Burchfield: Powerful testimony given at PGC meeting

Expanding Hunting opportunities is believed to be a key factor that improved overall license sales for 2019-20.

The Pa. Game Commission’s January meeting sets the stage for proposed game law and regulation changes for the coming license year. Friday’s session included staff reports and recommendations. Saturday’s provided time for public comment, followed by agenda items.

However, the public comment portion of the meeting is always interesting. Those in attendance are provided the opportunity to offer testimony to the Board of Commissioners and are given five minutes to do so. Twenty five individuals addressed the BOC.

A number of individuals were critical of the PGC’s decision to open last year’s regular firearms season on Saturday. Reasons included everything from altering traditions to the manner in which the buying trends of sportsmen changed. Others were critical of the number of deer, or lack thereof, and the use of Deer Management Assistance Permits (DMPA tags) and how that system could be fine-tuned.

Kevin Askew, representing “Hunters United for Sunday Hunting, thanked the PGC. Askew said, “I want to thank the Commissioners and the PGC staff for the way you have handled S.B. 147 (Sunday Hunting Legislation) as it went through the final steps. You kept people informed, were transparent, and educated as much as possible as to what was happening. For that I thank you.”

Charlie Sykes, representing the PA Trappers Association, noted his organization supports the proposed otter seasons. He also would like the PGC to consider reducing the price of the non-resident fur buying license to $100 to match the price residents pay. Sykes said, “This would encourage more fur buyers to attend local fur auctions. But it will also allow better opportunities to sell pelts.”

Thomas Redfern of The United Bow Hunters suggested expanding bow hunting opportunities to hunt deer and black bear, provided the increased hunting would not have an adverse effect of the resource.

Robert Schmid, President of Pheasants Forever Chapter 630 headquartered in Elk County, thanked the BOC for the PGC’s support of ongoing wildlife habitat improvement projects being conducted in Jefferson, Clearfield and Elk counties.

The Society of American Foresters was represented by John Saf of Kane. Saf thanked the BOC for a number of sound decisions and policies in recent years that have benefited the forest resource and deer hunters alike. Saf noted his organization supports the proposed 14-day concurrent rifle season, keeping Saturday as opening day followed by hunting on Sunday, Nov. 29. This allows hunters to increase the number of DMAP tags from 2 to 4 for smaller woodland property owners and reduce the acreage requirements.

John Dzemyan of McKean County, and coordinator for the Kinzua Quality Deer Cooperative, thanked the PGC for approving the Saturday opener and extending the special flintlock and archery season. Dzemyan also commended the PGC for the additional black bear hunting opportunities.

Additional support was given for the proposed concurrent antlered and antlerless season for the two week rifle season. Support was also given for the Saturday opener for rifle season and hunting on the following Sunday. He also noted support for the transfer of unused DMAP tags to another legally licensed or permitted hunter to be used on the appropriate DMPA area. And all jr. licenses and mentored hunter permits be valid for antlered and antlerless deer so that jr. licensed holders and first time hunters can harvest either bucks or does.

Harold Daub, Executive Director of the PA Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, noted, “Regarding the three days for hunting on Sunday … We strongly recommend including ALL possible huntable species on these Sundays open to Sunday hunting, with the exception of waterfowl.”

Daub went on to say, “We are very concerned with Chronic Wasting Disease in PA. The PFSC endorses the PGC’s Chronic Wasting Disease Plan along with six statewide conservation groups.”

Those testifying in favor or opposed to proposals and changes being under consideration by the BOC offered their opinions in a dignified manner.

However, testimony provided by the two members of the Governor’s Youth Council for Hunting, Fishing, and Conservation were powerful.

Emma Olney and Jackson Ramsey addressed the board separately, and their comments complemented each other.

Ramsey said, “The group overwhelmingly supports Sunday hunting. While not every member is an avid hunter, the entire group has engaged in active debate.”

Ramsey went on to say, “Most of the Council believes that it would be fitting for the selection to occur during the spring turkey season.”

He added, The Youth Council feels strongly about Sunday hunting and welcomes this new opportunity in 2020.

Council member Emma Olney said, “The age-old sport of hunting has steadily decreased in popularity. According to the latest National Survey of Hunting, Fishing, and

Wildlife-Associated Recreation, we suffered a loss of 2.2 million hunters nationally between 2011 and 2016, with just 11.5 million people hunting in 2016.”

“Council commends the Commission for trying something radically new to reverse this grim statistic. It may already be paying off,” Olney said.

And Olney had the numbers to back her up.

Olney pointed out, “At least in its first year, the Saturday opener may have been successful in slowing the decline of hunting and in starting a new, more inclusive hunting tradition.”

Olney went on to provide the numbers. “Compared to 2018, license sales in 2019 increased modestly, with an additional 3,000 licenses sold. In a climate where 2-4% annual decreases in sales had become the norm, being able to stop the hemorrhaging and earn a slight gain is no small feat.”

She went on to say, “Could this be a trend? The only way we can find out is to continue the Saturday opener.”

The PGC offered its recommendations for seasons & bag limits and will take additional public comment on all proposed 2020-21 seasons and bag limits, as well as other board actions, between now and the board’s next quarterly meeting to be held on Apr. 6 & 7. when the 2020-21 seasons and bag limits will be finalized, and antlerless deer license allocations will be determined.

Also seated as a member of the Board of Commissioners was Kristen Schnepp-Giger of Warren, representing the Northwest Region. Giger is the second female to serve as a Commissioner and a welcomed member of the Board.

Charlie Burchfield is an active member and past president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association, an active member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, Outdoor Writers Assoc. of America and the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers. Gateway Outdoors e-mail is GWOutdoors@comcast.net