Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bald Eagles Approaching New Status In Pennsylvania

By Bob Frye

Pennsylvania is marking a milestone this year. It was 30 years ago that the Pennsylvania Game Commission launched efforts to re-establish wild eagles in the state.

That work has succeeded to the point that the agency might, this summer, consider moving eagles off the list of threatened species, said Dan Brauning, chief of its wildlife diversity section.

Southwestern Pennsylvania is one area where the eagles are doing well.
Beth Fife, a wildlife conservation officer for the commission in Allegheny County, has long received reports of eagles in the area, with more in the last year than ever. She recently saw her first one in Upper St. Clair.

“While driving past the old Mayview Hospital, I did a double take and tried not to wreck the car. There was a mature bald eagle flying west right down the valley,” she said.

Conservation officer Seth Mesoras said eagles have been spotted more frequently along the Conemaugh River near Johnstown, too. Christopher Deal, a conservation officer in Butler County, said he's seen eagles there this winter as well.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Washington's looming budget sequester will cut wildlife funding in Pennsylvania

By John Hayes / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By design, nearly every American will feel the pinch of federal spending cuts scheduled to go into effect Friday. Virtually all domestic governmental services, including wildlife agencies and park bureaus, will be impacted, as well as the hunters, anglers, park visitors, agency employees and wildlife that rely on federal funding.

If the harsh spending cuts occur as expected, even user-supported state agencies such as the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission will be affected.

John Arway, executive director of Fish and Boat, said it's "unfair" that federal strings attached to state wildlife agency resources may constrict budgets that are already strained. The federal government will withhold about $2 million in user-generated resources from the Fish and Boat Commission and the Game Commission.

"That money is not their money," said Arway. "That's the state's money, and that applies to all 50 states." The White House and Congress intentionally boxed themselves into the legally binding fiscal corner in 2011 when they couldn't agree on how to reduce a staggering national debt approaching $17 trillion. The sequester began as a way of kicking the spending can beyond the November 2012 election.

The Associated Press reported the Obama administration recommended the automatic, uniform spending cuts to guarantee enough deficit reductions to offset new borrowing. The goal was to ensure Washington wouldn't have to revisit the debt limit debate until after the 2012 elections -- it was thought the threat of harsh, non-surgical spending cuts that would impact every voter would drive politicians on both sides to a compromise.

With the president's support, Congress passed the Budget Control Act, which mandated across-the-board spending cuts (with exceptions including Social Security and military pay) if a federal spending deal could not be reached in two years -- March 1, 2013. Senate Democrats put their faith in post-election negotiations to avert the "fiscal cliff," which resulted in President Obama claiming victory on his promise to raise taxes on the rich, but only securing a two-month respite from the sequester, according to AP. House Republicans, who twice in 2012 passed unrequited savings plans, insist that debt limit increases must be matched by dollar-for-dollar cuts in federal spending.

With five days until the Budget Control Act takes effect, AP reported there are no meaningful efforts in Washington to avert the automatic cuts set in law nearly two years ago. Both sides blame the other. Under the sequester, $85 billion will be cut from a $3.6 trillion March-September budget and $1.2 trillion will trimmed over 10 years.

The National Park Service, with some 400 sites, 275 million annual visitors and a yearly budget of $2.75 billion, will be directly impacted by the sequester. An internal report leaked last month by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees said the NPS is bracing for an initial hit of more than $100 million that would impact 1 million park visitors.

"Congress might just as well put a big 'Keep Out' sign at the entrance to Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Cape Cod Seashore and every other iconic national park in the U.S.," coalition spokeswoman Joan Anzelmo said in a prepared statement.

Pennsylvania's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which manages the award-winning state park system, could lose $1 million in sequester cuts. "We have not received anything official from anyone," said press secretary Christina Novak. "That being said, a 7 percent reduction in federal funds could translate to a $1 million decrease in federal grants awarded to the department. We do not believe the impact would adversely affect our operations."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, part of the Department of the Interior, has not released details of sequester-related impacts on its operations. But as controller of federal excise tax revenues derived from purchases of hunting and fishing gear, the agency will be required to withhold funding from the states.

