Game Commission food and cover crews begin season of wildlife habitat improvements; Illegal dumping and ATV use remain problems
HARRISBURG, Pa., June 12, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As Pennsylvania hunters and trappers begin purchasing their 2012-13 licenses, Pennsylvania Game Commission teams of land managers, foresters and Food and Cover Corps crews are focusing their efforts – and the agency's license revenues – on a massive amount of habitat improvement projects on the more than 1.4 million acres of State Game Lands.
"Wildlife habitats are changing across the landscape as farming practices evolve and urban/suburban expansion convert former wildlife habitats into various types of developments, from homes to shopping malls," said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. "According to Pennsylvania's Wildlife Action Plan, 300 acres of wildlife habitat are being lost every day, primarily to sprawl.
"For this reason, the Game Commission's network of State Game Lands is critical to ensuring that wildlife will always have access to the three habitat components it needs to survive: food, shelter and water. And, through our habitat improvement efforts, we strive to ensure habitat diversity for all wildlife."
As an example, Juniata/Mifflin/Perry/Snyder Counties LMGS Steve Bernardi and his Food and Cover Corps crews have been busy this spring preparing and planting food plots and mowing herbaceous openings on the SGLs.
"To do this, they first have to make multiple trips to haul tractors and equipment to the work area," LMGS Bernardi said. "Next, they have to plow or disc the fields, haul and spread lime and fertilizer and finally seed the food plots. After they are done, they start all over and haul everything to the next SGL and start the process there. It's a very time consuming and tedious task, but necessary for enhancing wildlife habitat. We have 14 different SGLs that we do this type of work on.
"All three crews also mow rabbit areas and/or goose pastures several times from spring through fall to create better conditions for those species. When the planting is completed they will be spraying herbicides to control noxious weeds and undesirable species control along roadways, impoundments, fields and forested understory. During that time, they also will begin mowing many of our herbaceous openings to maintain certain conditions and control unwanted vegetation encroachment."
LMGS Bernardi also noted that, in their so-called 'spare time,' the Food and Cover Corps crews will do necessary road repairs such as grading, ditching and culvert maintenance to try and keep water off the roadways and maintain passable access to the SGLs.
"While they are performing all these tasks they also attend to the never ending battle of picking up litter and garbage that people deposit on our wild lands," LMGS Bernardi said. "Along the way they will be maintaining and repairing equipment, adjusting plans according to weather conditions and adapting to short notice about unforeseen jobs that always seem to come up, usually thanks to the Land Manager.
"Without the Food and Cover Crews none of this work would get done and the SGLs would not look like they do. The wildlife and others that visit the SGLs should be thankful for the work these folks get done."
In Crawford/Erie Counties, LMGS Shayne A. Hoachlander reported that the shrub habitat project on SGL 314 in Erie County is about to resume.
"This project features habitat management for shrub associated birds like woodcock and blue-winged warblers," LMGS Hoachlander said. "It is an 800-acre project; of which, 300 acres were completed last year, and about 500 acres remain. Although the target is shrub associated birds, deer and turkeys stand to benefit greatly. This project will stimulate a lot of browse production within reach of deer and also stimulate soft mast production and cover. More about the project can be found on the agency's website under 'About Us' – NW Region – News/Updates."
Other projects combine habitat improvement with the need to repair damages done decades ago when mining laws were did not include requirements to reclaim impacted areas. For example, Cambria/Indiana Counties LMGS Dan Yahner said various habitat projects on State Game Lands in northern Cambria and Indiana counties are addressing problems related to when the lands were formerly strip-mined for coal.
"While current regulations for surface recovery and reclamation are very good, that was not always the case," LMGS Yahner said. "On State Game Land 174, in Indiana County, near Smithport, the County Conservation District is spearheading a project to treat a large volume of severely polluted water, which is flowing from an abandoned deep mine. A large treatment lagoon has been constructed to treat the water before it flows into Bear Run. Additionally, there was a huge pile of spoil, covering between three and five acres, left behind from the mining operation. That pile has now been leveled and covered with the material excavated from the lagoon. This area will be planted with a wildlife mix to provide food and cover for wildlife."
Southeast Regional Field Forester Frank Vinitski reports that a habitat improvement project utilizing prescribed fire recently was conducted on 275 acres of SGL 210 in Dauphin County.
