12/19/2017 LEGISLATION WOULD CREATE NEW CONSERVATION FUNDING HARRISBURG, PA - Bipartisan legislation was reintroduced Dec. 14 in the U.S. House of Representatives Washington, D.C., by Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Debbie Dingell (D-MI) that would dedicate $1.3 billion in funding to help states address the needs for thousands of fish and wildlife species in trouble across America. Patterned after the Conservation and Reinvestment Act of 2000, which narrowly failed to clear Congress, the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 4647) proposes to provide assured and sufficient funding to states to proactively conserve imperiled species identified in State Wildlife Action Plans. It is being championed by the Blue Ribbon Panel on Sustaining America’s Diverse Fish & Wildlife Resources, a think-tank of 26 energy, business and conservation leaders assembled in 2014 by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which serves North America’s state and provincial wildlife management agencies. If approved, the Act’s new funding model would dedicate $1.3 billion annually, out of more than $10 billion in revenues from traditional and renewable energy development and mineral development on federal lands and waters, toward fish and wildlife conservation. Pennsylvania currently receives about $1.5 million in federal State Wildlife Grant funds annually to manage the state’s 664 fish and wildlife species of greatest conservation need and their associated habitats. Under the proposal, Pennsylvania would receive a guaranteed annual federal fish and wildlife conservation payout of about $34 million to better address the outlined conservation actions for these species. Every Pennsylvanian benefits when we have healthy and accessible fish and wildlife. “The Game Commission is working closely with state and national conservation partners to push this once-in-a-lifetime initiative forward by soliciting grassroots help to let Congress know just how important the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act and the outdoors are to all Americans,” explained Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. Pennsylvania is renowned for its Big Woods, Appalachian Mountains, scenic rivers and the creatures that enliven these destinations. But with each passing year, the challenges to maintain the Commonwealth’s diversity of wildlife become greater. “The magnitude of the solution must match the magnitude of the challenge,” Burhans emphasized. “The challenges facing beleaguered wildlife will not go away by applying Band-Aids. They require indiscriminate and comprehensive attention. As soon as possible.” The State Wildlife Grants Program, created by Congress in 2000, provided greatly needed funds for state wildlife agencies to address the significant conservation needs of imperiled species all states have a legal responsibility to conserve. “The current funding level and year-to-year uncertainty of State Wildlife Grant funding haven’t provided the funding needed by the Game Commission and its vast network of partners to secure troubled wildlife populations now and into the future,” noted Game Commission Wildlife Diversity Division Chief Dan Brauning. “But the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act has the wherewithal to make a significant difference for many troubled species. It just needs advocates.” Given the chance to use federal dollars through the State Wildlife Grants Program to support Pennsylvania’s diversity causes, the Game Commission has stepped up to the plate and accomplished much for wildlife. Through this federal program, the agency has brokered projects with partners to develop a second Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas to continue monitoring the status of nesting birds; conduct research into the troubles facing barn owls and Allegheny woodrat; and to search for ways to reverse the tragic consequences of white-nose syndrome on cave bats. The emphasis of Wildlife Action Plans is proactive management to keep wildlife from becoming endangered. In fact, most species identified in Pennsylvania’s Wildlife Action Plan do not appear on state or federal threatened or endangered species lists. The idea is to reverse declining species before they reach that critically low level. Preventing species from becoming endangered is a goal shared by both business and conservation communities as well. Their well-being ensures less red tape for businesses and lower recovery costs for natural resource managers while promoting a stronger economy and a brighter future for fish and wildlife. “Pennsylvanians love wildlife and strongly support the Game Commission’s efforts to conserve the 480 species under our jurisdiction, particularly threatened and endangered species, and their habitats,” explained Burhans. “The Pennsylvania Wildlife Action Plan, our statewide blueprint for conservation of imperiled species, outlines what we need to do – together – over the next 10 years to move the needle in the right direction. We know what to do. We just need the financial means to do it.” The legislation would establish dedicated funding – eliminating increases in taxpayer costs and regulatory oversight – to help keep troubled species from reaching state and federal endangered species lists. The need is obvious. But without adequate support from Americans and the legislators who represent them, this latest effort to help this continent’s beleaguered species of greatest conservation need will again fall short of the finish line. To get involved, Pennsylvanians are asked to contact their legislators in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and ask them to get behind the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act (H.R. 4647). The message is: America’s conservation of imperiled wildlife is inadequate, and this legislation would accomplish much good for them. Visit OurNatureUSA.com to learn more about the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act and share your voice for Pennsylvania’s wildlife. Read more about the Pennsylvania Wildlife Action Plan on the Game Commission website. MEDIA CONTACT: Travis Lau - 717-705-6541
Release #114-17 FINAL 2017-18 HUNTING/TRAPPING SEASONS APPROVED
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners gave final approval to hunting and trapping seasons and bag limits for the 2017-18 license year. A list of all seasons and bag limits appears in the full news release.