The Budget Control Act requires the federal government to hold back funds earmarked for state-based wildlife, fish and boating safety programs. Washington collects and controls Pittman-Robertson Act taxes on hunting supplies and ammunition and Dingell-Johnson Act taxes on fishing and boating supplies and fuel, which are considered mandatory, nondiscretionary funding. By law, the government is forbidden from spending those resources on anything but hunting and fishing needs in the states.

A report by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies said that under sequestration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife will withhold 7.6 percent of those trust funds from the states -- a loss of $74 million to state wildlife agencies. Not able to spend the money, the government will store the withheld funds in an account.

This year in Pennsylvania, about $20 million of the Game Commission's nearly $100 million annual budget comes from Pittman-Robertson. A little more than $14 million of Fish and Boat's $55 million budget comes from Dingell-Johnson. In the sequester cuts, the Game Commission will lose a little more than $1 million. Fish and Boat will lose $1 million.

Arway said Fish and Boat could absorb a delay in receiving its Dingell-Johnson allocation -- "I do have a rainy day fund," he said -- but a long-term loss of nearly $1 million annually would be a substantial setback for the agency. "Even if they do it for a year and give us $2 million next year," he said, "there are cost-sharing problems associated with it, and we'd still lose money."

Record sales of guns and ammunition have significantly increased Pittman-Robertson allocations to the states. Game Commission spokesman Joe Neville said the agency's increased revenue provides a financial cushion easing the blow of Friday's sequester cuts.
"What the sequester means to us is we'll have to delay some things, push that bump down the road," he said. "We have a Game Fund where we have a reserve balance. If we start seeing our Pittman-Robertson allocation going down [annually], we'll have to make adjustments to our long-term planning."

Scientist say there's more to learn about didymo, or rock snot

 By John Hayes / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The didymosphenia geminata algae, or rock snot, that arrived in southwestern Pennsylvania last summer on the Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle is icky and ugly, but it's uncertain how it will impact insect life and fish. At at Post-Gazette seminar Feb. 15 at the Allegheny Sport, Travel and Outdoors Show in Monroeville, Maryland Department of Natural Resources aquatic biologist Ron Klauda said that despite the invasive weed's 10-year presence in American fishing waters, there has not been a comprehensive scientific study of its impact on indigenous aquatic life.

"The mats get down in the rocks, but we don't know really how it effects benthic life [bottom dwelling plants and animals]," said Klauda, during a public interview at the Monroeville Convention Center. "We know that it's unusual in that the blooms are thickest in the early spring and fall -- not in the middle of summer like other aquatic weed growth -- and it doesn't grow uniformly. Some years it's worse than others, but we don't really know why."

Didymo is a nuisance, but is not toxic to humans. Klauda said blooms can grow from a single microscopic cell that can be transported in felt soles (legal in Pennsylvania), shoelaces, fish nets, ropes, boat hulls and just about anything. Anglers and boaters can help to slow the spread of didymo by cleaning boat hulls and wading boots on exiting the water. Diluted bleach or a saltwater solution will kill it but may corrode equipment.

"When I get home from wading, I put my boots in a laundry tub with warm soapy water," said Klauda. "By the time I'm done unloading the car, any invasive in there is dead.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Merger of PA fish, game commissions possible

