Pennsylvania Game Commission

04/13/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 04/13/2024 12:12

HIGHLIGHTS FROM TODAY’S COMMISSIONERS MEETING

HIGHLIGHTS FROM TODAY'S COMMISSIONERS MEETING

04/13/2024

HARRISBURG, PA - The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners met today in Harrisburg, hearing public comment and conducting official business. The commissioners gave final approval to the 2024-25 hunting and trapping seasons and bag limits, which are outlined in a separate news release. Other highlights from today's meeting follow.

MARTEN PLAN POSTPONED INDEFINITELY

The Board of Game Commissioners today in a split vote postponed indefinitely final acceptance of the 2024-2033 American Marten Reintroduction and Management Plan, which calls for returning the native furbearer to the state.

But that might not be as long a delay as it might seem.

The plan outlines a long-term, 10-year strategy to translocate the species back to the state then conduct long-term monitoring to evaluate the reintroduction. It includes strategies on communications, partner engagement, costs and timelines.

The board released the marten plan for public comment in September 2023 then tabled adoption of the plan in January 2024 to collect additional information on habitat and human dimensions related to potential reintroduction.

Today, commissioners universally praised staff in the agency's Bureau of Wildlife Management, and furbearer biologist Tom Keller in particular, for working to get those answers. Several board members said the resulting outreach efforts have helped erase opposition to marten reintroduction.

But a majority of the board stated such work should continue, to further educate hunters and nonhunters alike and build additional support.

Voting to postpone adoption of the plan were Commissioners Robert Schwalm, Scott Foradora, Allen Di Marco, Stanley Knick, Todd Pride and Dennis Fredericks, who first suggested the idea. Opposing postponement were Commissioners Michael Mitrick, Haley Sankey and Kristen Koppenhafer.

Commissioners said they've heard from lots of people about the issue and want to address their concerns before moving forward.

In the meantime, no one should get too hung up on the word "indefinitely," Fredericks added. The board could revisit marten reintroduction soon, perhaps even before the end of the year.

President Commissioner Scott Foradora agreed this postponement is more a matter of timing than anything.

"I believe in a short amount of time we will have an affirmative decision," he said.

Concerns over reintroducing martens have mostly been related to the potential impacts of martens on prey species, potential impacts of other predators on martens and the suitability of habitat in areas martens would be released.

WILD PHEASANT HUNTING SEASON COULD BE COMING

The opportunity to hunt wild pheasants in Pennsylvania might become a reality for those able to gain access to private property within a Wild Pheasant Recovery Area.

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave final approval to a measure that allows the Game Commission's Executive Director annually to decide whether a Wild Pheasant Recovery Area (WPRA) will be open to rooster-only pheasant hunting, and if so, the season length and bag limit that applies.

That's not to say there will be such a season in the coming year. The decision will be based on data collected within the state's two WPRAs in the coming months.

But if a season is put in place, it will be open to all hunters eligible to hunt pheasants.

Within WPRAs, wild ringnecks translocated from other states have established populations. There has been a limited opportunity in recent years to hunt pheasants within the Central Susquehanna WPRA, with young hunters selected by drawing for their chance to take part. Now, all eligible pheasant hunters will be able to take part if a season is held.

Those seeking to hunt wild pheasants likely will find themselves asking for landowner permission, given the WPRAs largely are comprised of private farmland. But the opportunity could be there.

If a WPRA is opened to pheasant hunting, limiting harvest to roosters would adequately control the biological impacts of hunting on the wild population, the Game Commission has determined.

PROPOSAL WOULD CHANGE RATIO FOR MENTORED YOUTH

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today gave preliminary approval to a measure that would allow mentors hunting with a mentored youth to accompany up to two additional hunters, be they mentored youth, junior hunters or mentored adults.

Presently, no additional junior or mentored hunters may accompany a mentor who's hunting with a mentored youth. There's a required one-to-one mentor/mentee ratio. That limit would change to three based on the proposal that was preliminarily approved today.