The commissioners also set the number of antlerless deer licenses to be allocated, as well as the number of elk licenses to be allocated for the coming license year.
The board voted to allocate 804,000 antlerless deer licenses statewide, which up from 748,000 licenses in 2016. Allocations by Wildlife Management Unitappear in the full news release.
Hunters should note the boundary between WMUs 2C and 2E has changed.
Hunting licenses for 2017-18 go on sale in mid-June and become effectiveJuly 1. After hunters purchase a general hunting license, they may apply for antlerless deer licenses based on staggered timelines, which will be outlined in the 2017-18 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest to be made available online.
Other modifications approved for the 2017-18 seasons include: moving the statewide archery bear season to the next-to-the-last week of the archery deer season; changing the firearms deer season in Wildlife Management Units 5A and 5B to bucks-only hunting from the opening day through the first Friday; opening a conservative mid-week fall turkey season in Wildlife Management Area 5B, and reducing the season length in WMUs 4A, 4B and 4E; eliminating the post-Christmas segment of the ruffed-grouse season to improve adult survival due to recent population declines; restoring an extended black-bear season in WMU 3A; opening the Central Susquehanna Wild Pheasant Recovery Area to a youth-only pheasant-hunting season; removing restrictions on hunting small game, other than pheasants, in all Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas, and re-establishing statewide put-and-take bobwhite quail hunting with a longer season and larger bag limit, given the lack of wild quail in the state and the low likelihood of quail reintroduction occurring in Pennsylvania anytime soon.
Several more highlights pertaining to the 2017-18 seasons and bag limitsappear in the full news release.
Release #115-17 HIGHLIGHTS FROM TODAY'S COMMISSIONERS MEETING SEMIAUTOMATIC RIFLES OK’D FOR SMALL GAME, FURBEARERS
Hunters heading afield in the 2017-18 seasons will be able to carry semiautomatic rifles for hunting small game and furbearers, but not for big game, based on regulatory changes approved today by the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners.
The commissioners in January preliminarily approved a proposal that would have allowed semiautomatic rifles to be used in any season where manually operated centerfire rifles now can be used. The board amended that measure, giving final approval to hunting small game and furbearers with semiautomatic rifles beginning in the 2017-18 seasons. It made no changes to the list of lawful sporting arms for hunting big game.
Commissioners said a clear majority of Pennsylvania hunters voiced opposition to hunting big game with semiautomatic rifles at this time, and the board’s vote reflects that opinion. Between the Board of Commissioners’ preliminary vote and the vote today, Game Commission staff conducted a scientific survey from a random sample of 4,000 of the state’s hunters, more than 2,000 of whom responded. The findings of that survey were presented to the commissioners at the board’s meeting on Monday.
The findings of the survey show clear support for hunting furbearers (55 percent support or strongly support), woodchucks (51 percent support or strongly support) and small game (42 percent support or strongly support, and 12 percent neither support nor oppose) with semiautomatic rifles. For big game, while 28 percent of survey respondents expressed support or strong support for semiautomatic rifles, 64 percent of respondents said they opposed or strongly opposed semiautomatic rifles for big-game hunting, with 52 percent saying they were strongly opposed. The results bolstered the expressed opposition to hunting big game with semiautomatic rifles that appeared to a lesser extent in the written comments the Game Commission received in recent months.