By Bob Frye 

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania legislature may once again explore the idea of merging the Game and Fish and Boat commissions.
Forty-nine states manage fish and wildlife under the auspices of one agency. Pennsylvania is the lone exception.
But state Rep. Martin Causer, the Potter County Republican who chairs the House game and fisheries committee, said Tuesday he wants the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to study a merger.
He made that announcement at the close of a hearing about the Fish and Boat Commission's annual report, where executive director John Arway outlined financial challenges — not of its own making — facing the agency.
Those money troubles, which are behind plans to close two trout hatcheries, one in his district, are one reason a merger might be appropriate, Causer said.
“I think the thing to do at a time when we're all looking so hard at budgets is to see if it makes sense to consolidate government agencies,” Causer said.
A combined commission would continue to operate independently, he said. But it might be more efficient, he added.
The idea of even studying a merger is not a done deal. The full House of Representatives must authorize it. But Causer said he's optimistic that will happen in time for a study to be completed by year's end.
Arway was quick to say the Fish and Boat Commission views a merger as a “bad idea.”
“We think the independent form of government we've got with two commissions has worked very well over a long period of time,” he said.
Game Commission spokesman Joe Neville said staff at that agency would have to have “some long, hard discussions before commenting in depth” on the idea. But the Game Commission, which doesn't have the same financial problems as Fish and Boat right now, isn't interested in a merger per se, he said.
“I have no doubt that our senior management staff has the talent and expertise to assimilate (Fish and Boat Commission) operations into ours. An equal merger assumes the Game Commission gets responsibility for Fish and Boat's issues and problems but does not have complete authority to address those issues since they would be shared,” Neville said.
The legislature studied the idea of a merger twice before, most recently in 2003. A report issued then said that a merger of the two commissions was “clearly feasible” and would save money. But it also said that a bigger issue was the need to find new revenue sources for fish and wildlife programs.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Pennsylvania Game Commission Recruits 30th Wco Class

HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe today announced the agency is preparing to recruit applicants for its 30th Class of Wildlife Conservation Officer Cadets, which is slated to begin in March of 2014.

The application process is set to run for 30 days beginning March 6, 2013 or until 600 applications are received, whichever occurs first. Online applications may be submitted via the State Civil Service Commission’s website ( However, no applications will be accepted until the test announcement is issued by the Civil Service Commission. Announcements may be viewed on the Civil Service Commission’s website, click on “Job Seekers,” then select “Law Enforcement, Investigation and Safety,” and scroll down to the listing for “Wildlife Conservation Officer Cadet.” For additional information regarding the recruitment process, life as a Cadet and duties of a Wildlife Conservation Officer, please visit the Game Commission’s website (

Wildlife Conservation Officers are covered by the Civil Service Act of Pennsylvania. Applicants for these positions must be in excellent physical condition, have knowledge of hunting and outdoor activities, and be able to maintain an effective working relationship with associates and the general public.

Employees in this classification are selected and appointed following a competitive examination conducted by the Civil Service Commission. Officers begin their careers as Cadets assigned to the Ross Leffler School of Conservation, the Game Commission's in-service training school located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Wildlife Conservation Officer Cadet classes are periodically recruited as necessary to maintain the complement of field personnel.
Applicants must be: a resident of Pennsylvania; have a high school diploma or G.E.D. equivalency; at least 21 years of age by March 1, 2014; possess a valid Pennsylvania driver's license; and pass competitive written and oral examinations administered by the Civil Service Commission. Those interested in enrolling also must have possessed a hunting or furtaking license for two license years as of March 1, 2013.

Any offer of employment is conditional upon successful completion of medical, vision, hearing, physical, strength, stress, agility and swimming tests, which include swimming for 100 yards and treading water for five minutes.

A confidential pre-employment background and character investigation will be completed on all applicants considered for appointment.

After being accepted for employment, Wildlife Conservation Officer Cadets are required to complete an intensive 50-week training program conducted at the Training School.
Currently, Cadets are paid $1,173 bi-weekly and receive a standard Commonwealth employee benefits package. Lodging and meals are provided at the Training School at no charge.
During weekdays, Cadets are required to reside at the school. Weekends are generally free of duty. On duty-free weekends, Cadets must vacate the training school. Housing accommodations for the families of Cadets are not available. Absences may be granted only under emergency conditions or as the training schedule may permit.

