GAME COMMISSION RELEASES DEER HARVEST REPORT Pennsylvania’s buck harvest increased 10 percent, and the overall deer harvest also was up 10 percent, in the state’s 2017-18 hunting seasons, which closed in January, the Pennsylvania Game Commission reported today.
Hunters harvested an estimated 367,159 deer in the 2017-18 seasons, which easily topped the overall deer harvest of 333,254 in the 2016-17 seasons.
Across the 23 Wildlife Management Units (WMU) used by the Game Commission to manage whitetails, the deer harvest decreased in only three units.
The 2017-18 buck harvest totaled 163,750, representing a 10 percent increase over the 2016-17 buck harvest of 149,460. It is the second largest harvest of bucks since antler restrictions were put in place in 2002. The largest harvest – 165,416 – occurred in the first year of antler restrictions.
The 2017-18 buck harvest also compares well with big buck harvests in Pennsylvania since the Game Commission began using calculated harvests in 1986. From that perspective, the 2017-18 buck harvest ranks as the 10th best.
But when comparing deer harvests over time, it’s important to remember that deer and hunter numbers have changed from decade to decade. In the 1987-88 deer seasons, 16 percent of deer hunters took a legal buck. Ten years later, that rate increased to 19 percent.
In the 2007-08 seasons, which were five years into antler restrictions, 15 percent of deer hunters took an antlered deer. In the 2017-18 seasons, more than 20 percent of deer hunters took an antlered deer.
The antlerless deer portion of the 2017-18 harvest also increased. Totaling 203,409, the antlerless harvest was up 11 percent over the 2016-17 antlerless harvest of 183,794. But that was by design. The 2017 antlerless license allocation increased about 7 percent over 2016’s allocation. About 64 percent of the antlerless deer harvest was adult females; button-bucks comprised 19 percent and doe fawns made up 17 percent.
In what is becoming an annual occurrence, bowhunters accounted for about a third of Pennsylvania’s 2017-18 overall deer harvest, taking 118,110 deer (62,830 bucks and 55,280 antlerless deer) with either bows or crossbows. The archery harvest also increased 10 percent over 2016-17’s total harvest of 109,250.
Good fortune also came to muzzleloader hunters, who took 23,490 deer (1,310 bucks) in the 2017-18 seasons. This harvest also represented an about 10 percent increase in overall muzzleloader harvest.
The percentage of older bucks in the 2017-18 deer harvest remained high. About 57 percent of the bucks taken by hunters were at least 2½ years old. The remainder were 1½ years old.
Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans found the latest harvest news from Pennsylvania’s deer woods to be indicative of the big bucks and good deer hunting that can be found in the state’s forests and from farming valley to farming valley. “Everywhere I go, hunters are telling me about and showing me photos of the trophy bucks they took last season,” Burhans said. “It’s something that started months ago and hasn’t stopped. I consider it a pleasure to share their excitement and see their pride.”
Agency staff currently is working to develop its 2018 antlerless deer license recommendations, which will be considered at the April 24 meeting of the Board of Game Commissioners. In addition to harvest data, staff will be looking at deer health measures, forest regeneration and deer-human conflicts for each WMU as it assembles antlerless allocations, according to Matthew Schnupp, agency Bureau of Wildlife Management director. View total deer harvest estimates by WMU for 2017-18. PENNSYLVANIA’S DEER PLAN SCORES WELL INTERNATIONALLY The Game Commission’s deer management plan has the right stuff. The Pennsylvania Game Commission’s deer management plan recently was rated one of North America’s best by Simon Fraser University in a recently published study that measured the scientific soundness and transparency of varied state and provincial wildlife management plans. Pennsylvania tied with Wisconsin for the highest-scoring deer plans in North America among states and provinces that participated in the research conducted by Kyle A. Artelle and colleagues. The study used a framework that identified four fundamental hallmarks of science relevant to natural resource management – measurable objectives, evidence, transparency and independent review – and tested for their presence through 11 specific criteria in plan assessments, according to a research article recently published on the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Science Advances website. The research paper, titled Hallmarks of science missing from North American wildlife management, challenged the widespread assumption that wildlife management in North America is science-based. Contributing to the investigation were researchers from Simon Fraser University, University of Wisconsin, University of Victoria, Hakai Institute and the Raincoat Conservation Foundation. Pennsylvania’s deer plan earned the highest score out of 667 species management plans among 62 wildlife management agencies in the United States and Canada. “Pennsylvania’s deer management plan was developed to meet high scientific standards,” said Chris Rosenberry, agency Deer and Elk Section chief. “This article validates those efforts.” Rosenberry believes work in deer management from 2006 to 2009 paved the way for the Game Commission’s deer plan to achieve the level of proficiency and transparency it has today. “No management plan is perfect,” Rosenberry emphasized. “There’s always room for improvement. And it’s that mindset that has made Pennsylvania’s deer plan stronger and more defendable today than it was 10 years ago. But it was and remains a science-based plan.” One of the most important take-home messages coming from this independent research is that it wasn’t sanctioned by Pennsylvania hunters or the Commonwealth’s deer managers, emphasized Matthew Schnupp, agency Wildlife Management Bureau director. “This rating is a third-party assessment, an objective evaluation derived from specific scientific standards that were applied to the management plans of dozens of state and provincial agencies,” Schnupp said. “It clearly illustrates our deer biologists have our white-tailed deer plan moving in the right direction.” After applying hallmarks of science to 667 hunt-management plans, Artelle and colleagues concluded 60 percent of them featured fewer than half of the indicator criteria. “The key to honest discussions about wildlife management and conservation is clarity about where the science begins and ends,” said Artelle, who is now a biologist with the Raincoat Conservation Foundation and a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Victoria. “Our approach provides a straightforward litmus test for science-based claims.”