"The prescribed fire was conducted by Game Commission employees under the direct supervision from support personnel from Department of Military and Veterans Affairs stationed at Fort Indiantown Gap," Vinitski said. "The prescribed fires were carried out in three separate units and completed in two days. Prescribed fire was used to restore and encourage the expansion of the declining pitch pine/scrub oak forest communities in the area."
Sometimes, the drive to improve habitat can be made difficult by weather, but that can't stop Game Commission employees. For example, Columbia/Montour/Northumberland Counties LMGS Keith Sanford reports that, in spite of the rainy weather this past month, Food and Cover Corps crews have been busy.
"By mid-June, they planted about 100 acres of corn and sorghum food plots on State Game Lands 58, 226 and 329 in Columbia County, and State Game Lands 84 and 165 in Northumberland County," LMGS Sanford said. "Each field will remain standing through the fall and winter to provide both food and cover for wildlife. An 82-acre commercial timber sale just concluded on State Game Land 165 in Northumberland County. About five acres of the project site were seeded to a mixture of clover, trefoil, and grass to stabilize the soil and provide forage and bugging areas for species such as deer and wild turkeys. Within five years, the cutover area will be thick with new vegetation providing excellent habitat for ruffed grouse.
"And, in late June, 500 tons of stone is scheduled to be spread on the access road leading into the public rifle range on State Game Land 58. This will go a long ways towards improving the road surface that took a beating from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee."
Roe noted that the Game Commission is mandated, by state law, to spend a specific amount of money on habitat improvement each year. That minimum is based on an established rate of $4.25 for each resident and nonresident adult general hunting license and $2 for each antlerless deer license. During the 2010-11 license year, the Game Commission sold 818,557 resident and nonresident adult general hunting licenses and 798,568 antlerless deer licenses, for a total minimum of $5,076,003.
"In reality, we spent $6,700,000 on habitat improvement projects, which was $1,623,997 more that the legislatively-mandated minimum," Roe said. "This was not a one-time aberration, however, as we have routinely exceed the minimum threshold set by the Legislature because we recognize how important habitat improvement is for all wildlife.
"However, when you combine our stable license sales with the increasing costs of conducting habitat work – from gas prices to repairs of heavy equipment – we are seeing the amount of work we are able to accomplish stagnate or decline. Fortunately, with organizations such as the National Wild Turkey Federation and Pheasants Forever, we are able to do more than what our license dollars allow."
For example, Northcentral Region Field Forester Travis Weinzierl said the Game Commission, in 2008, acquired a tract of land that was made part of State Game Land 44 in Elk County, and it consisted mostly of reclaimed strip mines.
"Since this tract was acquired, it has been intensively managed for small game habitat in cooperation with a local Pheasants Forever chapter," Weinzierl said. "In the upcoming year, we will be converting 34 acres of poor quality habitat, mine spoils planted with larch and red pine, into an early successional aspen stand that is a highly-valued small game habitat significantly under represented on the surrounding landscape."
Cameron/Clearfield Counties LMGS Colleen M. Shannon said since 9,200 acres of land were added to State Game Land 87, in Clearfield County, last August, the Food and Cover Corps crew has established more than 50 acres of new herbaceous openings for wildlife.
"These plots are being planted in a mixture of clovers to provide grazing for deer and rabbits and insects for turkeys and grouse," LMGS Shannon said. "We have received approval for a 2012 Super Fund project through the NWTF for applying lime to about half of these new managed openings."
Adams/Cumberland/Franklin Counties LMGS Barry Leonard said hunters visiting State Game Land 76 in Franklin County will be greeted with a newly-renovated, 2.5-acre food plot on the Timmons Mountain area.
"Thanks to funding procured through the Tuscarora Long Beards Chapter of the NWTF, we'll be able to accomplish this in the fall," LMGS Leonard said. "Also, a habitat project will be completed on State Game Land 169 in Cumberland County thanks to the Shippensburg Strutters Chapter of the NWTF."
Perhaps one of the most important wildlife habitat partnerships for the future is the Game Commission's cooperative effort between the agency's Howard Nursery and local land managers and the American Chestnut Foundation. This partnership has been working to raise blight-resistant American chestnut hybrid seedlings, which represent the most nearly pure American strain yet produced.
