Sunday, September 25, 2016

Pheasant program could go on chopping block without additional funding

Going, going ... maybe gone?
That could be the story with Pennsylvania's pheasants.

Wild birds — save for those reintroduced to mixed results in a few areas — long ago disappeared. In their place, the Pennsylvania Game Commission releases about 200,000 pen-reared birds a year for hunters.
But that program is in jeopardy.
The cost of a hunting license hasn't increased since 1999. The result is the commission is facing a $25 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2017-18, which begins July 1, said board president Brian Hoover of Delaware County. That's going to necessitate cutbacks, he said.
“There will be programs that will disappear, that will end,” Hoover said.
The pheasant program, which costs close to $5 million a year, could be one of those, he added. That would be felt a year from now.
The birds currently on the agency's game farms will be released as planned. Stockings will begin in time for the junior hunter pheasant season that begins Oct. 8. The statewide season opens Oct. 22.
That could be it, though.
If no additional revenue is forthcoming, the birds typically kept to produce next year's crop likely will be released, too, said commission deputy executive director Rich Palmer.
“There wouldn't be any sense in maintaining an overwintering flock if there's no intention of continuing the program,” Palmer said.

Commissioners have been looking to one piece of legislation to save the day.
Senate Bill 1166 would give the commission the authority — for the first time in its 120-plus-year history — to set its own fees. Right now, only lawmakers can adjust prices.
That bill cleared a hurdle this past week. Having passed the state Senate earlier this summer, Tuesday it was voted out of the House of Representatives game and fisheries committee. That sent it to the full House for consideration.
That body has 11 days left between Monday and Nov. 15 to approve it and send it to Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature.
Work on the bill has been ongoing for 20 months, said Rep. Keith Gillespie, a York County Republican who chairs the game and fisheries committee. Lawmakers who have shown a “lack of intestinal fortitude” in declining to raise license fees for nearly two decades must finally act, he said.
“We need to do it now,” Gillespie said.
Commissioners are hoping they will.
Development of the 2017-18 budget begins in October, Palmer said. Licenses good for the 2017-18 license year don't go on sale until June.
But if commissioners knew they could count on raising fees by then, they could commit to keeping the pheasant program operating, Hoover said.
And raise them they would, including in a new way.
Some have been calling for the commission to create a pheasant hunting stamp required of all those who hunt the stocked birds.
Dennis Duza, a retired commission employee, has been beating that drum for more than a year. He did so again at the board's meeting last week. He said the high cost of the program and the fact fewer hunters — about 10 percent of license buyers in 2014 — are pursuing pheasants makes a stamp a must.
“Short and brief, we need a pheasant stamp,” Duza said.
Board members initially rejected that idea, saying they wanted small-game hunters to be able to take birds incidentally if the opportunity arose.
A realization they need to be “smart with our dollars” has prompted a change of heart, said commissioner Tim Layton of Windber.
Hoover agrees and said a pheasant stamp likely is “in the cards” moving forward. It would be required only of the most dedicated hunters, though.
Commissioners are leaning toward allowing those who buy a general hunting license to take two pheasants a year, Hoover said. They would have to be tagged, just like a deer.
Hunters wanting to take additional birds would have to buy the stamp, Hoover said.
What it might cost has yet to be determined. The goal, though, is clear: to keep the pheasant program operating while considering the budget, Layton said.
“We've made some concessions. That's what it's really about,” Layton said.
Bob Frye is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via@bobfryeoutdoors.

