Game Commission Delivers Annual Report to Legislature

10 Feb, 2011, 13:05 ET from Pennsylvania Game Commission

HARRISBURG, Feb. 10, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe today presented the agency's annual report to the General Assembly, and delivered testimony before the House Game and Fisheries Committee.  

To view a copy of the agency's annual report, please visit the Game Commission's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), put your cursor on "Resources" in the menu bar under the banner on the homepage, then select "Reports/Minutes" in the drop-down menu, then click on "Annual Legislative Reports" and choose "2010" in the listing.

Following is Roe's testimony before the House Game and Fisheries Committee:

It has been another challenging year for the Game Commission. However, we continue to stay focused on our core mission and providing exceptional service to the public.  

This report will address several major areas. Our response to the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee's Report on deer management, our fiscal status and need for further revenue, our legislative agenda for this session and a discussion of some of our major programs and initiatives.

We will start with the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee's Deer Management Report.  We welcomed the report and agreed with the major conclusion that the Game Commission's deer program is scientifically sound. Having said that we always strive for continued improvement in our programs and have taken the Wildlife Management Institute's recommendations and evaluated them for implementation.  I will address the three measurements noted in the report. We are transferring the herd health measure from one that is based on reproduction health of the herd to the fawn to doe ratio that may be more representative of the herd health on the basis of recruitment into the herd. We will further refine this measure in the future.

The second measure was forest health. There was not a problem with the measure itself but with the number of samples available to have more precision. We are currently combining the U.S. Forest Service data with our own forest inventory data and are looking at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resource data to expand that information set to provide more precision. Since these data sets are collected differently, we have some work to do to insure the data are comparable and can be combined.

The final area is the Citizen Advisory Committees (CACs) to assess public opinion about deer-human conflict.  The report recommended eliminating them because they were overly biased to hunters. We will finish this cycle of CACs and then move to a state wide survey instrument at Wildlife Management Unit level that is believed to provide a more random sample of citizen desires in the deer human conflict measure of deer management.

Although the report had great confidence in our population model, it did offer some ideas on how to improve the model. We have incorporated those minor adjustments into the population model.

In addition to the previous measurements, the other area for improvement was to increase the harvest reporting rate. We have already implemented the capability to report on line and we are currently testing a voice recognition system to allow telephone reporting. We are certainly hoping that this will increase the reporting rates on deer as well as all species with reporting requirements.

We used this report to immediately improve our deer program measures. We take our responsibilities to the public seriously and we thank the Committee for their assistance in getting the report done.

The biggest challenge that continues to face the Game Commission is finances.  We have not received a license increase since 1998. I know of no other business or government entity that is still operating on primary revenue streams that are 13 years old.  We continue to operate in a most efficient manner, but there is a point of declining returns. We closed out last year with a balance of approximately $39 million on a cost accounting basis. Although that sounds like a significant balance, that amount barely covers half a year's budget authorization. We have seen some increase in Marcellus Shale revenues from the leasing program, but these revenues have not covered the decrease in the timber market in our habitat improvement cuts. As an example, three years ago we were receiving around $12 million from our habitat work. Those revenues for the past three years have not exceeded $6 million. Marcellus Shale revenue has allowed us to barely tread water, but not allowed us to move forward with much needed funding to support our many diverse wildlife habitat and species management programs. We recognize this is not the best environment to foster an increase in license fees. I do emphasize that this is a fee and not a tax. However, there will be opportunities for fee increases in the future, and we believe that the hunting and trapping licenses should be part of any fee increase discussion.

We also had the great fortune to have a $4.7 million increase in federal funding through the Pittman-Robertson Program. We were able to improve a lot of infrastructure on state game lands and many habitat improvement projects. It is also allowing us to automate our state game land's records and plans. The downside was the fact that we had to obligate almost $1.25 million in value from the existing Game Fund in order to receive this federal funding.  

Our mission is broad-all wildlife for all people all the time; 480 species, 88 percent non-game, for nearly 13 million people. We provide service to the entire citizenry of the Commonwealth. However, only eight percent are funding that service. We do not ask if you have purchased a hunting license before we provide services. That means 92 percent of Pennsylvanians enjoy the wildlife management and state game lands benefits provided by the Game Commission without any investment.