This year, Bucks/Lehigh/Montgomery/Northampton Counties LMGS Dave Mitchell said two resource islands were planted with a mixture of native seedlings and American chestnut seeds as part of the work being done to remediate the Palmerton Zinc Superfund site on State Game Land 168 in Northampton County. "A total of 8,000 trees were planted with 1,825 of them being a variety or blight-resistant American chestnut," he said.
Despite all of this work to improve wildlife habitats, Game Commission officers continue to see disregard for State Game Lands by individuals who view them as nothing more than rural dumps and courses for motorized vehicles that are illegal to use on State Game Lands.
For example, Fayette/Westmoreland Counties WCO Jason Farabaugh reports that four garbage dumping cases recently were resolved.
"Two of the cases were filed on the same individual for two separate dumping sites in Mount Pleasant Township, Westmoreland County," WCO Farabaugh said. "This individual failed to clean-up the garbage and was assessed a total of $2,000 in fines, plus court costs. The other two cases came from Camp Achievement Road in Fayette County. Each individual here was assessed $500 in fines, plus court costs, after cleaning up the dump sites."
Columbia County WCO John A. Morack and Columbia/Montour/Northumberland Counties LMGS Keith Sanford, in early May, cited a Bloomsburg man for illegally dumping garbage on State Game Land 58, in Beaver Township, Columbia County. The assessed fine and court costs for the discarded garbage bag filled with paper, plastic, metal and glass products totaled $669.
Mercer County WCO Lawrence R. Hergenroeder, in mid-May, issued citations to individuals for operating motor vehicles on properties enrolled in the agency's Hunter Access Program. "All properties are well marked with signage prohibiting the operation of motor vehicles," he said. "If convicted, the individuals could be fined up to $200, plus additional court costs."
Roe said that the Game Commission's land management teams have accomplished much so far this year, and that they have plans to do even more.
"I've long said that it is not our employee's enthusiasm and ingenuity that limits our abilities to accomplish habitat projects to benefit wildlife; it is our limited financial resources that inhibits our capability to do more for wildlife," Roe said. "There is no doubt that we can do more for wildlife if only provided the means to do so."
Following is a summary of many of the other habitat projects underway in each of the Game Commission's six regions, as well as efforts to protect State Game Lands or private lands enrolled in the agency's Hunter Access Program.
Butler/Lawrence Counties LMGS Jeffery T. Kendall said there are multiple projects going on with habitat management on SGLs in both Lawrence and Butler counties. "Most obvious to the hunter will be large blocks, some more than 30 acres, of dead vegetation," he said. "These areas have had herbicide applied to kill the invasive species of shrubs. Large areas of multiflora rose, autumn olive and honeysuckle have been treated in an attempt to get back the native species of shrubs and trees. These invasive species take over areas and crowd out the native plants that are good for wildlife and the habitat. Hunters will go to these SGLs this fall and hopefully be pleasantly surprised at all the hard work and money that has been spent to control these invasive species on many areas on the SGLs."
Mercer/Venango County LMGS Mario L. Piccirilli reports his Food and Cover Corps crews have been maintaining road and culverts on SGLs, stocking spring breeder pheasants and maintaining equipment. "The Food and Cover Corps crews also have been operating the upland vegetation cutter which controls invasives and promotes shrub release on SGLs," he said. "Other projects include spreading lime and fertilizer over food plots on SGLs in preparation of planting season."
Clarion/Jefferson Counties LMGS George J. Miller reports that 37.32 acres of warm-season grasses will be established, 70.14 acres of native and beneficial shrubs will be planted, and 21.48 acres of non-commercial timber will be cut through the cooperation of seven private landowner enrolled in the agency's Hunter Access Program who took advantage of the VPA/Hip (Volunteer Public Access/Habitat Improvement Program) offered by the Game Commission. "The response to the program was tremendous," he said. "Unfortunately, I ran out of time before I could get all of the project requests reviewed, mapped out, written up and approved. This was a time-consuming, labor-intensive process, but the results will have a lasting benefit to wildlife and to those hunters and trappers that utilize the properties."
Forest County WCO Daniel P. Schmidt conducted a law enforcement detail in his district during Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. "Fourteen Game Commission Officers patrolled land enrolled in the agency's Hunter Access Program, Allegheny National Forest and SGLs by foot, ATV and patrol vehicles," he said. "Fourteen citations were issued along with several warnings. Illegal ATV and dirt bike activity was the most common violation along with unlawful possession of alcohol on SGLs."
