Sunday, July 24, 2016

PA Game Commission Bans Drones and Other Announcements

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today took action to better protect wildlife from unnecessary disturbances on game lands and other property controlled by the Game Commission.
The board voted unanimously to prohibit on Game Commission-controlled property the operation, control, launching or retrieval of drones.
The recreational flying of drones rapidly has gained in popularity, and as it has, the number of cases where drones have caused concern for wildlife has increased as well.
During the snow-goose migration season at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area this year, for instance, Game Commission staff detected at least five instances where drones disturbed wildlife. In one case, a drone was flown into an off-limits propagation area that serves as a sanctuary for resting waterfowl, and another disturbance caused hundreds of waterfowl to suddenly flush. There also were reports of drones being flown close to bald-eagle nests, which causes an obvious risk to eagles and their eggs.
Clearly, this type of activity runs counter to the intended use of properties like Middle Creek and other tracts of state game lands owned by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
The Board of Game Commissioners in April gave preliminary approval to a proposal to ban the flying of unmanned aerial vehicles over lands or waters designated as state game lands. The measure was amended after a legal review by the state Attorney General’s office, which said only the federal government has the authority to regulate airspace.
The amended proposal, which was given final approval today, prohibits the operation, control, launching or retrieval of drones on game lands, unless a specific exception is approved in writing by the Game Commission’s executive director.
The ban is expected to take effect in the coming weeks, after a legal review of the regulation. 
Shooting ranges on state game lands soon could be open longer on Sundays before and within the firearms deer and bear seasons.
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a measure that calls for ranges to remain open from 8 a.m. to sunset on the Sundays immediately preceding, and any Sundays throughout the duration of the firearms deer and firearms bear seasons.
The measure will be brought back to the September meeting for a final vote.
As it is now, shooting ranges on game lands, are open from noon to sunset each Sunday, except the Sundays immediately preceding the firearms deer and firearms bear seasons, when ranges are open from 8 a.m. to sunset.
Regular Monday-through-Saturday hours are 8 a.m. to sunset.
Commissioners said the expansion of Sunday hours, while minor, creates a convenience for hunters who might find themselves pressed for time to adjust sights or scopes on firearms at the height of the hunting season.
The measure also strengthens safety provisions by prohibiting the possession or discharge of a loaded firearm anywhere on the range while another person is downrange.
Intentionally shooting at or damaging the frames or stands constructed to mount permanent target backboards also would be prohibited if the measure receives final approval.
Municipalities and other political subdivisions that request permits to manage deer populations will need to more strongly consider managing deer through hunting before gaining approval to use another method.
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave final approval to a series of amendments to the application process for special deer-control permits.
As part of the background information on deer populations and damage that permit applicants are required to submit, applicants will be asked to specifically define how licensed public hunting has been used in the problem area previously, and how it will be used during the period the permit would be valid.
Commissioners said the measure helps to ensure hunters have an opportunity to manage deer on properties where high deer populations have created problems.
Speaking for the board, President Commissioner Brian Hoover, of Glenolden, said keeping the Pennsylvania hunter as part of the process “always is No. 1 in our minds.”
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave final approval to a measure that allows the Game Commission’s executive director to designate one shooting day at each the Middle Creek and Pymatuning Wildlife Management Areas as open only to veterans with disabilities.
Participants will be selected by a random drawing, and only those who qualify for and possess a disabled veteran license can apply. Successful applicants who participate in the hunt will be permitted to bring along three guests, so long as they possess proper general or base hunting licenses.
Pymatuning will conduct a Veterans With Disabilities Hunt in the 2016-17 season, and Middle Creek is expected to conduct its first at a later time after pit blinds there are made wheelchair-accessible.
A date for the Pymatuning hunt will be announced at a later date. Applications for the Pymatuning hunt are available in the Goose Blind Application page in the 2016-17 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest. Only applications clipped from the digest may be used.
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave final approval to reclassifying the porcupine as a furbearer.
The change will allow for porcupines to be trapped, as well as hunted. A porcupine trapping season has not been implemented for the 2016-17 license year, and commissioners said previously one would be implemented in future seasons only if staff recommends a trapping season.
Jeff Grove, the local government affairs director for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, on Monday addressed the commissioners and expressed the Farm Bureau’s support of the reclassification. Porcupines occasionally chew on and damage vehicle and equipment parts, especially in the winter when salt builds up on roads, and reclassifying them as furbearers will provide for additional control methods, he said.
Based on the proposal, license requirements for hunting and trapping of porcupines would mirror those for coyotes. Porcupines could be hunted by those possessing either a hunting or furtaker license, and could be trapped by furtakers, as well, during established seasons.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