With that in mind we would suggest there are other ways to increase revenues for the Game Commission. We have stated before that hunting brings in around $212 million in state and local taxes. A percentage of that tax could be directed to the Commission. A Pennsylvania Excise Tax, similar to the federal Pittman Robertson, could be initiated in the future to help fund the wildlife conservation efforts of the Commonwealth. In the past, it also has been suggested that the General Assembly give the Commission the authority to set license fees which would allow for a more gradual increase and less impact on hunters as opposed to infrequent and larger increases.

Besides an increase in funding we have several areas that we would like to see the General Assembly address this year. First let me say that last legislative session was one of the best we have had in many years. Thanks to the leadership of Chairman Edward Staback we finally had an increased penalty bill that puts some teeth in wildlife protection. Additionally, Sen. Richard Alloway's sponsorship and the House support of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact Bill, a bill that Rep. Marc Gergely had introduced in the past, is another law that strengthens the protection of the Commonwealth's wildlife resources. Another major bill last session was Rep. Bryan Cutler's bill that removed the myth that our officers had unfettered powers. This bill codified our normal operating procedures that followed case law and the Constitution.

We do need some legislation to clarify some aspects of law from Act 54 as it affected many parts of Title 34. We will be happy to work with you on that, especially on the officer assault portion. We would like to revisit the confiscation aspect of certain violations. We fully support the transfer of an antlerless license to a mentored youth by the adult mentor. We support the idea of eliminating the requirement that a license be displayed. One area that we believe is critical is to recognize Lyme disease as an occupational hazard for our Conservation Officers, wildlife biologists, foresters and food and cover employees. Additionally, after a license increase, we would like to see our Wildlife Conservation Officers included in the 50/20 retirement program that almost all other law enforcement officers have. Another piece of legislation is to allow our hunter trapper education program to be offered in schools. We believe this would greatly enhance recruitment. There are other legislative issues that we look forward to working with you on.

We had a pretty good 2009-2010 hunting season. The estimated deer harvest was 308,920 with 108,330 antlered deer and 200,590 antlerless deer taken. We issued 60 elk licenses and hunters harvested 44 elk. One elk that was taken this year will be the new state record for typical elk. Our bear harvest was one of our strongest with 3,513 bears being taken during the archery, regular bear and extended seasons.  Spring turkey season continues to be one of our most popular hunting seasons. We had 228,900 turkey hunters in the spring. They had a 19% success rate with a harvest of 42,478 gobblers. Ruffed grouse flushes were higher than the long term average and continue to improve as we add more early successional growth areas in our forests.

On the threatened and endangered species side, we are very pleased to report that after a twenty- five year effort and great success we had 193 bald eagle nests located in 50 of the 67 counties. Additionally we had 29 peregrine falcon nests with 23 nests producing 62 young. These are considerable increases in a relatively short period of time that all Pennsylvanians should be proud of. However, there are still many species within the category of greatest conservation need. Those requiring habitats of grasslands and early successional forests are most at risk.

An area of concern continues to be the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, CWD. It has become fairly prevalent in the western part of the United States and is now immediately to the south of us. In West Virginia there have been more reported cases and now Virginia has its first reported case. We test our harvested elk and a random sample of our deer harvest and continue to have no positives for CWD. We have continued to advise and emphasize the need to not bring in banned parts to Pennsylvania. With CWD that close to the border, it is not if Pennsylvania will get CWD, but when.

Another issue on the wildlife disease front is White Nose Syndrome. This disease continues to spread in Pennsylvania and is having a devastating effect on bat populations within hibernacula. We have had mortality incidents with well over ninety percent mortality in individual hibernacula. We are currently monitoring the activity in many areas of the state and can always use the help of the general public. They should report bat mortality as soon as possible for us to determine the cause of mortality.

Continuing with bats, our Wind Energy Cooperative Program continues to expand as we now have 28 wind energy cooperators. We have had concerns over increasing mortality of bats and birds in certain areas and at certain times of the year. We have estimates of mortality in the thousands of bats and increasing concern on some raptors. We believe we can minimize some mortality by implementing some best management practices for wind energy. We are working with individual cooperators in ways to best execute those programs.

A recent concern is the use of body gripping traps at distances from a water course. We had a few inappropriately placed traps that resulted in unfortunate taking of domestic animals. We are working with the Pennsylvania Trappers Association and have introduced a change to how those traps are to be set. Additionally, we welcome Rep. Gary Haluska's efforts on increasing the penalty for misuse of these specific traps.