Mercer County WCO Lawrence R. Hergenroeder charged an individual from Grove City in a littering case on property enrolled in the Hunter Access Program. "The young man was attempting to conceal contents from a prohibited party at a friend's house, but failed to research the contents of the rest of the trash resulting in the parent's name of the friend being on several mailings within the dumped trash bags," he said. "Fines could reach $500."
Butler/Lawrence Counties LMGS Jeffery T. Kendall said there has been a good bit of interest shown for habitat management work on properties enrolled in the agency's Hunter Access Program. "Many of the properties in his group want to do wildlife habitat improvement projects on their properties," he said. "These projects are mostly warm-season grass plantings, native shrub planting, invasive plant species control and tree plantings. Hundreds of acres of habitat will be improved for a wide range of wildlife species. This will not only help wildlife, but it also will make the hunting better on these properties. All of these properties are open for hunting and trapping, but make sure you ask permission before you go on any lands; not asking permission is the biggest complaint from landowners. We want to keep these landowners happy and keep their land open to the public."
Clarion/Jefferson Counties LMGS George J. Miller reports that several volunteer projects have recently taken place on Clarion County SGLs to promote beneficial habitat and to clean up the environment. "The Clarion University Bios Club recently pick up roadside litter along Bigley Road on SGL 72, and constructed and placed 21 new bluebird boxes on this same SGL," he said. "The Allegheny Northwoods Chapter of the RGS planted over 1,400 beneficial trees and shrubs on SGL 330 in an area recently designated to be managed as shrub habitat. The pines in this mix were planted to provide thermal-winter cover, and will be topped periodically to assure they remain low to the ground. By completing this practice, they will remain most beneficial to wildlife in the critical winter months."
Fayette/Greene Counties LMGS Stephen Leiendecker reports that a habitat and Hunter Access Program improvement project recently was completed on SGL 51 near Jumonville, Fayette County. "The project involved cleaning up several tons of debris from an abandoned road that had historically led to an illegal garbage dump," he said. "The road was cut open by several days of chainsaw work by the Food and Cover Corps crew, which resulted in several hundred yards of border cut along both sides of the road. Several hundred mast producing tree seedlings beneficial to wildlife were planted within the border cut. The access road was improved through several days of dozer work and several tons of gravel were trucked and spread to make the road passable for hunters. Additionally, three parking areas were constructed along the road and a steel gate was installed to deter future illegal dumping. The gate will be opened just prior to the major hunting seasons to improve hunter access into the interior of the SGL."
Cambria/Indiana Counties LMGS Dan Yahner also noted that, on SGL 108, in Cambria County, the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation is conducting a project to level several areas of old high walls and replant the surface area. "The result will be a gently sloping area with food plots and groves of evergreens," he said. "On SGL 279, also in Cambria County, DEP is conducting a project where they are drilling down into old deep mines that are filled with water. The plan proposes to pump the water to the surface, treat it to remove the pollutants, hold it until summer low flow and then release it into the streams. The Susquehanna River Basin Commission is a major sponsor in this project which, if successful, would result in more water flowing during low flow summer periods. The water currently is escaping the deep mine is several areas and is highly polluted and negatively impacting the local trout stream, Clearfield Creek. Also, the Food and Cover Corps crew in northern Indiana County have been constructing shallow wetlands in several areas on SGL 262 in areas of old surface mines, where there are flowing springs. While the water quality in these areas is not necessarily poor, the use of a vegetated shallow wetland will improve the water quality before it reaches the streams and will provide outstanding habitat for wildlife."
Southwest Region Assistant Regional Forester Neil Itel reports on a habitat management project slated for SGL 279, Allegheny and Gallitzin townships, Cambria County. "The 23-acre timber sale was initiated in order to diversify stand age and vertical structure, while also treating the current stagnate habitat created by interfering vegetation," he said. "This stand is dominated by Hawthorn and mixed species shrublands with seasonal flooding and soil saturation within six- to 18-inches of the surface during the growing season. The shrub layer includes hawthorn, arrowwood, gray dogwood and silky dogwood. This critical habitat for woodcock is at risk of being converted to mixed species palustrine woodland. Black cherry, white ash, and red maple are beginning to over top and shade out the existing hawthorn while white ash seedlings are invading the exposed soil, a characteristic of hawthorn sites, reducing the ability for woodcock to feed. The objective is to remove the invading hardwoods to maintain the critical hawthorn habitat. An herbicide treatment was applied last August to control the invading hardwoods and fern in the understory. A regeneration harvest will be conducted this fall to remove the invading hardwoods, which will be highly beneficial to grouse and woodcock. This harvest will improve habitat for other mammals and bird species which thrive in early successional habitat for both food and cover, as well."