If the measure is adopted, the requirement that limits mentors and mentored youth from possessing only one sporting arm between them will remain. A mentor would continue to carry the sporting arm at all times while moving. Junior hunters and mentored adults would be able to possess their own sporting arms while accompanied by a common mentor.

The Game Commission has evaluated the relevant safety data and determined the amendments will not create an unreasonable safety risk.

Since its inception in 2006, the mentored hunting program gradually has grown and expanded to include new hunting opportunities and groups eligible to participate. With each progressive expansion, the program has come into closer alignment with the Game Commission's traditional hunting license structures. This proposal, which will be brought back to the July meeting for final approval, mirrors that.

DEER OPENER TO GET ADDITIONAL REVIEW

Once again this year, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners set the opening day of the firearms deer season as the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

The board long has expressed the belief the Saturday opener better accommodates the majority of hunters and is better for the future of hunting, opinions backed by evidence such as license sales and a scientific survey of hunters.

But President Commissioner Scott Foradora said the board wants to know more about the impacts of the Saturday opener, especially knowing that some hunters would like to see the opener returned to the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Following today's adoption of 2024-25 hunting seasons and bag limits, Foradora read a statement directing Game Commission staff to work with the Legislature on the issue. The statement appears below.

"With today's vote, the Board has once again scheduled the start of the firearms deer season to be on a Saturday. We do this, firmly believing that starting the season on a Saturday creates the most opportunity for hunters, and thus helps ensure the future of the sport that we are charged with protecting.

"Nonetheless, we recognize that there are those with a different opinion, who would like to see a return to a Monday opener. And we recognize the passion that many of you feel about this issue. We may disagree, but we have heard your voices.

"As the debate over a Saturday or Monday opener lingers on, it has unfortunately caused considerable disagreement within our hunting ranks. It has fractured and divided us, at a time when we should be united.

"Therefore, I am directing staff within the Game Commission to work with the leadership of the House Game and Fisheries Committee, to once again study and analyze this issue. It is my hope that a comprehensive review can take place, to address some of the concerns that we have heard and ensure that the Board's decision is truly in the best interest of our hunting community."

LAND ADDITIONS APPROVED BY THE BOARD

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today approved acquisitions that would add nearly 310 acres to state game lands.

That involves the purchase of four properties. They are:

  • Roughly 200 acres in Rockland and Cranberry townships in Venango County that's adjacent to State Game Lands 45. The North Country National Scenic Trail runs through the property, which also contains critical and unique riparian habitat of East Sandy Branch Creek, a stocked trout stream.
  • Roughly 20 acres in Catherine Township, Blair County, adjacent to State Game Lands 166. This acquisition connects two existing game lands tracts.
  • Roughly 67 acres in Snyder Township, Blair County, that's an indenture to State Game Lands 278 and connects two parcels of the game lands.
  • Roughly 24 acres in Liberty Township, McKean County, adjoining State Game Lands 61.

Game Commissioners also approved one land exchange. They exchanged about a 0.13-acre non-exclusive right-of-way on State Game Lands 335 in Tioga County for roughly 0.25 acres of land adjoining the same game lands.

Game Commissioners also announced two property acquisitions approved earlier by notational vote. Those were:

  • Roughly 51 acres in Albany Township, Berks County, that's an indenture to State Game Lands 106.
  • Roughly 198 acres in Albany Township, Berks County, that's likewise an indenture to State Game Lands 106.

Game Commissioners also announced the acquisition of a roughly 52-acre parcel in Ayr Township, Fulton County, adjacent to State Game Lands 53, via auction. The Commission can, with certain limitations, acquire land in such a way in cases where sales are imminent and the agency needs to react quickly. This property provides critical access to the existing game lands.

Hunters and other users of the game lands system should be aware that none of these additions are yet final. Some are contingent upon third parties receiving funding through grants or other means. What's more, Board of Commissioners approval of the agreements is but one step in the land transfer process.

When that process is completed, and the properties are officially game lands, the Game Commission will post signs to that effect, stating that they're now available for public use.

