Game Commission Takes Action on Endangered Species
HARRISBURG, Pa. – The Board of Game Commissioners took preliminary action Tuesday to update the state’s list of threatened and endangered species, which includes downgrading three protected cave bat species and reclassifying them as state endangered species.
(Photo courtesy Conserve Wildlife Foundation)
The three bat species, all of which have been decimated by white-nose syndrome since it appeared in Pennsylvania in 2008, are the northern long-eared bat, tri-colored bat and little brown bat.
Additionally, the board voted preliminarily to upgrade the peregrine falcon’s status from endangered to threatened; upgrade the piping plover from extirpated to endangered, and list the red knot – a federally threatened species – as a threatened species within Pennsylvania, as well.
The northern long-eared bat was listed as a federal threatened species in April 2015. In addition, tri-colored bats and little brown bats currently are being considered for protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
A state listing allows for the Game Commission to work with industry that might have projects affected by the presence of endangered or threatened species. While projects will continue to be reviewed by the Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory (PNDI), regarding bats, the proposal would affect projects only if they’re within 300 meters of a recent maternity roost, hibernacula or capture location for threatened or endangered bats. Sites that held these bats prior to the arrival of white-nose syndrome, but not since, won’t affect projects.
If the preliminarily approved measure is adopted, only 34 new hibernation sites and 112 maternity sites statewide would be added into the PNDI.
Through a state-endangered listing, the Game Commission will coordinate with developers to resolve conflicts, pointed out Dan Brauning, Game Commission Wildlife Diversity Division Chief. For little brown and tri-colored bats, the Game Commission will be the lead agency in determining potential impacts. However, for northern long-eared bats, coordination by both the Game Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be necessary.
“These cave bats teeter on the brink of state extirpation; extinction is not yet out of the question,” Brauning noted. “Their need for additional protections is obvious and overdue. For the Game Commission to do anything less would be recklessly irresponsible.”
The Game Commission had moved to list these bats in 2012, but concerns about unnecessary oversight and job loss heard from representatives of timber, oil, coal and gas industries and legislators prompted additional discussion.
“The Game Commission strives to work whenever possible with industry, to save jobs, and be a part of sound state government,” emphasized agency Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “But we cannot look the other way as bats tumble toward extinction. This agency has statutory and state constitutional commitments to represent and conserve all wildlife for today and tomorrow.”
Because bats have lost upward of 97 percent of their historic populations in Pennsylvania, every remaining bat matters, Brauning said.
What works against these cave bats is their annual reproduction provides limited replacement. Most female cave bats have one pup per year, a rate that would place their potential recovery more than a century away.
There’s no doubt a state-endangered listing of these cave bat species will require the implementation of additional protective measures. But given the mammoth collapse of these winged mammals, there’s no doubt they need more help; the sooner, the better.
But some of the proposals for status change represent better news.
The peregrine falcon has seen a steady statewide recovery, which qualifies its status to be upgraded to threatened under the agency’s Peregrine Falcon Management Plan.
Upgrading the piping plover’s status to endangered recognizes its return to breeding in Pennsylvania. After more than 60 years of absence, piping plover pairs successfully nested at Presque Isle State Park in 2017 and 2018.
And changing the status of the red knot – a rare migrant bird found in Pennsylvania mostly at Presque Isle State Park – recognizes its vulnerability to further declines.
The status changes will be brought back to the January meeting for a final vote.
MENTORED HUNTING PROGRAMS COULD OPEN TO ALL AGES
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval to a measure that will bridge the mentored youth and mentored adult hunting programs.
The mentored hunting programs are designed to increase hunter recruitment by providing an opportunity to experience hunting without the requirement to obtain a license.
Hunters and furtakers in Pennsylvania can purchase their first licenses at age 12, after successful completion of a Hunter-Trapper Education course. The mentored youth program enables those younger than 12 to participate in hunting, while the mentored adult program allows those 18 or older to participate, simply by obtaining a permit and following program requirements.
Under their current framework, the mentored programs leave out those ages 12 to 17. The only way hunters ages 12 to 17 can experience hunting is to become certified and buy a license.
The measure preliminarily approved by commissioners allows unlicensed individuals under the age of 17 to participate in the mentored youth program, and allows those 17 or older to participate in the mentored adult program.
The measure is scheduled for a final vote in January.
Mentored hunters may hunt only certain game species and must follow other requirements.
Mentored youth may hunt only squirrels, rabbits, doves, woodchucks, coyotes, deer and turkeys. Mentored youth under the age of 7 do not receive their own big-game harvest tags; their adult mentors must possess a valid harvest tag when hunting deer or turkeys, and the mentor must transfer the tag to the mentored youth upon harvest by the mentored youth. Additionally, the mentor and mentored youth may possess only one sporting arm between them, and it must be carried by the mentor at all times while moving.
Meanwhile, mentored adults may hunt only squirrels, ruffed grouse, rabbits, pheasants (pheasant permit required), bobwhite quail, hares, porcupines, woodchucks, crows, coyotes, antlerless deer and turkeys. Mentored adults receive only a spring turkey tag with their permits. To harvest a fall turkey, their mentor must possess a valid fall-turkey harvest tag; and to harvest an antlerless deer, their mentor must possess a valid antlerless license or Deer Management Assistance Program permit; then transfer the applicable harvest tag to the mentored adult at the time of harvest. A mentored adult must hunt within eyesight of the mentor, and a mentored adult can only participate in the program for a total of three, unbroken license years.
Under the proposal, that three-year maximum would apply to all mentored hunters ages 12 or older. After three years in the program, they’d be required to get a license.