Southwest Region Field Forester Brandon Karlheim reports a combination of 121 acres of deer exclosure fence has been removed on the Southwest Region SGLs this spring alone. "In the past two years, there has been a total of 259 acres of fencing removed just in the Southwest," he said. "These fences have proven a success in which they allow desirable species of regeneration to reach a mature level. Also, the removal of these exclosures allows many different species, both game and non-game, to thrive in the new early successional habitat and to utilize these areas for means of a food and cover all in one."
Beaver County WCO Matt Kramer reports that the Beaver County Food and Cover Corps crews continue to work on the SGLs throughout the county. "The mowing, planting, fertilizing and maintenance that these crews conduct during the summer months benefit wildlife throughout the entire year," he said.
Fayette/Westmoreland Counties WCO Jason Farabaugh reports that several ATV riders recently were apprehended on Hanson Aggregates property, which is enrolled in the agency's Hunter Access Program, near Connellsville. "This property has historically been abused by ATVs and other off-road vehicles, and will continue to receive increased law enforcement patrols," he said.
Allegheny/Beaver Counties LMGS Doug Dunkerley reports that partnerships with other state agencies have paid big dividends in the last year. "Most notably was a wetlands restoration project on SGL 297 in Washington County," he said. "This project was completed with the cooperation of PennDOT and the Department of Agriculture. The wetland complex included 18 water impoundments, plantings of numerous native wetland species, bat, and waterfowl nesting structures and several moist soil areas. This project will yield benefits for countless species in the years to come."
Somerset/Cambria Counties LMGS Travis Anderson reports his Food and Cover Corps crews have been working hard this past winter and spring on the mountainous SGLs in the group. "Crews working on SGL 42 in Westmoreland County and SGL 271 in Somerset County and have created eight acres of new food plot areas in these primarily wooded and mountainous SGL," he said. "These new areas will provide good food areas for all wildlife, especially if there is a lack of natural food. Additionally they have planted new apple trees to replace old orchards that are starting to deteriorate."
Somerset/Cambria Counties LMGS Travis Anderson reports that continued improvements to SGL 79 in Cambria County are occurring through the planting of new food plots on reclaimed strip mine areas that had been left unattended to over the past years. "We also have established three new orchards by planting apple trees," he said. "Additionally, certain areas will be open to the public to access by motor vehicle to increase hunter access primarily for the fall pheasant season."
Southwest Region Field Forester Roger Brown reports on a timber management project on SGL 82 in Somerset County. "This SGL has 137 acres of red and white pine plantations that are 20 to 40 years old," he said. "Although these stands may be pretty to look at, they provide almost no wildlife benefits. Several of the older white pine plantations are in decline and have developed an understory of hardwoods and other understory vegetation, while the red pine stands are healthy but densely stocked and the shade is preventing the establishment of understory vegetation. The value of winter thermal cover for wildlife in the older pine stands is minimal due to the lack of branches and thin crowns. By clearcutting several of the declining white pine plantations, these stands will revert naturally to herbaceous and shrub habitat which is excellent conditions for many species of wildlife. By removing or thinning out some of the red pines, sunlight will be able to penetrate the canopy to promote the establishment of understory hardwoods, shrubs and herbaceous plants. Later, after the understory plants have become established, the rest of the red pines will be removed and the stand will be allowed to revert naturally to herbaceous and shrub habitat. Following the recommendations of our region wildlife biologist, several red pines per acre in the thinned area will be girdled post-harvest to create loose bark and provide roosting opportunities for bats as well as supplying insects for woodpeckers and other birds. Bottom line, this project will benefit game and non-game species that require reverting old field habitat which is currently lacking on this SGL."
Fayette County WCO Brandon Bonin issued two citations to individuals operating ATVs on SGLs. "One individual was on SGL 238, and the other was on SGL 51," he said. "In both cases, each operator knew they were on an SGL."