“We listened to our hunters,” President Commissioner Brian H. Hoover said. Read more about the new regulations in the full news release.
Release #025-16 GAME COMMISSION APPLAUDS BILL TO INCREASE LICENSE FEES Senate bill proposes $10 increase in cost of resident hunting or furtaker license.
Legislation that would authorize Pennsylvania’s first hunting-license fee increase in more than 17 years – critical funding for the state’s wildlife and the future of hunting and trapping – was introduced in the state Senate.
Senate Bill 1148 of 2015, which is sponsored by Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks County; and cosponsored by Sen. Jim Brewster, D-Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, Sen. Richard Alloway II, R-Adams, Cumberland, Franklin and York counties; and Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe and Northampton counties, would increase the fee for a resident general hunting or furtaker license by $10, from $19 to $29.
Resident and nonresident junior and senior license fees would not be increased under the proposal.
But fees for a number of other resident and nonresident licenses, including bear, antlerless deer and archery licenses, also would be increased if the bill becomes law.
Additionally, the bill would create an inclusive combination license called the Ultimate Outdoorsman, for which residents paying the $110 fee would receive their general license, furtaker license, archery license, muzzleloader license, bear license, special wild turkey license and migratory game bird license.
The Ultimate Outdoorsman would save license buyers $38 compared to the cost of purchasing those licenses individually. Nonresidents would pay $350 for the Ultimate Outdoorsman license, based on the proposal.
A complete schedule of fees as proposed by the legislation is included at the end of this news release.
Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough thanked the bill‘s sponsor and cosponsors for putting forth a proposal that, if approved in a timely manner, would provide the Game Commission with sustainable funding to enable the agency to meet the goals and objectives outlined by its 2015-2020 Strategic Plan.
“Seventeen years is a long time, and I’m sure almost everyone can relate to how costs have escalated since the last license-fee increase took effect in 1999,” Hough said. “Without a single increase to cover the cost of inflation during that time, it has become increasingly difficult to stretch the same dollar any further, and we are at the point now where we have needed to make some very difficult decisions to cut staff and scale back programs solely for budgetary reasons.
“The license-fee increase proposed by Senators McIlhinney, Brewster, Alloway and Scavello, would put the Game Commission back on solid financial footing, and the sooner this proposal is approved, the better for the state’s wildlife, and its hunters and trappers, and all citizens of the Commonwealth who care about wildlife,” Hough said.
Unlike many state agencies, the Game Commission does not receive tax money from the state’s general fund to help pay for staff and operations. Instead, the Game Commission is funded almost exclusively by the state’s hunters and trappers.
Today in Pennsylvania, almost 35 percent of the Game Commission’s revenue comes from the sale of hunting and furtaker licenses. Other primary sources of income include federal Pittman-Robertson funds collected from an excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition, and revenue derived from the sale of natural resources like timber, oil and gas on lands owned by the Game Commission.
The state’s hunters and trappers have demonstrated clear support for a license-fee increase. Thirteen of the Pennsylvania’s major sportsmen’s organizations with statewide membership have formally supported a license-fee increase.
The Game Commission last summer introduced a proposal to increase hunting-license fees, and now that legislation has been introduced, places its full support behind Senate Bill 1148.
ELK CAM GOES LIVE Hear a bull's ear-splitting bugle without leaving home.
Each September, thousands of visitors make their way to Pennsylvania's elk country to experience for themselves the wonder of the bugling season.
And while there's nothing quite like seeing a giant bull up close, or feeling your rib cage resonate as it lets loose an ear-splitting bugle, there's an opportunity this year to get a glimpse of Pennsylvania's prime time for elk - without ever having to leave home.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission has installed a camera on State Game Lands 311 in Elk County, in a field that is off limits to people, but that typically is a hub of elk activity as the bugling season heats up. The camera was installed with help from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Bureau of Forestry. Video and sound from the camera are being live streamed on the Game Commission’s website, www.pgc.state.pa.us, and some good-sized bull elk, not to mention turkeys, deer and other wildlife, already have made appearances.