New Glade Run Lake Plans Revealed by Fish and Boat Commission

HARRISBURG — One Western Pennsylvania lake is about to come back online, albeit with temporary special regulations, and a few others might be inching closer to repairs.
Glade Run Lake in Butler County was drained in 2011 after its dam developed a leak. Work to rebuild it is underway — at a cost of $2.8 million — and should be completed by September, said Paul Urbanik, chief of engineering for Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

The intent, he said, is to allow it to refill over the winter.

If all goes well, the commission will stock the lake with adult-sized, catchable trout in time for next April's opening day, said Jason Detar, chief of the commission's division of fish management. Anglers will be allowed to harvest those fish just as at any other water, he said.

What they won't be allowed to keep are the assorted minnows and gamefish — namely largemouth bass, white crappie, bluegill, and channel cat fingerlings — that also will be stocked as fingerlings starting next spring. 

Commissioners on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a proposal putting them off limits, likely for a period of years, so they can grow and repopulate the lake. 

“We want to give them some extra protection and time to develop,” said Andy Shiels, chief of the commission's bureau of fisheries.

That is standard procedure with newly refilled lakes, Detar said. How long the rule stays in place depends on how the fish respond, Detar said. The commission will monitor growth rates and make changes when the populations can handle them, he said.

The commission also is finalizing repair plans and seeking construction permits for several other “high-hazard” dams, including Somerset Lake in Somerset County and Donegal Lake in Westmoreland.

Somerset is partially drawn down. Donegal is not. But both were identified as lakes where dams must be replaced.

The cost of repairing Somerset Lake is estimated at $7.4 million and Donegal at $4.5 million, said Michelle Jacoby, chief of its bureau of engineering.

The commission doesn't have all of that money yet. It is expecting some state funding via Act 89, which directs a portion of wholesale taxes collected on gasoline to the commission for dam repairs, said Tim Schaeffer, director of policy and planning for the commission. It also is working to get capital budget money, he added.

If and when all that comes through — and the agency is hopeful it will be soon — it will decide which of its 10 remaining high-hazard dam projects to tackle first, Schaeffer said. It will then meet with anglers, boaters and others around them to explain the time frame from draining the lakes to refilling them.

Bob Frye is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via @bobfryeoutdoors.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Pheasants Will Abound This Fall

By Bob Frye
If Pennsylvania pheasant hunters can't find any birds in the field this fall, it won't be because they aren't out there.
The number stocked is expected to top anything in recent memory.
Wayne Laroche, director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's bureau of wildlife management, said the agency is exploring ways to cut costs within the pheasant program. Right now, he said, the agency spends about $4-5 million to raise and release birds.
Savings might come from buying day-old chicks and raising them, rather than keeping game farms operational year-round so as to produce them in-house, he said. With that in mind, the commission launched an experiment this year. Laroche said it bought 15,500 day-old chicks from a commercial breeder and is raising them at the game farm in Armstrong County.
That represents a “test run to see how they survive relative to our own chicks,” he said.
If that effort proves successful, he said earlier this year, the commission might go to buying all of its chicks. That would allow the game farms to close, or at least scale back operations, at slow times. Those workers would be used elsewhere, he said.
In the meantime, commission game farms produced a “bumper crop” of pheasants this spring, Laroche said.
He said those 220,000 or so birds, together with the 15,500 purchased, will lead to more than 235,000 being stocked this fall “if all goes according to plan.”