Lycoming/Union Counties LMGS Thomas M. Smith noted that a benefit of being enrolled in a Game Commission's Hunter Access Program is receiving free seedlings and nesting boxes. "The Lycoming and Union County Farm-Game Cooperators recently received 7,250 seedlings that will provide food and cover for wildlife and 56 bluebird boxes," he said.
Lycoming/Union Counties LMGS Thomas M. Smith, in an ongoing effort to provide quality small game habitat on SGL 252 in Lycoming and Union counties, has contracted out an additional 155 acres for brush cutting. "Predominantly invasive shrubs, such as honeysuckle, multiflora rose, and autumn olive, all stems less than five-inches in diameter are to be cut to ground level," he said. "Desirable species that benefit wildlife such as crabapple, apple, dogwood and red osier dogwood will be retained. So far, 244 acres have been brushed out, 124 acres have received an herbicide treatment, and 125 acres of warm-season grasses have been planted. Also, 237 acres of timber will be removed to allow sunlight to reach the ground and stimulate the growth of desirable native shrub species."
Northcentral Regional Forester Frank Chubon said, since 1998, the forestry section fenced 3,831 acres to protect regenerating seedlings and plantings from deer over-browsing and to improve tree and shrub species diversity. "Most of these fences are projected to be removed in 8-10 years as the seedlings grow above the browse zone," he said. "We evaluate which fences are to be taken down by taking a grid of sample plots inside. The majority of plots should show a high percentage of vegetation over 4.5-feet to six-feet to qualify for removal. Starting in 2008, we started to remove some of the early fences and continue to remove successful fences each year. To date, we have removed fencing from 993 acres creating a dense, diverse, early succession seedling-sapling habitat that benefits a wide spectrum of wildlife. Fence construction and removals are contracted out by bid, providing jobs and opportunity for local small businesses. This summer we are removing additional fences on SGL 100 Centre County; SGL 75 in Lycoming County; SGL 25 in Elk County; and SGL 89 in Clinton County. These areas will provide a self-sustaining habitat for generations of wildlife and provide generations of hunters a good place to hunt!"
Northcentral Region Field Forester Bryce Hall said Mother Nature has dictated the last four years of his timber sale work schedule. "Shortly after finishing one of the last timber sales designed to salvage thousands of acres of oak that died following years of being defoliated by gypsy moths in the Centre County area, a major tree blow down event on SGL 34 in Clearfield County, SGL 204 in Potter County, and SGL 30 in McKean County required quick action to lay out additional sales to salvage the blown over trees," he said. "I thought I was seeing the end of the tunnel until discovering hundreds of acres of maple and ash stands on higher elevations in McKean County that now needs quickly salvaged before the quality of the trees deteriorates. The foresters responsible for the demanding field work involved in these salvage sales have dealt with rattlesnakes, bees, tick bites, fleeing female bears with cubs, remote treacherous terrain, and temperatures from below freezing to in excess of 90 degrees. Despite all this, working as forester is a great job. The majority of these salvage areas are regenerating into great early successional growth consisting of varying species of both trees and shrubs. Many of the live trees and shrubs were reserved on all the salvage areas by marking them before sale with red paint for reservation."
Northcentral Region Field Forester Travis McNichol said that, over the past five years, extensive gypsy moth infestations have taken a heavy toll on the forests of SGL 33 in Centre County, and SGL 60 in Centre and Clearfield counties. "Repeated yearly defoliations from this non-indigenous pest, combined with periods of drought, have drastically affected the habitat," he said. "These SGLs are primarily forested land, and comprised predominately of oak species, which is one of the most preferred vegetation types of gypsy moth. As a result, thousands of acres of oak stands have suffered significant mortality with some areas experiencing more than 90 percent of the trees killed. During this time, the forestry section has conducted several salvage timber sales to remove much of this dead timber. In addition to these salvage sales, hundreds of acres have been sprayed to inhibit undesirable vegetation from hindering the development of the next generation of hardwood forests. Moreover, multiple fences have been constructed and several more areas have been identified for fencing projects in order to prevent over browsing of oak seedlings and to promote rapid regeneration of seedlings that will become the next generation of hardwood forests for the wildlife and hunters of the future. Currently, the forestry section is working on the last timber salvage project on SGL 33 south of Route 322 near the State Police barracks. Dead and dying trees will be removed to encourage the advanced oak regeneration that is present and to promote sprouting of oaks, as well as the development of other trees and shrubs that benefit wildlife by providing cover, browse and mast crops. About 50 acres of the area is scheduled to be fenced due to the level of deer browsing. After the completion of this project the area will provide excellent habitat that will sustain wildlife for many future generations of hunters."