Mentored youth hunters under 12 would continue to be able to take part in the program each year until they turn 12. However, youngsters who participated in the mentored youth program for at least three years before turning 12 would be required to get a license at 12, rather than continuing as a mentored hunter.
If the measure moved forward by commissioners is adopted, mentored youth hunters under 12 would continue to pay $2.90 for their permits, resident mentored youth hunters ages 12 to 17 would pay $6.90 for their permits, nonresident mentored youth hunter ages 12 to 17 would pay $41.90 for their permits, and mentored adult hunters would continue to pay $20.90 for residents and $101.90 for nonresidents.
Purchase of a hunting license by any mentored hunting program participant automatically would invalidate any mentored permit and associated harvest tags held by the same.
EXPANDED GUIDE PERMIT PROGRAM TABLED
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners tabled a final vote to expand the agency’s guide permit program, citing a need to revisit language on how the proposal would apply to family members who tag along on elk hunts, as well as guides who work for a permitted outfitter.
The proposal could be reconsidered for adoption in January.
The expansion of the guide permit program to cover all commercial guiding activities on state game lands and all commercial and noncommercial elk guiding is intended to provide greater legitimacy to guide permit holders by establishing minimum standards for a required knowledge base to be a guide.
An examination measuring an applicant’s knowledge of basic biology and identification of applicable game and wildlife; safe and ethical use of firearms, traps and other devices; federal and state laws pertaining to hunting and trapping; basic land navigation; and basic first aid and CPR skills would be part of the application process.
Commercial guiding would be considered any guiding activity provided by any person to another person for a fee, remuneration, or other economic gain, including bartered goods or services. There would be an exemption for leashed-tracking dog services to recover elk, black bear and white-tailed deer.
Eligible categories for guide permits are big game, small game and furbearers.
Application for guiding permits would be made through the Game Commission’s Special Permit Enforcement Division. Applicants would need to possess a hunting or furtaking license and have no record of Game and Wildlife Code violations or license revocation for at least 10 years.
The guide application and testing fee would be $50. The commercial guide permit fee would be $100 for each applicable category for which certification is required, noncommercial elk guide permits, $25. Permits must be renewed annually.
PROPOSAL ADDRESSES DISABLED VETERAN GOOSE HUNT ELIGIBILITY
A minor change preliminarily approved by the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners would ensure resident disabled-veteran hunters would continue to be eligible for special disabled-veteran goose hunts at Middle Creek and Pymatuning Wildlife Management Areas, even after they gave up their disabled-veteran licenses for senior lifetime licenses.
As it is now, only resident disabled-veteran license holders are eligible to apply for the special hunts. The proposed change would extend the ability to apply to anyone holding a senior lifetime hunting or senior lifetime combination license who can provide documentation evidencing their eligibility for a resident disabled-veteran license or reduced fee disabled-veteran license.
PUBLIC-HUNTING FOCUS SPECIFIED IN DEER-CONTROL PERMITS
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners gave final approval to a measure that strengthens the “public hunting” component for deer-control permits the Game Commission issues for deer problems on private and public properties, often within suburban and urban areas.
Permit criteria always has stipulated that lawful hunting be allowed on public lands seeking deer-control permits, unless waived by the agency’s executive director. Applicants often have established organized controlled hunts or invited hunting clubs to help reduce deer numbers. Still others have invited only local government employees to engage in hunting on the permitted properties.
The revision adopted by the board further defines public hunting as hunting available to the general public that “shall not include hunting opportunity that is afforded to an individual, or class of individuals, solely by virtue of their public employment.”
By calling for public hunting to play a greater role in alleviating excessive deer populations, Pennsylvania deer hunters have been given more opportunity in places with sizeable deer problems.
HUNGARIAN PARTRIDGES CLASSIFIED AS WILD BIRDS
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners gave final approval to a measure that classifies Hungarian partridges as wild birds.
With the reclassification, Hungarian partridges will be treated in a similar manner to chukar partridges.
The measure also specifies that Hungarian partridges lawfully may be released on public and private lands for dog-training or hunting purposes without first securing a permit.
TWO ENERGY AGREEMENTS APPROVED
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners approved two five-year, non-surface-use agreements with Range Resources Appalachia LLC to develop natural gas on separate tracts beneath State Game Lands 117 in Washington County.
The tracts total about 961 acres, but the agreements will result in no surface disturbance to the game lands.
The agreements are expected to result in bonus payments of more than $3.3 million that will be added to the agency’s Game Fund, or into an interest-bearing escrow account to be used for the future purchase of wildlife habitat.
Oil and gas development under the agreement will be regulated by the Commonwealth’s oil and gas regulations and the agency’s Standard Non-Surface Use Oil and Gas Cooperative Agreement.
RIGHT-OF-WAY, PARCEL TO BE ACQUIRED THROUGH DONATION
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners approved two donation agreements that will benefit state game lands.
James F. Swope and Carol P. Shoemaker have offered to donate a 300-foot-long, 40-foot-wide right-of-way across their property to allow access into State Game Lands 261 in Broad Township, Bedford County. The Game Commission will use the right-of-way for administrative purposes only.
Meanwhile, Ladnar Inc. has offered to donate about 0.36 acres of land in Wiconisco Township, Dauphin County, which is completely surrounded by State Game Lands 264. The tract is forested with mixed northern hardwoods.
UPDATED WILD TURKEY MANAGEMENT PLAN APPROVED
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners approved the agency’s updated 2018-2027 Wild Turkey Management Plan.
A draft of the plan had been made available for public view in July, and public comments received on the plan were considered in the approved draft, which will guide the agency’s turkey management for the next decade.
The finalized plan soon will be available to view at www.pgc.pa.gov.
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