New state plan for pheasant propagation is geared to young hunters

Stepping gingerly through the weedy edges of a corn-stubble field, your shotgun is at port arms, your eyes and ears  tightly focused on the waving grasses 10 yards ahead.
Suddenly, inches from your boot erupts a startling explosion of movement, sound and color. In an instant that seems to take forever, the pheasant is already 10 yards above you and cornering toward the rear. You resist the temptation to shoot too soon, holding the gun steady as you pivot to the right, then raise the barrel, pull the butt to your shoulder, release the safety and fire.
A miss -- pattern still too tight. Leveling its wings, the rooster begins to build speed. You lower the muzzle dropping it barely below the flurry of motion until the bead and the bird seem to connect and ... Blast!
The ring-necked pheasant crumbles and drops onto the corn stubble.
The most exciting hunt in Pennsylvania isn’t for deer, bear, turkey or elk. With or without dogs, a ring-necked pheasant hunt can be a thrill ride to be remembered -- when they’re there. When the birds aren’t there it’s a long walk carrying a heavy gun.
This year, the state Game Commission is testing a new pheasant plan combining an alternative means of egg acquisition with existing public-private land use agreements, education and an expanded junior-hunter season. Bob Boyd, wildlife services division chief, said the goal is to give young hunters the same pheasant-induced adrenaline rush experienced by hunters that came before them.
“These days when hunter numbers are going down, hunter recruitment activities are very important,” said Boyd. “We feel this pheasant propagation program is very important for hunters, particularly junior hunters.”
Teens and young adults who’ve occasionally seen the distinctive fowl with the white-banded neck may not be aware that the species is not native to North America. Europeans learned of pheasants through international commerce, initially with Black Sea traders and later with their Southeast Asian counterparts. In the 1700s, European colonists brought ringnecks to North America, and later in that century American hunters and hunting groups began importing and stocking the birds.
Near the turn of the 20th century, many states including Pennsylvania were stocking pheasants extensively in a semi-successful attempt to create a pheasant-hunting culture. For decades it worked reasonably well. Hunters loved the excitement, but biologists knew that natural reproduction was spotty and sparse, if occurring at all, and the culprit wasn’t chemical pollution or energy extraction.
“Habitat loss,” said Boyd. “And not just from [urban] sprawl. Farming techniques are much different now than they were a few decades ago. Land is extensively farmed now with very little edge growth or wasted seed. Look at a corn stubble field. There’s nothing there.”
Pennsylvania and other states tried to slow the depletion trend by hatching and releasing more pheasants, and by 1983 the Game Commission was stocking some 425,200 birds for an artificial put-and-take hunt. Despite the continuing interest of license buyers, the pheasant program had dwindled to about 100,00 birds by 2005 at a cost to hunters of $2.7 million per year. The number of pheasants and hunters dropped while the program’s costs increased.
“We’re in the midst of trying to cut the cost of the program and increase the numbers [of pheasants] we put out there,” said Boyd. “One way we’re trying this year is the experimental purchase of day-old chicks.”
Buying peeps from a private propagator saves the agency the expense of feeding the flock during winter. With savings of about 10 percent earned through outsourcing the baby birds, the agency this year has released 220,000 roosters plus 20,000 hens plucked from breeder stock. All of the birds were stocked on huntable public land.
The Game Commission sells a small number of its day-old peeps to private propagators, who raise them for sale to sportsmen’s clubs and other organizations. This year, Cheryl and Joe Fallat converted part of their property near Jeannette, Westmoreland County, into a pheasant farm. With a $20,000 bank loan for posts, fencing, netting, heaters, feed and more including 1,800 day-old peeps purchased from the Game Commission, they’re reviving a family business that provided mature ringnecks to regional gun clubs for distribution on huntable land, often on the morning of the hunt.
“We know they’re not reproducing out there. We know [the pheasants] are going to get shot,” said Cheryl Fallat, “and we know we probably won’t even break even this year. But raising pheasants was such a project and such a joy for my father, I’m excited about taking this on and selling them to the sports clubs this fall.”
The expanded pheasant youth hunt runs Oct. 8-15 for eligible junior hunters with or without a hunting license. Roosters only in management units 2A, 2C, 4C, 4E, 5A and 5B. Male and female pheasants are legal in all other WMUs (no open season in Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas). Limit 2 daily, 6 in possession.
The regular pheasant seasons are staggered and open Oct. 22-Nov. 26, Dec. 12-24 and Dec. 26-Feb. 28. Check the Hunting and Trapping Digest for details.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Please Read If You Hunt Deer In PA

National Deer AllianceThis is a warning issued by the National Deer Alliance

Legislation has been introduced by Representative David M. Mahoney that would take management of white-tailed deer out of the hands of the Pennsylvania Game Commission and into the hands of a politically-appointed special interest group. You can view the bill here. The House Government Committee has scheduled a public hearing for the bill on September 20, and it is important that committee members hear from you beforehand. 

State wildlife management agencies like the Pennsylvania Game Commission exist for the purpose of managing wildlife and habitat resources as the common property of all of its citizens. This includes the management of North America's most popular game species, white-tailed deer. Deer management should never fall victim to misguided politics and emotions, or fall into the hands of special interest groups. NDA has joined with dozens of other hunting and conservation organizations by submitting a letter to the Pennsylvania General Assembly in opposition of this bill.

Take action now by clicking here to contact members of the House Government Committee and let them know that you oppose this dangerous legislation.

Please share this alert with may be unaware of this pending legislation and ask them to take action now!