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Harrisburg, Pa. - The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners met last week in an online format that was open for the public to follow live.

It’s the second commissioners meeting to be held only online in compliance with state guidelines to minimize the effects of COVID-19.

Among meeting highlights was the adoption of a new CWD Response Plan that will guide the Game Commission in battling chronic wasting disease, which always is fatal to the deer and elk it infects and annually has expanded into new areas of Pennsylvania. The full news release on the CWD Response Plan is being issued separately and is available to view at www.pgc.pa.gov.

Other meeting highlights appear below. 

Night-vision optics preliminarily approved for furbearer hunting

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval to a regulatory change that would allow handheld and sporting-arm mounted night-vision and infrared optics to be used while hunting furbearers.

The change will not become effective unless the board casts a second vote at another meeting to adopt it. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 25 and 26.

The preliminary approved change would permit night-vision and infrared optics only when hunting furbearers. There are hunting seasons for the following furbearers: raccoons, foxes, coyotes, opossums, striped skunks, weasels, bobcats and porcupines.

The vote follows the recent passage and signing into law of state House Bill 1188, which permits the Game Commission to regulate night-vision and infrared optics. Previously, the hunting use of these devices was prohibited by state law.

The board took swift action to begin the process of regulating these devices in response to comments the agency has received since the bill’s passage.

“In the days since HB 1188 became law, the Board of Commissioners has been flooded with comments asking us to move forward with adopting regulations permitting the use of night vision equipment,” said Board President Charlie Fox. “We are confident that the use of this equipment will provide predator hunters an additional tool in their toolbox, one that will allow them to be efficient and safe when hunting predators.”

The regulations voted on by the Board were drafted by the Bureau of Wildlife Protection which reviewed data from other states that permit the use of night vision equipment and determined there was no safety concerns regarding their use for hunting furbearers in Pennsylvania. 

E-bikes remain unlawful on game lands

A proposal to allow state game lands users to ride Class 1 and Class 2 electric bicycles in the same manner they can ride traditional bicycles was voted down by the board.

The commissioners gave preliminary approval to the measure in January, but tabled it in April. The measure was rejected by a 5-3 vote, with Commissioners Stanley Knick, Brian Hoover and Timothy Layton voting in favor of permitting e-bikes on game lands.

While it remains unlawful to operate e-bikes on game lands, the 2020-21 Pennsylvania Hunting & Trapping Digest, which is issued to hunters and furtakers at the time they buy their licenses, erroneously states on Page 16 that Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes are permitted on game lands. This is incorrect.

All e-bikes continue to be prohibited everywhere on game lands, including on roads normally open to public travel. E-bikes cannot be used on game lands while hunting or trapping. The prohibition on their use will continue to be enforced.

Prior to a vote on the measure, Commissioner Michael Mitrick questioned the need for e-bikes. Mitrick said that game lands primarily serve to provide wildlife habitat and places to hunt, trap and otherwise interact with wildlife, and permitting even limited recreational riding could compromise that purpose.

Commissioners Charles Fox, Scott Foradora, Dennis Fredericks and Kristen Schnepp-Giger joined with Mitrick in voting to keep e-bike use on game lands unlawful.

A Class 1 e-bike is defined as a two-wheeled bicycle equipped with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of 750 watts (1 horsepower) or less that provides assistance only when the rider is actively pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 mph.

A Class 2 e-bike is defined as a bicycle equipped with fully operable pedals and a throttle-actuated 750-watt motor that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 20 mph. The bike can operate without pedaling. 

All game-land users need orange from Nov. 15 to Dec. 15

During the height of the fall hunting seasons – from Nov. 15 to Dec. 15 – non-hunters using state game lands long have been required to wear fluorescent orange, except on Sundays.

But now that expanded Sunday hunting has been approved, additional hunting will occur on three Sundays within that time frame.

And the Board of Game Commissioners adopted amended regulations that require hikers and other non-hunters to wear at least 250 square inches of fluorescent-orange clothing on the head, chest and back combined, visible from 360 degrees, when visiting state game lands at any time during that period.

Those using shooting ranges are exempted from the requirement. 

