact the principles of resource conservation, equal opportunity, fair chase and public safety. The Game Commission has determined “ice-eater” use would have insignificant impacts on any of those principles.
Commissioner Haley Sankey noted the Game Commission will keep watch over the hunting use of ice-eaters in the first year or two they are legal to make sure they create no adverse effects.
DEPUTY WARDENS EMPOWERED TO ADDRESS MORE DRUG VIOLATIONS
When deputy state game wardens find individuals in possession of controlled substances or drug paraphernalia on state game lands, they can file the appropriate charges.
But on properties enrolled in the Hunter Access Program – private lands where the Game Commission works with landowners to allow public hunting – deputies didn’t have the same authority to enforce drug violations.
That will change.
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave final approval to a regulation that extends the drug-enforcement authority deputies have on game lands to Hunter Access properties, too.
The measure will take effect upon publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, which usually takes about six weeks.
The commissioners also gave final approval to a measure that makes it a fifth-degree summary offense to use or possess a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia on Hunter Access properties.
BLACK BEAR, SNOWSHOE HARE DRAFT MANAGEMENT PLANS ADOPTED
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today voted to adopt plans that will guide the agency’s future management of the state’s black bears and snowshoe hares.
The plans, which were further developed through public review of draft plans, will be posted online at www.pgc.pa.gov.
The 2024-29 black bear management plan has been updated to consider recent research and includes a new goal to actively educate the public about bears.
Other goals in the plan are ensuring a sustainable black bear population, maintaining diverse forested habitats throughout the state for bears, ensuring human-bear conflicts are maintained at acceptable levels, and providing recreational opportunities that involve black bears.
The five-year span this plan covers allows for future updates to the plan to be incorporated relatively quickly, and future additions to be incorporated alongside them.
The 2024-2033 snowshoe hare management plan sets out to maintain or increase snowshoe hare populations and hare habitat within Pennsylvania, which is at the southeastern edge of the snowshoe hare’s range and where populations might have contracted in recent decades. The plan includes a goal to annually provide hare harvest opportunities.
BLACK RAIL TO BE LISTED AS THREATENED SPECIES
The black rail will be listed as a threatened species in Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave final approval to reclassifying this marsh bird as state-threatened.
Black rails are the smallest rail species in North America, and the most secretive in behavior and habitat. Although this species is considered uncommon in Pennsylvania, strong evidence indicates some black rails might have attempted to nest or established territories here.
In 2020, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service classified the eastern black rail subspecies (Laterallus jamaicensis jamaicensis) as threatened, and indicated up to five breeding pairs occurred in Pennsylvania at that time. Adding the black rail (Laterallus jamaicensis) to the Commonwealth’s list of threatened birds acknowledges the subspecies’ threatened status and small, sporadic state population.
REAL ESTATE TRANSACTIONS APPROVED BY THE BOARD
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today approved acquisitions that, when completed, will add about 856 acres to state game lands.
That involves the purchase of nine properties. They are:
- Roughly 0.4 acres in West Fallowfield Township, Crawford County, that’s an indenture to State Game Lands 214 in Crawford County.
- Roughly 140 acres in Buffington Township, Indiana County, that’s likewise an indenture to State Game Lands 79.
- Roughly 124 acres in Cambridge Township, Crawford County, near State Game Lands 277.
- Roughly 87 acres in Eldred Township, McKean County, adjoining State Game Lands 301.
- Roughly 94.25 acres in Horton Township, Elk County, adjoining State Game Lands 44.
- Roughly 262 acres in Greenfield Township, Blair County, adjoining and connecting two tracts of State Game Lands 41.
- Roughly 124 acres in Frankstown Township, Blair County, adjoining State Game Lands 147.
- Roughly 1.9 acres in Martic Township, Lancaster County, adjoining State Game Lands 288.
- Roughly 22.9 acres in Haycock Township, Bucks County adjoining State Game Lands 157.
Game Commissioners also approved two land exchanges.
- First, the Game Commission exchanged about 6 acres of State Game Lands 336 in Shenango Township, Lawrence County, for roughly 12 acres of the land adjoining State Game Lands 336 nearby.
- Second, the Game Commission exchanged about 15 acres of a detached portion of State Game Lands 207 in Slocum Township, Luzerne County, for about 28 acres of land in Coolbaugh Township, Monroe County, adjoining State Game Lands 127.
In both cases, the land swaps are considered to be in the best interest of the Commission.