In other action, Game Commissioners approved a request by Irvona Borough Council in Clearfield County for a right-of-way for a borough street be dedicated as a public road. Because the road is currently open to public travel, approving the request eliminates maintenance obligations for the Game Commission, resolves conflicts with access to private properties, and allows for more efficient public utilities service.

Finally, Game Commissioners approved a non-surface cooperative agreement with CNX Resources Corp. involving about 113 acres of State Game Lands 245 in Washington County. Commissioner Dennis Fredericks abstained from voting on the agreement given that he was formerly employed by CNX.

INFORMATION TO BE RELEASED FOR NATIONAL SURVEY

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners today voted to release contact information for furtaker license holders as part of a nationwide survey by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) in cooperation with Responsive Management.

The goal of the National Trapper Survey is to capture important information about trappers and trapping in the United States so that agencies can better understand and promote the activity for future generations to enjoy. Information gained in this survey also will help agencies gauge the success of efforts to recruit, retain and reactivate trappers, plan future efforts to increase trapper participation and guide future efforts of the Best Management Practices for Trapping program.

The Game Commission will release to AFWA the Customer Identification Number, license type, name, street address, phone number and email address for each furtaker license holder, including lifetime license holders, in the 2021-22, 2022-23 and 2023-24 license years.

While the Game Commission generally is restricted from releasing customer licensing data, the law provides for such information to be released "for the sole purpose of exercising legitimate governmental function or duty," as in this case.

AFWA will be responsible for the information released and would be subject to applicable civil and criminal restrictions regarding any further publishing, circulation or disclosure of any records it receives.

STAFF, VOLUNTEERS RECOGNIZED

As part of the meeting in Harrisburg, the Game Commission and Board of Commissioners presented awards recognizing several agency employees and volunteers.

The complete list of recipients follows.

