Pa. considers banning hiking on game lands during hunting season

A new rule under consideration by the Pennsylvania Game Commission would ban all nonhunting activities on game lands during hunting season, effectively blacking out several months to hikers.

According to the board of game commissioners agenda, the rule is set for discussion on Tuesday.

It would make it unlawful to “hike on foot or ride a nonmotorized vehicle, conveyance or animal from the last Saturday in September until the third Saturday in January, and from the second Saturday in April through Memorial Day.”

Another rule would prohibit riding or hiking on any state game lands “unless the person is in possession of a valid hunting or fur-taker license or a valid SGL permit signed by its holder.”

The discussion of new rules started when the board of commissioners decided it was time to take a look at the nonconsumptive use of gamelands, according to commission spokesman Doty McDowell.

“We are a wildlife agency that is funded by the sale of hunting and trapping licenses,” he said. “We own about 1.4 million acres, and these state game lands were purchased through hunting and trapping dollars for the purpose of hunting and trapping.”

According to McDowell, there are places in the state where nonconsumptive users are damaging the land and disrupting hunters.

Hikers and riders sometimes don’t stay on designated trails and create new trails, he said, which can cause wetlands and other environmental issues. The thought is that maybe these people can pay for a permit that would return funding to the commission to mitigate this damage.

Nonhiking activities, such as horseback riding and cycling, are already prohibited during hunting season, he said.

The idea of banning nonhunters during hunting season sits well with some hunters, like Halfmoon Township resident Ron Servello, who said people abuse their privileges on the game lands.

“They have total disregard for hunters,” he said. “That’s the purpose for the game lands. That’s who funds it, who funds the management of it and the enforcement of the game laws. Those people either don’t understand it or don’t care.”

Servello, a hunter for more than 45 years, said he hunts mainly in state game lands 176 along Scotia Range Road. He said he doesn’t think most hikers have read the game laws or are even aware of when the hunting seasons are.

In general, he said, they’re in the woods during all seasons.

“Every year it’s the same thing,” he said. “You’re in there hunting deer and people walk through walking their dogs. I’ve had people follow me with their dogs. They don’t even wear fluorescent orange.”

According to regulation, conservation officer Mike Ondik said, anyone hiking through the woods between Nov. 15 and Dec. 15 is to wear orange for safety.

But there are those who oppose the idea, like Sierra Club member Gary Thornbloom, the conservation chairman for the Moshannon branch of the club.

“It’s a terrible idea,” he said. “And I say that as both a hunter and a hiker.”

Thornbloom said he was shocked when he learned that game lands were paid for by hunting licenses, something he also said he thinks the average hiker isn’t aware of.

However, prohibiting hiking or forcing nonhunters to get licenses or permits would be a “nightmare” for the commission and very difficult to enforce, he said.

He said the commission can go about it in a better way, such as a voluntary purchase of a patch indicating an individual is a hiker. This would provide some extra funding if that’s what the commission is looking for.

“No matter what they do on this, just by broaching the subject, it’s going to rub a lot of hikers the wrong way,” he said.