The Game Commission also added a 0.17-acre indenture to State Game Lands 267 in Logan Township, Blair County, through a donation.
Funding for some of these acquisitions comes from the Game Commission’s Game Fund. Others are being paid from a restricted account representing funds from third party commitments for compensation of habitat and recreational losses which occurred on state game lands from previously approved projects.
Hunters and other users of the game lands system should be aware that none of these additions are yet final. Some are contingent upon third parties receiving funding through grants or other means. What’s more, Board of Commissioners approval of the agreements is but one step in the land transfer process.
When that process is completed, and the properties are officially game lands, the Game Commission will post signs to that effect, stating that they’re now available for public use.
The same applies to two other land deals approved by Game Commissioners prior to the meeting.
- In one, they acquired roughly 75 acres in Cherrytree Township, Venango County, that are an indenture to State Game Lands 96.
- In the other, they accepted a deposit of about $159,000 into the agency’s restricted revenue account – to be used for the future purchase of lands – from CNX Gathering LLC. CNX in return got a special use permit, allowing it to construct, operate, maintain then ultimately remove about 2,500 feet of water line on State Game Lands 302 in West Finley Township, Washington County. It will be placed within an existing right of way.
Finally, the Board of Game Commissioners approved a cooperative agreement with Ernst Farms LLC and French Creek Recreational Trails Inc., which will create and maintain a recreational trail along the length of the former Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad that traverses State Game Lands 213 in Crawford County. The trail will take in about 1.4 acres of land, total.
In return, Ernst Farms will convey to the Game Commission the title to 27 lots totaling about 3.9 acres in the Lakeview plan.
ALT HONORED FOR LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT
The list of hunting-related topics that draws more debate than Pennsylvania deer management is a very short one.
But over a career that spanned multiple decades and multiple species, Dr. Gary Alt navigated it with the “finesse of a conservation maverick,” said outgoing Board President Kristen Schnepp-Giger.
First, Alt became one of the world’s foremost authorities on black bears, crawling into dens filled with hibernating mothers and cubs to learn their life histories, then sharing that knowledge with countless thousands. Make that hundreds of thousands.
Later, Alt took over the Game Commission’s deer management program and, bringing science-based discussions to the forefront, brought it into the 21st century.
For all of that and more, the Pennsylvania Game Commission Board of Commissioners on Friday awarded Alt the coveted John C. Oliver Wildlife Conservation Lifetime Achievement Award. It recognizes individuals who throughout their careers made substantial improvements to the wildlife and natural resources of Pennsylvania.
“Dr. Gary Alt undeniably meets that criteria,” Schnepp-Giger said. “His emphasis on science-based wildlife management has left a lasting impact on wildlife conservation efforts here in Pennsylvania.”
Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans agreed, saying that history will show how dramatically Alt’s leadership on deer management changed the course of events. Under his guidance, the Game Commission made many improvements, none more noteworthy than the antler restrictions that positively impacted the age structure of Pennsylvania’s deer herd while simultaneously producing more bucks with larger antlers.
“I still hear from other wildlife agency directors from across the country who can’t believe what Pennsylvania accomplished and what positive changes we brought,” Burhans said.
For his part, Alt thanked members of his deer management team and other Game Commission staff for their support in helping bring those changes about. Given the freedom by the Board of Game Commissioners and others to dream big and be bold, they did just that, he said.
In the process, they overcame decades of opinion-based management to do what the science said was best for deer and hunters both. Alt said he hopes those who follow will be given the same opportunity and act just as decisively.
“Throughout my career, I had so many opportunities around so many things,” Alt said. “And I’m really grateful for it.”
BOARD REORGANIZES FOR 2024
At the close of its first meeting of 2024, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners reorganized by appointing new officers. Scott Foradora, of District 3 in northcentral Pennsylvania, will serve as president. Dennis Fredericks, of District 2 in southwestern Pennsylvania, will serve as vice president and Allen Di Marco, of District 5 in northcentral Pennsylvania, will serve as secretary.
Many of the commissioners expressed their gratitude to outgoing president Kristen Schnepp-Giger for her leading the board in the past year, and her commitment to wildlife.
“Your passion for the resource is second to none,” Foradora said.
Meanwhile, Foradora thanked fellow commissioners for their confidence in him to serve as president, noting his new office doesn’t elevate his authority.
“We’re all equal in our votes,” he said.
MEDIA CONTACT: Travis Lau - 717-705-6541
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