Major subject areas of instruction include: wildlife management; law enforcement; principles and methods; wildlife laws and regulations; land management practices; public relations and conservation education; firearms training and unarmed self-defense; and agency administrative procedures. In addition to classroom studies, the training program includes temporary field assignments with experienced officers. Field training provides Cadets with practical experience in law enforcement and other duties performed by Wildlife Conservation Officers. Cadets are reimbursed for authorized expenses incurred on these assignments.
Upon successfully completing the training program, Cadets are promoted to the position of Wildlife Conservation Officer and are assigned to fill vacancies throughout the Commonwealth. The current annual starting salary for a Wildlife Conservation Officer is $38,995. Wildlife Conservation Officers are responsible for administering a wide variety of Commission programs within an assigned district of about 350 square miles. Primary duties include law enforcement, responding to wildlife conflicts, conservation education, and administration of the Hunter-Trapper Education program. Officers also are responsible for directing and training part-time Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officers.

The Game Commission provides all necessary equipment for Wildlife Conservation Officers to perform their duties; uniforms, firearms, a fully-equipped automobile, personal computer and office furnishings. Officers work from their residences and are subsidized for rental of office space.

Wildlife Conservation Officers work under the supervision of a Regional Director and supervisory staff. Officers generally work 40 hours per week and are eligible for overtime under certain conditions. Hours of work vary and often include nights, weekends and holidays.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is an equal opportunity employer.

Facts from the Pennsylvania Game Commission:

In 1930, Ross Leffler, the then-president of the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners, proposed the establishment of a training school for “Game Protectors,” as they were called at that time. When the training school opened its doors in Brockway, Jefferson County, in 1932, it was the first such conservation officer training school in the world and served as a model for other states. From 1932 until 1935, the Ross Leffler School of Conservation offered in-service training for Game Protectors. The Commission voted to make the school a permanent facility and enrolled its first class of Cadets in 1936, and continued training new classes at this facility until 1986. In 1987, the training school was moved to the Harrisburg headquarters, which had just opened the doors to its current facility in Susquehanna Township, Dauphin County.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lawmakers, Commission In Battle Over Fish License Fees

By Bob Fry Tribune-Review 

This might be a first.

State lawmakers are trying to give money — yours, not theirs — to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, but the agency doesn't want it.

The commission announced in January that it was closing two trout hatcheries next year to account for $9 million in budget cuts needed by 2017. That will mean 750,000 fewer fish stocked.

The decision caught lawmakers by surprise, and they're not happy about it.

One, Centre County Republican Sen. Jake Corman, was so angry he said it may be time to think about whether the agency should become a division of the Game Commission or Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

“Clearly, if they can't survive on their own, they may need to be part of another entity,” he said.
State Rep. Gary Haluska, a Cambria County Democrat, isn't going that far. But he did say the commission should ask for an increase in the cost of fishing licenses and trout stamps if that's what it takes to churn out trout for the 70 percent of anglers who pursue them.

“I think it's due,” Haluska said. “How many companies can go eight years without raising the price it charges for its goods and services? I think anglers would understand that.”

He said he offered to sponsor that legislation, but was told the commission isn't interested.
There's good reason for that, said executive director John Arway. History shows that every time the commission raises fees, it loses anglers who never come back, he said.

The commission had 1.2 million license buyers at its peak in 1990. It lost fishermen when the trout stamp was created in 1991, lost more when the cost of a fishing license went up by $4.25 in 1996 and lost more when license fees last went up by $4.75 in 2005.

The state has just 800,000 license-buying fishermen now.

“(Haluska) can't get me to agree to a license fee increase because we lose 8 to 10 percent of our anglers as soon as we do that. I don't want to lose 80,000 anglers,” Arway said. “We need to fix our problems, but the fix is not raising fishing license fees.”

Arway told lawmakers he won't oppose a fee increase, but he won't support it either, not unless his board tells him to. It hasn't. Commission president Steve Ketterer said the agency has been working to figure out what a license fee increase might look like and how much revenue it might raise. Arway will present that information during his annual report to the House of Representatives game and fisheries committee Tuesday.