Thursday, July 7, 2016


HARRISBURG, PA - Attention Pennsylvania deer hunters: Antlerless deer licenses are days away from going on sale and, this year as much as ever, it’s important to closely follow the application instructions and pay attention to key dates because there have been some changes to the process.
Pennsylvania residents are given preference in applying for antlerless licenses, and resident hunters may apply for their first antlerless licenses beginning Monday, July 11.
But the application schedule has been changed this year to allow nonresidents to apply beginning Monday, July 18, a week after sales to residents begin.
This is a shorter wait than in previous years, when nonresidents weren’t permitted to apply until the third week of sales. And resident hunters who don’t take advantage of their provided head start might be affected by the change.
All applicants also are advised that the cost of each license has gone up by 20 cents due to a contract extension to continue the Pennsylvania Automated License System (PALS).
While this is only a slight change, it’s important that resident applicants make checks and money orders payable for $6.90 for each license they seek. The fee for nonresidents is $26.90 per license.
Applications that are incomplete or sent without proper remittance will be rejected and returned to the applicant. Applications received before the Monday start of any round also will be returned to sender.
Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said the first step to securing an antlerless license for any wildlife management unit (WMU) is to purchase your general hunting license and fill out your antlerless license application so it’s ready to be sent in.
“Seasoned applicants have learned their chances of being awarded an antlerless license, particularly in WMUs where relatively few licenses are allocated, are better if they send in their applications on time – so it’s important to get a license and fill out an application,” Hough said. “But even those who are familiar with the application process need to carefully follow the instructions laid out in full on pages 34 through 36 of the 2016-17 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest to make sure their submissions are complete.”