In the administrative area, we are in our second year of implementation of the Automated License Sales System more commonly referred to as PALS and are looking at ways to improve the system. Several enhancements have been made to improve customer service. Most importantly we now have a complete data base of our hunters and trappers. This allows us to watch the churn rate meaning the number of hunters coming in and out of purchasing a license. This year the churn rate was almost 20 percent from last year license buyers. To assist our agents, we have lowered the bond requirement for many as the bond can be based on the amount of sales instead of the inventory of licenses they had on hand. The data base has allowed us to identify customer groups and in fact gave us appropriate information to run several surveys with our new Human Dimensions Coordinator.  We are anticipating great advances in understanding our hunters and trappers' interest and desires in relation to our wildlife resources.

In respect to Growing Greener II, I am pleased to announce that we fully executed the monies made available to us under the program. A detailed list of the latest expenditures is available in the annual report. Some of the highlights include the lead remediation and reconstruction of our public ranges, improving habitat and the construction of a new wildlife education facility at Pymatuning.

An area that is a significant challenge is the increase in requirements for the Marcellus Shale program. A lot of the focus has been on water; however, all the surface use impacts from gas drilling and production are equally critical. Land operations such as geophysical seismic testing, access roads and pipelines, water and frac fluid temporary storage areas and well sites require various levels of permitting and wildlife resource evaluations against threatened and endangered species and critical habitat types such as wetlands and hibernacula.  This is a labor intensive process of clearing, mediating or mitigating the problem areas. We currently have a request to the Office of the Budget to increase our complement to handle this new and increased workload.  

One of our relatively new programs is our Seedlings for School Program. From our Howard Nursery and in conjunction with our Wildlife Education Program we offer seedlings to schools for habitat and educational development. We provide the seedlings to be planted as well as a curriculum for the classroom and outdoor activities. In 2010 we distributed 169,200 seedlings to 870 different schools. We believe this a great way to bring our youth into the outdoors.  This program is assisted with a sponsorship by the Wildlife for Everyone Endowment Foundation and Waste Management.

Another program that is focused on our youth is the revitalization of the National Archery in the School Program, NASP. The Commission's outreach coordinator has taken this as one the primary programs to accomplish over the next few years. We purchased kits and are partnering with the archery industry to place more programs in schools. This is a program that is an approved part of the Physical Education Curriculum in the state. The Statewide Championship for the NASP will be held at Penn State University on March 11.

We are very excited about a new outreach program with Harrisburg Area Community College. Although in the past we offered courses in the College, we have now partnered to offer a wildlife certificate program. A person will receive a wildlife conservationist certificate after taking four required courses and any three electives offered. Courses will be at the college or the Game Commission headquarters. We had an opening day information session and there were close to 100 people who attended and expressed great interest in the program.

As I have mentioned in previous reports, using Federal State Wildlife Grant monies, we have hired a biologist for each of the regions to focus on private lands. As you know almost eighty percent of the land in the Commonwealth is in private ownership. In order to affect habitat on a landscape level we need to have the assistance of private landowners. Over the past four years our efforts have resulted in over 943 plans being developed on 142,628 acres. This is a remarkable achievement and is only limited by the resources to expand and implement this program.

We continue with our wild pheasant reintroduction program. We have established 4 Wild Pheasant Recovery Areas, WPRA. The newest area, Hegins Valley, will receive birds for the first time this year. We are currently working to establish a fifth WPRA in Franklin County and are working with local groups and land owners to initiate that program with the goal of putting wild birds there beginning next year.

Our current class of Wildlife Conservation Officer Cadets will graduate on March 5, 2011. The 21 graduates will be immediately assigned to districts. However, because we will still have 16 vacant districts we will start a new class in March 2012. This is a considerable expense, but we will fund it as a priority.

Even with limited resources we continue to serve the public and our wildlife resources. We have increased partnerships and leveraged every dollar imaginable to get the job done. We have the direction provided by our strategic plan. We have the will to do more and are only limited by the resources we have available to fulfill the needs of the citizens of the Commonwealth. I will be glad to answer any questions.

Note to Editors: If you would like to receive Game Commission news releases via e-mail, please send a note with your name, address, telephone number and the name of the organization you represent to: PGCNews@state.pa.us.

SOURCE Pennsylvania Game Commission



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