But commissioners want to see a long-term revenue stream developed, Ketterer said.

‘Other’ Trout Provide Opportunity For Pennsylvania Anglers

By Bob Frye Pittsburgh Tribune Review

You might call these the “other” fish.

Sure, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stocks trout. It plans to put about 3.2 million in waters around the state this year.

But that number's been declining and figures to go down again after the commission closes two hatcheries late next year.

There are other trout out there, though, thanks to the efforts of local sportsmen. Clubs are again this year raising money and buying fish to stock in the Yough and Kiski rivers and in Upper and Lower Twin lakes, while cooperative nurseries are stocking streams ranging from Montour Creek in Allegheny County to Blackleggs Creek in Indiana.

That's tradition for many.

Smithton Sportsmen and Conservation Association has been stocking the Yough for decades. This spring, it will put about $13,000 worth of rainbow, brown and occasionally golden palomino trout in the river, from the Smithton bridge upstream about 1.5 miles to Jacobs Creek.

In keeping with what fishermen seem to want, the bulk of the fish will be between 12 and 14 inches, with some in the 16- to 18-inch class mixed in.

“The last couple of years we've tried to go with quality over quantity. We've gotten a lot of positive feedback over that,” said club president Tom Morrissey.

West Newton Sportsmen's Association is likewise hoping to stock $12,000 worth of fish this year. Most will be rainbow, brown and palomino trout, and most will go in the Yough River.

But the club, under the direction of president Paul Angelcyk, is offering a couple of twists. It may stock a few catfish in the river, too, and some of its trout are headed for Sewickley Creek.

“We put some in there on a trial basis last year, and everybody seemed to really like it, so we're going to do it again,” said stocking committee member Gary Allen.

The effort to stock the Kiski River resulted in about $5,000 worth of trout released last year. The goal is to do at least as well again this year, said Neill Andritz of The River's Edge in Leechburg.

“The river's come a long way,” he said this past week, while exhibiting fishing kayaks at the Allegheny Sport, Travel and Outdoor Show. “People can't believe how good it is.”

At Twin Lakes, the fishing association plans to do three stockings this year, one on opening day of the season, one in May in conjunction with a fishing derby and one in the fall. Approximately $6,000 worth of fish will be stocked, as last year, said club treasurer Lloyd Ohler. As in the past, the browns and rainbows will be 14 inches and longer, and about 50 will be tagged for prizes each time.

“None of the tags are worth less than $15, so you at least get the cost of your membership back if you get a tagged fish,” Ohler said.

Just where the one million trout raised by cooperative nurseries are headed is a little harder to pin down. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission provides those clubs with fingerling trout to raise and requires that all be stocked in waters open to public fishing.

“But at a lot of these clubs, the volunteer pool is one or two people deep, so we don't require them to do more work and advertise where they put their fish,” said Earl Myers, leader of the commission's cooperative nursery unit.

The agency is investigating the idea of putting stocking details on its website in the future. For now, anglers can call the agency to get them in touch with those clubs, Myers said.

So, there are trout out there. Anglers just need to get after them.

“Send people down our way,” Morrissey said. “The river could use some more fishermen.”

• Smithton Sportsmen sells $10 buttons to raise money to buy trout. They're available at Gander Mountain in Greensburg or at River conditions permitting, trout will be stocked at the ballfield in Smithton at 9 a.m. on March 16, 23 and 30 and April 6, 10 and 20.

• West Newton Sportsmen also sells $10 buttons to support its efforts. They are available at Youghiogheny Canoe Outfitters, Williams Ace Hardware and other businesses. River conditions permitting, trout will be stocked in the Yough near the canoe shop at 1 p.m. on March 16, 23 and 30 and April 6 and 20 and at 6 p.m. on April 12. Fish will be put in Sewickley Creek at 1 p.m. on April 27 and May 11 at the Apples Mill Bridge.