  • Life Saving Award - Presented to a Game Commission employee or employee group who contributed to saving someone's life.
    • Training Division Assistant Director Capt. Joel Gibble, Harrisburg- While returning from a training session, Gibble responded to a nearby emergency call, rendered aid to an elderly dog-attack victim with life-threatening injuries and helped coordinate transport by medical helicopter.
    • Dispatcher Josh Drey, Harrisburg, and Game Warden John Veylupek, Lancaster County - After spotting a parked vehicle, well after quitting time, on State Game Lands 145 in Lebanon County in December 2023, Veylupek contacted Drey and was able to confirm the vehicle belonged to a hunter, who was lost and in a weakened condition, but located before heavy rain and potentially life-threatening hypothermia set in.
    • Game Warden K-9 Handler SSgt. Tyler Kreider, Harrisburg; Game Warden Group Supervisor Sgt. Jason Macunas, Berks and Schuylkill counties; Game Warden Charles "Chip" Schuster, Schuylkill County; Game Warden Group Supervisor Sgt. Derek Spitler, Dauphin, Lancaster and Lebanon counties; and Game Warden Ryan Zawada, Berks County - Searched overnight for a man lost on State Game Lands 110 in Schuylkill County in March 2023. The man was found cold and in a weakened state, but was rushed to a hospital for treatment of hypothermia.
  • Meritorious Service Award - Presented to an employee or employee group distinguished through a continuous period of exceptional performance that contributes significantly to Game Commission operations.
    • Game Warden Group Supervisor Sgt. Justin Ritter, York County - Promoted to supervise the wardens covering the most incident-driven county in the Southcentral Region, Ritter excelled in the face of challenges that included staffing shortages that left him heading into the fall hunting seasons as the county's only active field officer.
  • Distinguished Service Award - Presented to an employee or employee group distinguished through a continuous period of exceptional performance that contributes significantly to Game Commission operations.
    • Clerical Assistant Teresa Laird, Southcentral Region Office - For more than 15 years, Laird has made a difference to those working in and visiting the Southcentral Region Office, carrying out her changing duties with care and doing all she can to help the team.
  • Commendation Award - Presented to an employee or employee group for distinguished achievement that benefits the agency.
    • Game Warden Taylor J. Knash, Adams County - Knash showed leadership, commitment and attention to detail in a complicated case that involved dozens of deer that were taken unlawfully in Maryland and brought to Pennsylvania, filing about 90 charges against more than 50 individuals with a 100% prosecution rate.
  • Hunter-Trapper Education Instructor of the Year - Recognizes an outstanding Hunter-Trapper Education instructor in each region of the state, based on their performance and contributions.
    • Ryan Ruditis, Venango County, Northwest Region - Aside from his full-time job, volunteer firefighter duties and family responsibilities, Ruditis serves as a deputy game warden. And none of this takes away his ability coordinate Hunter-Trapper Education classes in his area or teach the curriculum in a way that engages students.
    • Ralph Muir, Indiana County, Southwest Region - With 55 years as an instructor, Muir excels in all areas of Hunter-Trapper Education, including training, administration and recruiting new instructors, and makes each class memorable for students.
    • Alvin Hubler, Clearfield County, Northcentral Region - An instructor for 38 years, Hubler has impacted countless young hunters, many of whom he's known their whole lives or coached in sports. That relationship fosters a good learning environment in the classroom.
    • Jack Johnson, Adams County, Southcentral Region - In taking on a role as Hunter-Trapper Education coordinator in his area, Johnson took on additional responsibilities, but also faced challenges. Though he had to coordinate with four different game wardens in setting up classes, he gracefully handled that task and others, and displayed his commitment to hunting's future by not missing a single class in 2023.
    • Albert "Bud" Snyder, Wayne County, Northeast Region - Snyder's passion for teaching is evident by his lengthy teaching career and his 54 years as a Hunter-Trapper Education instructor. He brings HTE to the schools, too, partnering with districts to maintain their support for the program, and teaching the curriculum in the classroom. Snyder also was presented the statewide Outstanding Instructor Award.
    • John "Clair" Zimmerman, Schuylkill County, Southeast Region - Since becoming an instructor in 2008, Zimmerman has accumulated over 380 teaching hours and has hosted 11 skills classes, which require thorough planning and preparation. He puts his best effort into his teaching, getting across the messages that ensure safe hunts.
  • The Wildlife Society Special Recognition Service Award - Honors a person or group who has made an outstanding contribution to the wildlife profession.
    • Biologist Jeannine Fleegle, Harrisburg - Over her 20-year career with the Game Commission, Fleegle has led the urban deer management program, served as chair for the Northeast Deer Technical Committee, played an integral part in the development of the agency's CWD Communications Plan, and authored, co-authored or edited over 650 posts for the Deer-Forest Blog since 2014, demonstrating her dedication to public outreach.
  • The Jay N. "Ding" Darling Memorial Award for Wildlife Stewardship Through Art - Bestowed by The Wildlife Society and named for the artist who helped create programs including the Federal Duck Stamp and Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, this award commemorates contributions to wildlife and habitat conservation through art.