The live stream, which is provided by the Game Commission’s partner, HDOnTap, is the latest in a string of real-time wildlife-watching opportunities offered by the Game Commission. More than 1.5 million people viewed the live stream from a bald-eagle nest in Hanover, Pa. this winter and spring, and the Game Commission in previous years has provided live streams from osprey and bluebird nests, as well.
Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said while there’s no substitute for visiting elk country in person, the camera gives viewers a taste of what the excitement is all about.
“Elk have not always had an easy time of it in Pennsylvania, but since the Game Commission reintroduced elk to the state in 1913, they’ve pulled through some tough times and, today, we have one of the top herds in the country,” Hough said. “Give credit to sound management, the creation of better elk habitat all across northcentral Pennsylvania, and most importantly, people who care. Without them, the elk’s success wouldn’t be the same.”
The elk live stream page also contains information on Pennsylvania’s elk, including a documentary on Pennsylvania elk restoration. Pennsylvania educators may be interested in the accompanying guide which can be used in the classroom.
The live stream is slated to run until the end of the bugling season, likely sometime in mid-October. The top time to see elk on camera has been late in the afternoon.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 04, 2015
WHY SHOULD I PAY MORE FOR MY HUNTING LICENSE? Game Commission explains need for fee increase.
Quit your job. Pack up all your worldly possessions and ship them off to Hawaii. Make a home for yourself there. And then, and only then, will you be able to purchase a resident hunting license that costs less than Pennsylvania’s.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission last week unveiled a proposal to increase fees for hunting and furtaker licenses for the first time in 16 years. It is a step toward establishing sustainable funding for the agency, which in recent years has seen skyrocketing employee-benefit costs that are beyond its control. Any license-fee increase must be authorized by legislative action.
The Game Commission has managed Pennsylvania’s wildlife resources for more than 120 years. And since 1913, when the state began selling hunting licenses to finance wildlife management, license revenue has been used to rebuild wildlife populations, protect wildlife through law enforcement, and assemble a 1.5 million-acre state game lands system to provide wildlife habitat and public hunting opportunities.
All of it has made Pennsylvania one of the best states in the country to hunt deer, bear, wild turkeys and elk, not to mention small game and furbearers. The Game Commission’s ring-necked pheasant program – which in recent years has produced more than 220,000 pheasants annually for release on public lands – provides some of the best pheasant action on the continent.
While most of Pennsylvania’s hunters and trappers likely agree they get a lot for their license dollar, many might not realize just how little licenses cost here, in comparison to other states.
And even if the Game Commission’s proposal is adopted as drafted, and fees for hunting and furtaker licenses are increased to $39 over a five-year period, Pennsylvania still would have the eighth-cheapest license in the nation, based on the existing fees in other states.
Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said it’s important hunters and trappers understand why an increase is needed.
“License-fee increases have not come about very often in Pennsylvania,” Hough said. “In fact, this 16-year span is the second-longest period the Game Commission ever has gone without an increase. The longest span was from the Great Depression through World War II.
“Seeking an increase is not something we take lightly,” Hough said. “We understand families often have tight budgets, and everyone needs to live within their means. That’s some of the reason why our license fees are among the lowest in the nation.
“But we also want our hunters and trappers to realize we, as an agency, are facing overwhelming financial challenges, many of which are beyond our control and are certain to continue into the future. Without a license-fee increase we soon will not be able to provide the same level of service. We will have to make cuts. And, to me, that would be much more costly for hunters and trappers than the increase we’ve proposed.”
How is wildlife management funded?
State wildlife agencies like the Game Commission typically get most of their funding from license-buying hunters and trappers.
Today in Pennsylvania, almost 40 percent of the Game Commission’s revenue comes from the sale of hunting and furtaker licenses. Other primary sources of income include federal Pittman-Robertson funds collected from an excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition, and revenue derived from the sale of natural resources like timber, oil and gas on lands owned by the Game Commission.
