Pennsylvania wildlife agencies approve proposals during July meetings

The Pennsylvania Game Commissioners gave final approval to classifying the porcupine as a furbearer. Although no porcupine trapping season yet exists, the board’s action paves the way for such a move.
The Pennsylvania Game Commissioners gave final approval to classifying the porcupine as a furbearer. Although no porcupine trapping season yet exists, the board’s action paves the way for such a move. For the Centre Daily Times

Both of our Pennsylvania wildlife agencies — the Fish and Boat Commission and the Game Commission — held their quarterly meetings earlier this month. Because much of this news rarely sees the light of day, I thought that a review of recent happenings was in order.

Fish and Boat Commission

The PFBC met in Harrisburg on July 11 and 12. Glade Squires was elected board president. My only hope is that Squires is the pragmatic, level-headed person that I interviewed earlier this month. Either way, he is the person who will head the commission for the next 12 months.

Local impact: At the meeting, the commissioners gave final approval to the proposal to change angling regulations for crappie at Foster Joseph Sayers Lake in Bald Eagle State Park. Currently, anglers can keep a daily limit of 20, but all of the fish must be at least 9 inches long. Under the new rules, anglers can keep a daily creel limit of 10, of which no more than five can be equal to or greater than 9 inches. The new regulations go into effect Jan. 1, 2017.

“The changes will allow anglers to still harvest some of the larger fish, which are 9 inches or longer, as well as some of the smaller fish, which are not currently available to harvest,” said Jason Detar, chief of the division of fisheries management. “The goal is to increase the overall numbers of 9-inch and longer crappies by reducing some of the harvest of these fish, and by thinning the numbers of 7-inch and 8-inch fish through angler harvest.”

I think that the agency’s goal is admirable, and I hope that the new regulations are successful. As previously reported, some anglers question the new rules because they think that the creel limit on crappies should be higher.

Good news: The commissioners added 99 new streams to the Wild Trout Stream List and three new streams to the Class A Wild Trout Streams List — totaling nine miles of streams. One of these new Class A waters is in Berks County, and the other two are in Westmoreland County. It is a big plus anytime that wild trout streams can be identified. Streams containing a population of naturally reproducing trout are afforded greater protection under the law.

The commissioners approved the acquisition of 1,160 linear feet on Elk Creek as it flows across a parcel of property in Girard Borough, Erie County, for $20,000. The easement area is located off Elk Creek Road across the stream from the Girard Borough Park property. Elk Creek is a popular steelhead and trout fishery destination. The acquisition of this easement will provide additional trout and steelhead fishing opportunities.

The significance here is the limited angler access to Lake Erie tributaries, due in part to the small number of Pennsylvania streams feeding the lake. Elk Creek is by far the largest of these 13 tributaries.

The Fish and Boat Commission has made some excellent land and easement acquisitions, and this is one of them. However, in my opinion, they got into this late in the game. There have been so many missed opportunities. Just ask yourself this: What are a million trout raised and stocked in 1965 worth today? Zero.

If the same money had been spent to purchase trout streams or navigable river access, what would the value of those lands be worth today? Then think what could have happened in 1966, ’67, ’68, ’69, ’70, etc. I hope that you get my point.

Game Commission

At their July 18-19 meeting, the commissioners voted to expand Sunday shooting hours on ranges owned by the Commission. As of now, Sunday hours are noon to sunset, except on the Sundays immediately preceding firearms deer and bear seasons. The new hours would be 8 a.m. until sunset, effective this fall, for Sundays immediately preceding and during firearms deer and bear seasons. The range on SGL 176, the Scotia Barrens, is the local example.

The commissioners gave final approval to reclassifying the porcupine as a furbearer. This change allows porcupines to be trapped as well as hunted. No trapping season exists for the 2016-17 license year, but one could be approved in the future. The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau supported this change, as porcupines have been known to chew wooden handles on tools, as well as rubber tires and hoses on farm equipment. Although strange, this is due primarily to their attraction to the salt that can accumulate.

A good move: Drones have been gaining in popularity, and several times during the past year, drones have been observed disturbing wildlife. According to the agency, in one case a drone was flown into an off-limits wildlife propagation area at Middle Creek, and in several other cases, drones were flown close enough to bald eagle nests to disturb them. The amended proposal prohibits the operation, control, launching or retrieval of drones on game lands, unless a specific exception is approved in writing by the Game Commission’s executive director. This ban is expected to take effect as soon as a legal review of the regulation is complete.

Milestone: The Game Commission honored 12-year-old Jon Kreiser, of Palmyra, as the two-millionth student to graduate from the state’s hunter-trapper education course.

“Our hunter-trapper education program is something in which every Pennsylvanian can take pride,” said Game Commission Executive Director Matt Hough. “The fact it has reached two million people is impressive by itself, but the role it has played in making hunting in Pennsylvania continually safer is an achievement all of us can celebrate.”

Local impact: The Woodduck Chapter of Trout Unlimited donated more than 171 acres of mostly forested land in Rush Township to the PGC for an expansion of State Game Lands 33. The land also contains a currently non-functioning, passive wetland treatment system. It was originally designed to treat the acid mine drainage on a tributary to Cold Stream.

My hat goes off to the Woodduck Chapter for making the donation — and to the PGC for continuing to expand Pennsylvania’s State Game Lands system — now totaling well more than 1.5 million acres.

Additional wildlife habitat expansions approved at the PGC’s July meeting include: 117 acres added to SGL 168 in Monroe County, 120 acres added to SGL 300 in Lackawanna County and a 104-acre expansion of SGL 97 in Bedford County.

The state’s game lands — more than 1.5-million acres — are truly a Keystone State treasure. While purchased directly or indirectly by hunters, these lands are open for all to enjoy for fishing, hiking, bird-watching, hunting and trapping.

Mark Nale, who lives in the Bald Eagle Valley, is a member of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association and can be reached at