• Memberships in the Twin Lakes Fishing Association are $10 for adults and $5 for kids ages 8 to 15. A membership is needed to redeem a tagged fish. They're available at the boathouse by the lower lake.

• The Stock the Kiski effort also is supported by button sales. Buttons are available at The River's Edge in Leechburg and at other businesses along the river.

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Hunters, Anglers Add $1.5 Billion To State Economy

By John Hayes / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Hunting and fishing is big business in Pennsylvania. In 2011, 1.42 million men and women who hunted or fished in the state spent $1.5 billion on outdoors trips and equipment, with miscellaneous "ripple effect" expenses of $2.5 billion in the Keystone State. Collectively, they supported 24,797 jobs.

A report issued last week by the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation, which provides information, support and guidance to federal and state legislators, said the impact of traditional outdoors hobbyists on the state's economy was "tremendous."

The $1.5 billion in 2011, group president Jeff Crane said in a written statement, "is more than the [$1.23 billion] combined receipts for corn and cattle, the state's No. 2 and No. 3 agricultural commodities, that year."

The Pennsylvania statistics were culled from the CSF's annual national report, which was based on analysis of nationwide and statewide hunting and fishing data collected for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife Associated Recreation.

To further illustrate the impact of hunting and fishing on Pennsylvania's economy, the report noted that the number of hunters and anglers in the state is nearly the same as the population of Philadelphia (1.5 million) and more than the 2011 total home-game attendance of the Philadelphia Eagles (1.28 million) and Pittsburgh Steelers (1.06 million). Pennsylvania hunters and anglers support roughly the same number of jobs as Penn State University (25,000), the third largest employer in the state.

Nationwide, more than 37 million hunters and anglers, an increase from 2010, spent $90 billion on hunting and fishing in the United States in 2011.

"Many people may not fully comprehend how important hunting and fishing are to the fabric of this country," said Crane. "Yet nationally, there are more people who hunt or fish than go bowling, and their spending would land them at No. 24 on the Fortune 500 list."

Including license and permit fees, excise taxes on hunting and fishing gear, and membership contributions to conservation organizations, the report said American hunters and anglers invested an additional $3 billion in wildlife and habitat conservation and restoration efforts in 2011.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Boaters May Need To Help Bail Out Sinking Commission

By Tribune-Review

You can't really call it the other shoe dropping because many more shoes — perhaps on an Imelda Marcos scale — are sure to follow.

But the fallout from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's budget crunch continued this past week.

Executive director John Arway and staff members met with the commission's boating advisory board to roll out the idea of requiring the owners of non-powered boats to register them with the agency. Currently, only motorboats need to be registered. Owners of canoes, kayaks, rowboats and sailboats need a launch permit to use a state park lake or commission access, but can otherwise float for free.

The commission has decided that's not fair.

The popularity of paddling in particular has grown “exponentially” over the past decade, said Laurel Anders, director of the commission's bureau of boating and outreach. Last year alone, nearly 233,000 Pennsylvania households reported using a canoe or kayak, she said.

Those boaters benefit from things like water trails, boater handbooks, navigational aids, boating safety education, and the services of waterways conservation officers, so they need to chip in financially, she added.

“We have to look at what we can do in those areas to boost revenues coming into the boat fund,” Anders said.

It's estimated the idea could net $1.3 million annually, so the agency is shopping the idea to state lawmakers.

Driving the issue is the commission's financial situation. It has to trim about $9 million from its budget over the next four years to accommodate mandatory medical care and pension costs passed down by the federal and state governments, respectively, and to cover contractually mandated payroll and benefit expenses, Arway said.

It's already planning to save $2.1 million by closing two hatcheries and stocking about 750,000 fewer trout a year. It will save another $1 million by not training any new conservation officers, even at the expense of leaving vacant districts unfilled.

That leaves $6 million in cuts yet to find.

