Sunday, March 13, 2016

Game Commission Report Cards Seem Sure To Fade Away

With apologies to “Sesame Street,” one of these things is not like the other.

Eight-track tapes. Betamax videos. Manual credit-card machines filled with carbon paper. Harvest report cards.

All were born decades ago. Only one survives.

If you're a Pennsylvania sportsman, of course, you know the answer. While the others have come and gone — replaced by better, faster, more innovative options — report cards are hanging on.

But for how long?

Some Pennsylvania Game Commission officials want to get rid of them. They're costly — to the tune of $138,000 a year to print, mail and process — slow to trickle in and labor intensive in terms of the resulting data entry.

“I think we're keeping an antiquated system available, which is hurting the agency,” commissioner Tim Layton of Windber said.

However, they're also a big part of propping up a flawed but important information-gathering process.

That's the rub.

Hunters who shoot a deer or turkey in Pennsylvania are required by law to report it within 10 days. They can do so online, via a toll-free number or by mailing in one of the postage-paid, preprinted post cards.

Relatively few comply. Game Commission officials put the reporting rate for deer at about 33 percent, for example.

Among those who report their deer, the use of cards has declined over the past five years, said Wayne Laroche, head of the commission's bureau of wildlife management. He expects that trend to continue.

Age is the reason. Fifty percent of senior hunters 65 and older — who are 20 percent of the hunting population — use cards when they report. But the hunters coming up to replace them are less likely to do so. Only about 23 percent of hunters ages 18-39 and 33 percent of those 40-59 — together, 54 percent of the population — do.

Still, for now, the data those older hunters provide are a big part of calculating deer harvest estimates, Laroche said. And there's no guarantee the hunters would report their deer another way if cards disappeared, he said.

So while getting rid of them makes sense long term, “we've got to be careful about how we do it,” Laroche said.

The commission may dip its toe in the no-report-card-option waters as early as this fall. Commissioners have asked staff to look into eliminating them for reporting whitetails taken through the deer management assistance program.

The commission's contract with the company that runs its automated licensing system is ending, too. Negotiations on a new deal will begin soon, executive director Matt Hough said.
Plans are for the new system to allow hunters to report a deer or turkey using an app on their smartphone, said Paul Mahon of the bureau of automated technology.

So the days of the harvest report card seem numbered. The likely guess is the commission will bide its time. As older hunters who use the report cards pass on and age out, we'll get to the point where the information gathered via cards is so insignificant that they won't matter.
Then the cards will be relegated to history. 

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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