Friday, July 1, 2016

Bald-Eagle Numbers Becoming Difficult To Track

HARRISBURG, PA - For the first time ever, the mid-year inventory released annually by the
Pennsylvania Game Commission shows a decrease in the number of bald-eagle nests reported statewide.
Does the total suggest eagle populations are hurting?
Far from it, the experts say.
But with staffing cuts at the Game Commission leading to reduced observations, and the public less likely to report nesting activity as bald eagles become more plentiful, 239 bald-eagle nests – a decrease of 38 nests – have been reported so far in 2016.
“In no way do we believe this decreased reported number represents a decline in the bald-eagle population,” said Dan Brauning, who heads up the Game Commission’s wildlife diversity division. “Eagles are doing fine. They continue to thrive and expand into new areas, and the inventory shows that.
“But as our field and region staff take on an increased workload due to budget-driven staffing cuts, we are forced to place lower priority on documenting nests,” Brauning said. “While we’re certainly still interested in learning of new nests, and urge the public to report them, knowing nesting locations and nest productivity is harder today than it was in the days following bald-eagle reintroduction, or in the years when the bald eagle remained on the endangered- or threatened-species lists. There are many pressing responsibilities that require the attention of staff.”
Aside from the impacts staffing cuts have had on reporting, Patti Barber, a biologist with the Game Commission’s endangered and nongame birds section, said the lower mid-year number also could be a consequence of so many eagles being out there.
Many of the reports within the inventory come from citizens, and as bald eagles become more abundant and less of a novelty, fewer reports are bound to come in. Previously counted eagle pairs that relocate to a new nesting site sometimes are missed in the inventory. Even when their new nest tree is somewhere nearby, it might go unnoticed or unreported, especially if it’s off the beaten path. And new pairs of eagles that nest between existing pairs often are mistaken as one or the other existing pairs, and not recognized as a new pair.
Barber said citizens can help ensure bald-eagle nests aren’t missed in the inventory. Even nests that have been reported in previous years should be reported again if they were active this year.
Perhaps the easiest way to report a nest is by contacting the Game Commission through its public comments email address,, and use the words “Eagle Nest Information” in the subject field. Reports also can be phoned in to a Game Commission region office, or the Harrisburg headquarters.
Despite its lower bottom line, the 2016 mid-year inventory provides evidence of an expanding bald-eagle population. Of the 239 nests reported, 16 have been documented in newly established territories.
“From everything we hear and see, Pennsylvania’s bald eagles continue to thrive, exceeding our expectations and the numbers we can effectively monitor,” Barber said. “It’s a good problem to have.”
Of course, that hasn’t always been the case.
Over the course of several decades, bald-eagle populations in Pennsylvania and nationwide were decimated by the effects of water pollution, persecution and compromised nest success caused by organochloride pesticides such as DDT. Prior to the Game Commission reintroducing the bald eagle to Pennsylvania in 1983, only three bald-eagle nests statewide were known to exist – all of them in Crawford County, in the northwestern corner of the state.
Over the next seven years, 88 bald-eagle chicks were taken from nests in Saskatchewan, Canada, and brought to Pennsylvania where they were “hacked,” a process by which the eaglets were raised by humans, but without knowing it, then released into the wild.
By 1998, Pennsylvania was home to 25 pairs of nesting bald eagles. By 2006, more than 100 nests were confirmed statewide.
The Game Commission’s mid-year report eclipsed the 200-nest mark in 2011. The number then jumped to 252 nests in 2013, and a record 277 last year.
So far in 2016, bald-eagle nests have been documented in 56 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said the numbers tell the story of the bald eagle’s success, and that story is one worth celebrating.
“Many of us grew up in a world that mostly was devoid of eagles, and one where it wasn’t at all clear whether our national bird would continue to survive,” Hough said. “Who could have predicted then that, in our lifetime, we’d see the eagle population rebound to the point where sightings are common, and more people than ever are enjoying Pennsylvania’s eagles?
“It’s a remarkable success story that continues to remind us, no matter how impossible the task seems, when people come together with a focus on working for wildlife, incredible things can be achieved,” Hough said.
While Hough said he’s confident Pennsylvania’s bald-eagle population will continue to thrive, he expressed frustration the 2016 mid-year nest count was deflated, at least in part, by staffing shortages resulting from a long overdue increase in fees hunters and trappers pay for their licenses.
The Game Commission is mandated by the state Constitution to manage all of the more than 480 species of wildlife found in Pennsylvania, and it does so without any appropriation from the state’s general fund.
Instead, the Game Commission’s primary source of revenue comes from the fees Pennsylvania’s hunters and trappers pay each time they purchase their licenses.
While nearly every organized sportsmen’s group in the state has gone on record in support of a license-fee increase, the Game Commission, at the present time, is not permitted to raise or lower license fees to balance its budget; all license-fee adjustments must be approved by the state General Assembly.
“It’s now been more than 17 years since license fees were last increased – there hasn’t been one adjustment for inflation during that time, even though the price of just about everything has shot up,” Hough said. “In the past year, the agency has had to lay off staff, put off recruitment of a new wildlife conservation officer class, explore program cuts and indefinitely postpone construction projects. And the reduced number of bald-eagle nest reports in our mid-year inventory is just another small example of the trickle-down effects of fewer people needing to do more with less.
“Unfortunately, failure to provide new revenues for the agency will make it increasingly difficult to track other species, like the osprey and peregrine falcon, on the road to recovery, making future de-listings less likely,” Hough said. “And critical research and habitat work related to game species – everything we do really – will continue to suffer.
“Senate Bill 1166, which already cleared the Senate by a 47-2 vote, would change this by giving the Game Commission authority to approve when necessary incremental increases to license fees, avoiding the sharp spikes that arise when long-outdated fee amounts finally are brought up to speed,” Hough said. “This legislation would allow for gentler, more affordable transitions. And, if approved, the bill would seem a permanent solution to avoiding in the future fiscal crises like the one the agency now is in. For the sake of wildlife conservation in Pennsylvania, I ask you to please contact your legislators and urge them to adopt Senate Bill 1166.
Eagle-viewing tips
As bald eagles have expanded their range in Pennsylvania, more of the state’s residents regularly have been provided with chances to view them.
Although the bald eagle no longer is considered threatened in Pennsylvania or nationally, care still should be taken when viewing eagles, to prevent frightening them.
Those encountering nests are asked to keep a safe distance. Disturbing eagles is illegal under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Some pairs are tolerant of human activity, while others are sensitive. Their reaction often depends on the activity and approach of the individual, the nesting cycle stage, and if the eagles are used to seeing people.
Adults that are scared from a nest could abandon it, or might not return in time to keep unhatched eggs or young nestlings at the proper temperature. Frightened eaglets also could jump from the safety of the nest, then have no way to return.
Those viewing eagle nests are urged to keep their distance and use binoculars or spotting scopes to aid their viewing.
For more information on bald eagles and eagle-viewing etiquette, visit the Game Commission’s website,