Moving forward, additional hatcheries may have to be closed, even if that's “catastrophic” for fishermen, said commissioner Len Lichvar of Somerset County. Also possible are cutbacks in maintenance at launches and access areas — including the removal of portable toilets — less money for dam repairs, and the end of grant programs, he said.

If anglers and boaters don't push lawmakers to find the commission new money, tough times await, Arway said.

“You're going to get a lower level of service for the same amount of money just because other bills are coming due,” he said.

Training A Hunting Dog Begins Before Stepping Outside

It's hard to get a shot when the dog is off chasing a deer, ignoring calls and flushing game a quarter of a mile away. But don't blame the pooch. It's more likely a matter of bad training than bad genes.

"My motto is: Don't blame 'em, train 'em," said Rich Kerlin, owner of Kerlin Kanine Training in Hopewell.

At two seminars this week at the Allegheny Sport, Travel and Outdoor Show at Monroeville Convention Center, Kerlin will offer tips for training quality hunting dogs.

Kerlin specializes in pointers and retrievers but has helped hound owners to keep their dogs focused on the scent. His kennel generally keeps about 10 dogs in training, but 85 percent of his business is in private lessons -- training owners to train their dogs.

The hunt for a good hunting dog starts before meeting the puppy, he said. Pre-purchase research can make all the difference.

"Dogs are just like people -- each one has its own maturity rate and personality," Kerlin said. "Pedigree and background can be important in helping you to find a good, healthy dog, and you could spend $1,000 or $50. But I tell people to think about specifically what kinds of hunting they'll want the dog to do, what kind of home and family they're bringing the dog into, and how much time they plan to spend on training it."

If you think you might hunt pheasants and ducks a few times a year and want a family dog and good buddy, consider a Labrador retriever, which Kerlin calls "the stereotypical family dog."
If you live in an apartment without a lot of running space and want a dog that's good with kids, think Brittany or another small breed. Grouse hunting is the speciality of the English setter, which requires more exercise than some breeds. German shorthair pointers may be too active for families in cramped quarters with young kids.

Nothing runs rabbits like a smelly but lovable beagle. But while a good trainer can finesse the hunting instincts of a bird dog, Kerlin said individual hounds either have a good nose and sense for hunting or they don't. A bad point-of-purchase decision could be impossible to correct.
Before buying a dog, consider the cost. In addition to the initial purchase, plan for a one-time $200 to $250 investment in a kennel, collar, leashes, initial training supplies and retrieving dummy. Trips to the vet can be expensive, and expect to pay $30 to $40 per month for a 40-pound bag of food. Kerlin is "a firm believer in good, quality dog food."

Consider the time. Failure to teach a puppy to obey can set a negative standard that's hard to break in later years.

"I hear all the time, 'I don't have time to train a dog,' " said Kerlin. "With a young puppy it takes 10 to 15 minutes a day, and you work it into your daily routine. If you can't put 10 to 15 minutes a day into it, don't get the dog."

As pack animals, hunting dogs naturally want to be part of the family. That's a good thing, provided the owner correctly introduces the new member of the family in the right way.

"If you're getting a puppy to raise with your kid, it's probably the hard way to bring up a hunting dog," Kerlin said. "I'm a big believer in getting the kids involved in the training -- a 7-year-old can be very much involved in training the dog. But if you have a newborn to 3-year-old, now you have two infants in the house."

Some quality breeders, hoping to place their puppies in good homes, ask a lot of questions and want to meet the family. That's a good sign that you're getting a good, healthy animal, Kerlin said. The flip side is that it's not always wise to take the whole family when picking out a dog.

"Leave the kids at home," he said. "Any puppy out there will look adorable. The more research you do, the better, and do your thinking with your head, not your heart."

Avoid picking two pups from the same litter. Kerlin said the dogs may be forever engaged in sibling rivalry or bond with each other more than with their trainer.

Obedience training begins on Day 1. Puppyhood is the imprinting age, when positive and negative associations are introduced that may remain through the dog's lifetime.