With these revenues, largely generated by hunters and trappers, the Game Commission manages 480 species of wild birds and mammals, most of which aren’t hunted.
Unlike a number of other states, the Game Commission does not receive tax money from the state’s general fund to help pay for staff and operations.
Why is more money needed?
In Pennsylvania, fees for hunting and furtaker licenses can’t be changed without approval from the state General Assembly through legislative action.
It’s been 16 years since the last increase took effect in 1999, raising the cost of resident adult hunting and furtaker licenses from $11.75 to $19.
While just about everyone understands how most costs have risen sharply over the past 16 years due to inflation, the Game Commission – as an employer – has seen its employee-benefit costs more than double over that time. In the fiscal year the last increase was approved, the agency’s overall personnel costs totaled $40.4 million. In the current fiscal year, they total $82.1 million.
And there are fewer Game Commission employees today than there were 16 years ago.
Most of the increase in personnel costs is due to rising benefit costs, which have doubled in the past decade. Salaries have remained relatively flat during that period.
Personnel costs largely are outside the agency’s control. Game Commission employees are state employees. Many work under negotiated contracts, and all of them are entitled to the same benefits as other state workers.
The only way the Game Commission could reduce personnel costs significantly would be to cut the number of employees. But without a sufficient workforce, the agency would compromise its ability to carry out its mission of managing and protecting the state’s wildlife and its habitats.
In recent budget years, the Game Commission’s expenses have been outpacing its revenues, and this trend not only is projected to continue, but the funding gap is expected to widen.
Many planned projects already have been put on hold because of funding shortfalls. The Game Commission cut its operations budget by $11 million in 2015-16 to cover the rising personnel costs that make up the bulk of its $106 million budget total.
But even if the Game Commission maintains personnel and operations at current levels, expenses will outweigh revenues by a whopping $35.5 million by 2019-20, based on projections. And that would be only to continue the services provided now, and wouldn’t include implementing the objectives in the strategic plan that carries the agency into 2020.
The Game Commission’s strategic plan identifies the need for sustainable agency funding to continue carrying out its mission.
Hunting license fees
Pennsylvania’s hunting license fees are among the lowest in the nation.
Only Hawaii has a lower fee for resident adults seeking opportunities similar to those a Pennsylvania hunter gets for the cost of his or her general license and state migratory game bird license.
In many states, those opportunities cost resident hunters four times as much, if not more.
In New Jersey, for example, the cost to hunt antlered deer, spring and fall turkeys, pheasants and other small game and waterfowl (not including the cost of a federal duck stamp) costs adult residents $122. In other top hunting states like Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan, residents pay $116, $106 and $73, respectively, for those same opportunities.
Compare that to Pennsylvania, where residents pay less than $25 for otherwise identical licenses.
Additionally, many other wildlife agencies receive appropriations from their state’s general fund, or revenue from state sales or income taxes to supplement the revenue generated through their higher license fees.
The Game Commission currently receives no funding from the state general fund.
The Game Commission’s proposal to increase fees for hunting and furtaker licenses would not affect junior hunting licenses, junior combination licenses or senior hunting licenses.
Those licenses would remain at $5, $8 and $12, respectively, plus $1.70 in fees that are split between the issuing agent and license processor.
Most other resident and nonresident license fees would increase three times in five years under the proposal. The cost of a resident adult hunting or furtaker license would increase by $10 in the first year fees are changed, then would increase by $5 in the third year, and another $5 in the fifth year of the plan.
Fees for bear, antlerless deer, archery, muzzleloader, migratory game bird and special wild turkey (second spring gobbler) licenses also would see increases as part of the proposal. A chart showing the proposed increases is included with this news release. More information about the proposal for an increase also can be found at the Game Commission’s website.
But as part of its proposal, the Game Commission also seeks to create a new license that could be used to participate in just about all hunting and trapping opportunities in Pennsylvania, and at a significant discount for those who purchase it.
The Ultimate Outdoorsman license would include a general hunting license, furtaker license, special wild turkey license, and licenses for bear, archery, muzzleloader and migratory game bird.