03/30/2018 BEAR HARVEST NINTH-BEST ALL-TIME HARRISBURG, PA - Despite one of the worst opening days in more than three decades of bear hunting, Pennsylvania charted yet another Top 10 bear harvest in 2017.
Hunters harvested 3,438 bears in the 2017 seasons, with the archery harvest of 493 bears and the extended season harvest of 1,083 bears setting records for those seasons.
Forty-eight bears weighing 500 pounds or more, including 14 weighing 600 pounds or more and two weighing 700 pounds or more, were part of the 2017 harvest.
Bears were taken in 57 counties and 22 of Pennsylvania’s 23 Wildlife Management Units (WMUs). The totals represent a rebound from what was a rough start to the firearms bear season, when widespread wind and rain noticeably reduced hunter participation on opening day – traditionally the top day for bear hunters. Only 694 hunters were successful on opening day, compared to the usual 1,500 hunters that typically harvest a bear, said Game Commission bear biologist Mark Ternent. “In fact, the last time opening-day harvest dipped below 700 bears was in 1982, when bear season was only two days and the statewide bear population numbered less than 5,000 animals,” Ternent said. Participation returned to normal by the second day, and hunters proceeded to take 1,852 bears in the general season, which is just over 70 percent of the average, Ternent said.
But new bear-hunting opportunities – including an earlier bear archery season that overlaps with a week of the archery deer season, and expanded extended bear seasons – paved the way for new records in those seasons, making up for some of the opening-day loss.
“The net result is that 2017 ranks as the ninth best all-time bear harvest, and hunters will have the same season opportunities and a strong bear population again in 2018,” Ternent said. The all-time bear harvest high was recorded in 2011, when 4,350 bears were harvested. Hunters harvested 4,164 in 2005. All other bear harvests have been under 4,000.
While the 2017 harvest was down compared to 2016’s harvest of 3,529, harvest totals increased within the Game Commission’s Northeast and Southeast Regions.
The largest bear harvested in 2017 weighed an estimated 707 pounds. It was taken in Middle Smithfield Township, Monroe County, during the extended bear season in WMU 3D by Holly F. Scott, of Steelton, Pa. It was one of two 700-pound bears in the 2017 harvest.
Chad A. Wagner, of Titusville, took a bear estimated at 700 pounds in Oil Creek Township, Venango County, during the firearms bear season.
Other large bears included a 691-pound bear taken during the firearms season in Cherry Grove Township, Warren County by James M. Langdon, of Wattsburg;
a 661-pound bear taken during the extended season in Elkland Township, Sullivan County, by Timothy M. Smith, of New Albany;
a 648-pound bear taken during the firearms season in Dreher Township, Wayne County, by Joseph D. Simon, of Newfoundland;
a 648-pound bear taken during the extended season in Lehman Township, Pike County, by Jared R. Kipp, of Bethlehem;
a 638-pound bear taken during the archery season in Tamaqua Township, Schuylkill County, by Jason R. Strohl, of Nesquehoning;
a 632-pound bear taken during the extended season in Zerbe Township, Northumberland County, by Timothy I. Lenig Jr., of Shamokin;
a 625-pound bear taken during the extended season in Harrison Township, Bedford County, by Mark C. Kunkle, of Sinking Spring;
and a 616-pound bear taken during the extended season in Tremont Township, Schuylkill County, by Paul H. Neidlinger, of Pine Grove.
Lycoming County finished with 252 bears to take the top county bear harvest. It was followed by Tioga County with 214. Other top counties for bear harvests in 2017 were: Pike, 193; Potter, 161; Sullivan, 156; Wayne, 156; Clinton, 153; Bradford, 112; Warren, 109; and Luzerne, 108.
Final county harvests by region (with 2016 figures in parentheses) are: Northwest – 388 (522): Warren, 109 (131); Venango, 61 (94); Jefferson, 55 (68); Clarion, 51 (50); Crawford, 40 (57); Forest, 35 (74); Butler, 18 (11); Erie, 13 (28); and Mercer, 6 (9).
The final bear harvests by Wildlife Management Unit (with final 2016 figures in parentheses) were: WMU 1A, 17 (34); WMU 1B, 103 (156); WMU 2A, 3 (2) WMU 2B, 4 (4); WMU 2C, 207 (282); WMU 2D, 131 (101); WMU 2E, 39 (60); WMU 2F, 232 (323); WMU 2G, 474 (603); WMU 2H, 87 (108); WMU 3A, 213 (168); WMU 3B, 457 (321); WMU 3C, 262 (170); WMU 3D, 417 (355); WMU 4A, 96 (123); WMU 4B, 130 (153); WMU 4C, 157 (144); WMU 4D, 296 (324); WMU 4E, 94 (85); WMU 5A, 7 (1); WMU 5B, 1 (1); and WMU 5C, 11 (11). While the overall harvest was down in 2017 due to tough hunting on opening day, it could equate to an excellent year for bear hunting in 2018, Ternent said. Prior to the start of the 2017 hunting seasons, the statewide bear population was estimated at 20,000. The fact a lower-than-expected 2017 harvest still ranked among the best on record shows how special bear hunting in Pennsylvania has become, said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “There’s no place like Pennsylvania for hunting bears, and there’s never been a time when hunters’ chances have been better,” Burhans said.
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.’”