"The old-school way was to wait one year to begin training, but that's not the way to do it," Kerlin said. "Under 6 months, you're setting the foundation for more formal training. First comes housebreaking, getting the puppy used to the leash and correcting common puppy problems -- play biting and jumping up. Later comes basic retrieving skills -- getting the animal comfortable in water and used to the sound of gunshots, introducing it to live birds."

A tip for teaching soft-mouth skills: Train the dog to retrieve a frozen bird -- a deep hardy bite will be uncomfortable, and it will learn to lightly cradle the bird between its jaws.

A tip for teaching obedience: "Aggression breeds aggression," Kerlin said. "You don't want to slap, hit or kick a dog -- it makes no sense to them. You want to duplicate natural canine correction. Grab it by the scruff of the neck or the muzzle."

At some point in the dog's training, Kerlin recommends seeking the help of a professional trainer.

"The main thing I see people doing wrong is pushing the dog too fast too soon," he said. "They're puppies for a long time. Up to 6 months, they're like little kids. At 6 months, they hit puberty, and around 1 year, they're like high school students -- not fully adult but mature enough to start taking them hunting."

Most big breeds reach adulthood and full mental development at 2 1/2 to 3 years.

"Training should be fun for the dog and the trainer," Kerlin said. "Any dog can be trained to do something."

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Pennsylvania Boar Hunting Ban Nears Approval

Bob Frye Pittsburgh Tribune Review

The end of hog hunting in Pennsylvania is one step closer to being reality.
Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval at their last meeting to regulations that remove protection from the animals statewide and, most importantly, prohibit the importation, possession and release of feral swine and wild boar into the wild.

The ban on importation and possession — if given final approval in April — would eliminate hog hunting on game preserves.

The commission wants to get rid of hogs because it fears they will escape into the wild and become established, as has happened in other states. It views their eradication as necessary “to prevent further harm to our natural resources, agricultural industry, forest products industry and threats to human health and safety,” said executive director Carl Roe in an official statement.

A couple of hunting preserve owners who spoke at the commission's most recent meeting said keeping hogs out of the wild is a good idea, but a total ban is not the right decision.
Mike Gee of Tioga Ranch in Tioga County said the state should license hunting preserves so it can monitor them, he said. Responsible owners would welcome that because of their investment in their facilities, he said.

“Animals are very expensive. Ranchers go to great lengths to keep them inside our fences,” Gee said.

William Snyder, owner of Double Boar Ranch in Shippenville, agreed. Wild boars make up about 98 percent of his business, he said, because they don't grow antlers that fall off each year, and they're good eating. That makes them popular with hunters year-round, he said.
“I don't feel it's responsible to take someone who's got all of their money invested in their livelihood like me and put me out of business,” Snyder said. “It's a chemotherapy for my industry. I think there are better solutions out there.”

Commissioner Ralph Martone of Lawrence County praised Snyder's operation. The problem is not all facilities are that well maintained, he added. Lesser ones are responsible for the boars roaming in the wild already, he said.

The commission must develop rules that account for those kinds of operations, Martone said.
Commissioner Dave Putnam of Centre County agreed and said it's incumbent upon the commission to protect the state's wildlife and hunting industry, where “millions or billions of dollars are at risk.”

“The Game Commission has a very serious duty to protect that,” Putnam said

Unlikely allies
The debate about keeping wild boars or hogs out of Penn's Woods has put a couple of organizations who often have opposing views on the same side.

The Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs and Humane Society of the United States support proposed regulations aimed at keeping wild boars out of the state. Their reasons are not identical, however.

“Many other states that failed to react to illegal and accidental introduction into the wild are now paying the price of having expanding populations causing devastating damage to wildlife habitat and wildlife,” said Chuck Lombaerde, president of the Federation.

The Humane Society cited the need to protect native wildlife as one reason for supporting a hog ban. It also has a long-standing opposition to any kind of “canned” hunts at preserves.