If approved, the resident Ultimate Outdoorsman license would be available initially for $125. That’s only $25 more than residents pay now for those licenses combined. And if license fees increase as proposed, the Ultimate Outdoorsman license would save hunters $23 compared to buying the licenses individually.
Fees for the Ultimate Outdoorsman license would increase incrementally by $25 in the third year, and another $25 in the fifth year, based on the proposal. In the fifth year, the $175 license would result in a savings of $33.
Antlerless deer hunters with an Ultimate Outdoorsman license still would need a valid antlerless deer license, DMAP permit or DMA 2 Antlerless Deer Permit for each deer they harvest, except during the flintlock muzzleloader season, when an antlerless deer may be taken with an unused antlered deer tag. Those participating in the seasons for bobcats, fishers and river otters also would need valid permits in addition to their licenses. Elk applications and licenses also would continue to be sold separately.
Where did all the gas money go?
While the financial projections that are driving the need for a license-fee increase speak for themselves, some have asked about the revenue the Game Commission receives from timber sales and energy leases on game lands, and why they can’t be used to make up funding shortfalls.
The answer is, they have been used in that manner.
About 17 percent of the revenues generated by the oil, gas and mineral program since 2005 have been used to purchase an additional 43,731 acres of state game lands. But the bulk of oil, gas and mineral revenues has been used as stopgap funding that has allowed the Game Commission’s operations to continue, even as its total expenses began to outweigh its total revenues.
Because gas and timber revenues are market-driven, they are unpredictable and therefore unreliable sources of income. In recent years, both timber sales and energy leases have generated less money. And industry analysts predict market prices will remain depressed for the foreseeable future.
The top year for timber revenue was 2005, when markets were high and the program netted about $12 million. In 2014, timber sales resulted in only about $550,000 in actual profits. Revenue related to Marcellus shale leases and other elements of the agency’s oil, gas and mineral program peaked in 2013, when $24 million was raised. In the current fiscal year, profits are projected at $22.5 million.
While Marcellus shale leases continue to be an important source of agency revenue, there is minimal opportunity remaining for further Marcellus shale development on game lands.
Financial present and future
As expenses began outpacing revenues in recent years, the Game Commission responded with major project and program cuts.
Plans to build a new visitor center at Pymatuning Wildlife Management Area have been put on hold, as have plans to build a central office for the agency’s biologists. Habitat projects have been scaled back, and some wildlife-research projects might be eliminated. Further infrastructure improvements within the state’s elk range are being put off. And positions have been eliminated or left unfilled.
Still, further cuts will be needed without a timely increase in funding to the agency, Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said. Even the popular pheasant-stocking program is vulnerable in the current financial climate.
Hough said, however, he anticipates better days ahead. Many of the state’s hunters and trappers already have stepped up to support a license-fee increase, and if history is any guide, a clear majority quickly will become evident. It’s been that way for 100 years, he said.
“Hunting and trapping tradition runs deep here in Pennsylvania, and for generations, our hunters and trappers have been important partners in conservation who, not only have recognized the need for timely funding increases to the agency, but have stepped up to provide that funding by paying higher license fees,” Hough said. “I would expect nothing different this time around. Our hunters and trappers care about wildlife, and they understand their license dollars go well beyond allowing them time in the field; those dollars help to protect and sustain wildlife and wildlife habitat. And given that it’s been 16 years since the last increase, and our license fees currently are among the absolute lowest in the country, I expect support for an increase will be overwhelmingly clear.”
The Game Commission already has met with a number of sportsmen’s organizations to discuss a license-fee increase. And Hough said most the comments he’s heard initially have been supportive.
“No one wants to pay more,” Hough said. “But many of the hunters I’ve spoken with have told me they’re willing to pay more. They recognize the cost of just about everything has gone up, and sympathize with us, as an agency, in having to deal with ever-growing expenses.
“They want us to continue to provide the same or increased levels of service,” Hough said. “In fact, many hunters seem to react to news of the proposed increase in the same way. They say, ‘It’s about time.’”