    • Biologist Erika Coover, Harrisburg - As a biologist, Erika works to manage Chronic Wasting Disease within Pennsylvania, but she's also a gifted artist who has used her talents to develop countless outreach materials and, in the past year, painted the cover illustration for the American Marten Reintroduction and Management Plan for Pennsylvania.
  • National Wild Turkey Federation Joe Kurz Award - Recognizes an employee whose work with wild turkeys has made the species' comeback a reality.
    • Land Management Group Supervisor Travis Anderson, Westmoreland and Somerset counties - Throughout his career with the Game Commission, Anderson has been active in turkey trapping and banding, handling upwards of 500 turkeys during that time, and has worked to create turkey habitat through the use of prescribed fire and other techniques.
  • John M. Phillips Habitat Management Award for Excellence - Named for the father of Pennsylvania's State Game Lands system, this award recognizes a Game Commission habitat crew member who implements cutting-edge habitat enhancement techniques in support of the agency's strategic plan.
    • Game Lands Maintenance Supervisor Joshua Mitchell, Mercer County - In the past year, Mitchell coordinated an aerial drone herbicide treatment to control narrowleaf cattail and spatterdock on State Game Lands 284 as part of the habitat work he and his team completed.
  • North East Conservation Law Enforcement Chiefs Association Wildlife Officer of the Year - Recognizes a game warden who has made significant contributions to the profession, in the past year and over their career.
    • Game Warden William J. Brehun, Westmoreland County - Brehun's outstanding, dedicated service is readily apparent in all facets of his work, including the successful 2023 prosecution of five individuals who joined to take 26 deer unlawfully. These convictions were among others making up the 100% prosecution rate for charges he filed.
  • Shikar-Safari Award - Recognizes a game warden who goes above and beyond in performance of their duties.
    • Game Lands Maintenance Group Supervisor Jason Wagner, Elk County - Overseeing those state game lands that hold Pennsylvania's most-visible elk population, and lots of tourists, Wagner finds himself with unique demands and challenges. He embraces his role, not only as a habitat manager, but as a training instructor, public contact, search-and-rescue manager, and especially in law enforcement, where his notable contribution is appreciated by fellow officers.
  • Outstanding Deputy of the Year - Recognizes an outstanding deputy game warden in each region of the state, based on their performance and contributions.
    • Deputy Game Warden Michael Wiles, Northwest - Starting work as a deputy in 2022, Wiles quickly has developed into an outstanding deputy with a fantastic grasp of game laws and regulations, not to mention the community he serves. He's driven to perform, works confidently and is an asset to the agency.
    • Deputy Game Warden Donald Berry, Armstrong County, Southwest - Berry always is happy to help, which is evidenced by the 732 hours he worked in 2023. He's a skilled investigator with a knack for turning up information, and is a fine representative of the agency and its mission.
    • Deputy Game Warden Vanessa Walker, Clinton County, Northcentral - Walker worked over 200 hours as a deputy in 2023, investigating incidents that led to charges being filed, and teaching or assisting at three Hunter-Trapper Education classes as part of her service.
    • Deputy Game Warden Alex Skotedis, Snyder County, Southcentral Region - Skotedis put in more than 300 hours as deputy in 2023 and stepped up to cover the district while the game warden was away at training and on vacation. He initiated investigations, helped plan a nighttime operation and worked with other deputies inside and outside the region.
    • Deputy Game Warden Kevin Maguire, Bucks County, Southeast Region - As a former state employee, Maguire is unable to receive compensation for his work as a deputy. Still, he's served for over 27 years, worked a total of 245 hours in 2023 and put off his retirement to help the new game warden assigned to Bucks County.
    • Deputy Game Warden Michael Pevear, Luzerne County, Northeast Region - When Pevear is called to assist in an investigation or incident, he almost always accommodates - even if it means taking time off from his full-time job. He logged 286 total hours in 2023 and is known for his courtesy and the professionalism he brings to the job.
  • Kalbfus-Berrier Award - Named jointly after the Game Commission's first full-time executive director and first appointed game warden, this award recognizes game wardens who use traditional law enforcement techniques and woods skills in significant cases.
    • Northwest Region Law Enforcement Supervisor Lt. Clint Deniker, Northwest Region Office - As Law Enforcement Supervisor, Deniker plays a key role in the region's game-law prosecutions, including those in which he is the arresting officer.
    • Deputy Game Warden Kenneth Pfeil, Luzerne County- Pfeil, who has served in southern Luzerne County for close to 25 years, recently conducted surveillance that led to charges against two individuals who unlawfully took 12 bucks over a two-year period while hunting in an antlerless-only season on a "red tag" farm.
    • Game Warden Ejai Rock, Bedford County - Rock's drive and desire to make a difference for wildlife helped break up a multi-month poaching ring involving at least five individuals.
    • Deputy Game Warden Jeremy Elliott, Bedford County - Walking about 300 miles in working 80 hours in August and September, Elliott found 14 bait sites in southern Bedford County that resulted in 40 citations, 22 warnings and the detection of nine unlawfully taken deer.

MEDIA CONTACT: Travis Lau - 717-705-6541

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