Proposed deer and bear caliber requirements voted down 

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners unanimously voted down a proposal that would have established 24-caliber as the minimum caliber for hunting deer and bear with centerfire rifles.

Commissioner Dennis Fredericks, who had asked for the proposal to be drafted, said the board received many comments from hunters opposed to prohibiting smaller-caliber centerfire rifles such as the .223 and .22-250 for big-game hunting, and that continuing to permit use of these could benefit the recruitment of young hunters, as well as the retention of aging hunters.

Fredericks said the Game Commission always considers wildlife’s needs in setting hunting regulations, and it will work with ammunition manufacturers and experts to establish guidelines for hunters using smaller calibers for big game, and work to inform the public about them. 

Fox asks for review of anterless deer lincense application process 

Near the close of the meeting, Commissioner Charles Fox, the board’s president, asked Game Commission staff to explore the potential for issuing antlerless deer licenses directly through the commission.

While the mail-in antlerless application process is mandated by state law, and changing it would require legislation, Fox asked staff to proactively explore the possible alternatives for application and award of licenses should the law permit changes. Commissioner Fox noted that the commission has heard from hunters who would support revising the current system in favor of a more customer friendly process for applying for an antlerless license. 

Regulations could change regarding crop damage by Canada Geese 

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval to a measure that would pull state regulations into line with recently changed federal guidelines that provide farmers and other landowners additional time to address problems from resident Canada geese.

Landowners properly registered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were previously allowed to destroy Canada goose nests and eggs on their properties from March through June, and properly permitted agricultural producers could kill small numbers of adult geese causing crop damage from May through August.

The proposed changes would allow take of nests and eggs year-round, and expand the period during which take for agricultural depredation is allowable to April through August.

Other registration and permitting requirements for both types of control activities remain unchanged.

Game Commission staff said incorporating the federal changes into state regulations isn’t expected to greatly increase the taking of Canada geese by permit, and little or no impact on overall goose populations is anticipated.

The measure will be brought back to a future meeting for a second vote. 

Energy agreement approved

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners approved a five-year non-surface agreement to develop natural gas and oil beneath State Game Lands 134 in Plunketts Creek Township, Lycoming County.

Alta Marcellus Development LLC, of Houston, Texas, would pay the Game Commission a one-time bonus payment of $3,932,500, as well as future royalty payments, as part of the deal.

All payments will be added to the agency’s Game Fund. 

More than 470 acres added to state game lands 

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners approved a host of land acquisitions that will add more than 470 acres to state game lands.

The approved acquisitions are:

  • The acquisition of more than 154 acres in Mount Pleasant Township, Wayne County, by donation from Regency Marcellus Gas Gathering LLC. The land is an indenture into State Game Lands 159, with access provided from Creamton Drive. Regency has offered to donate the land as replacement habitat to mitigate for lost wildlife resources and recreational values stemming from natural gas pipeline work on State Game Lands 12 in Sullivan and Bradford counties.

  • The acquisition of more than 35 acres in Ararat Township, Susquehanna County, by donation from The Conservation Fund. The land is an indenture into State Game Lands 236, with access provided from Ridge Road. The Conservation Fund, acting as a conservation agent, is acquiring the property with funding provided by Williams Companies for voluntary mitigation as a result of impacts associated with the Constitution Pipeline project in Susquehanna County.

  • The acquisition of more than 13 acres in Pike Township, Berks County, by bequest of the late Dwight K. Gehman. The property, which is accessed from Keim Road, is approximately one mile south of one of the four separate parcels that comprise State Game Lands 315.

  • The acquisition of more than 43 acres in Union Township, Fulton County, by purchase from The Conservation Fund. The land, being purchased for an option price of $400 per acre to be paid from the Game Fund, adjoins State Game Lands 49.

  • The acquisition of about 231 acres in Middle Paxton Township, Dauphin County, by purchase from Central Pennsylvania Conservancy Inc. The land, being purchased for an option price of $400 per acre to be paid from the Game Fund, adjoins State Game Lands 211. Access to the parcel is from existing game lands.

This story was compiled by an NCPA staff reporter from submitted news. To see a list of our editorial staff please visit our staff directory.