Northcentral Assistant Regional Forester Gary Glick said that the Game Commission is participating in a collaborative effort with Indiana University of Pennsylvania to improve early successional habitat along the Governors Road on SGL 103 in Centre County. "A forester from IUP and two summer forestry interns from Penn State are working on a scrub oak restoration project," he said. "We are doing a 280-acre regeneration cut/mowing project that will release new oak seedlings and wildlife shrubs, such as witch hazel, and reinvigorate scrub oak. By doing a timber harvest and then mowing the scrub oak, we will create areas of early successional habitat that will be used by both game and non-game wildlife, such as grouse, turkeys, deer, bear, rabbits and golden-winged warblers."
Elk/McKean Counties LMGS John Dzemyan said most of the SGLs the Elk and McKean County Food and Cover Corps crews work now have better habitat conditions on them than they did five years ago, partly in thanks to partnership projects with National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants Forever, Ruffed Grouse Society, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Keystone Elk Country Alliance, Domtar Paper Mill and the DEP Bureau of Mine Reclamation. "Another major factor is the better balance of deer populations with the habitat that took the last ten years to accomplish," he said. "Many of the seedlings we planting prior to 2005 were often browsed to death by deer. But, since about 2007, we are seeing increased survival of many seedlings. Even more important are the billions and billions of native tree and shrubs and other small plants that have made a comeback since deer browsing has been reduced. Many areas are now growing back thick with blackberry briers and diverse species of small trees and shrubs. The result is the same amount of work our crews did in the past now produces bigger, better, longer-lasting improvements. Areas that were for decade open and grass or fern patches are now improving with natural regeneration of trees and shrubs. There still are areas where over-browsing impacts are occurring, but not as many areas as there were ten years ago. Maintaining and creating good habitat takes hard work and complex management decisions based on science and experience. The good news is that it is working and it can continue to work." Dzemyan said a short list of some recent accomplishments are: Reclaimed mine lands grass and clovers improved on 42 acres, and 10,000 trees and shrubs planted on reclaimed areas with the assistance of DEP on SGL 311 in Elk County: Water quality improved and maintained on more than six miles of stream with mine acid problems with the assistance of DEP on SGL 311 and Elk State Forest; Logging road seeded, and trees and shrubs planted and protected with fences and tubes with the assistance of NWTF on SGL 25 in Elk County; Extra clovers planted on 31 acres of SGL 25 using increased PR funds; New fences erected to plant fruit and mast producing shrubs in on SGL 28 in Elk County in partnership with the Ruffed Grouse Society; Hundreds of trees topped to create brush piles for small game, herbaceous openings planted with grains and fertilized on SGL 44 in Elk County in partnership with Pheasants Forever; and An extra 29 acres of clovers planted using increased PR funds on SGL 44. Along with these extra projects here is a brief list of regular duties the Elk and McKean Counties Food and Cover Corps crews accomplished: More than 50 acres of poor quality trees were cut over in proper locations to create thickest of native plants along roads, fields and in forested areas; Maintained more than 1,000 acres of herbaceous openings by mowing, planting, fertilizing and liming; Refurbished three duck ponds with new out flows, wood duck boxes, clover plantings on the Allegheny National Forest in McKean County; Maintained 10 other duck ponds on SGLs and the ANF; Maintained boundaries, roads, gates and parking areas on over 85,000 acres of SGLs; Maintained hunter access with more than 200 small landowners on over 36,000 acres of private lands; Bulldozed out thousands of invasive shrubs and made brush piles out of them and planted beneficial species in their place; With WCOs, kept more than 230,000 acres of large landowners lands open to hunting in the Hunter Access Program; With WCOs, delivered more than 30,000 seedling trees and shrubs to private landowners for wildlife habitat work; and Planted more than 15,000 seedling trees and shrubs on SGLs.
Cameron/Clearfield Counties LMGS Colleen M. Shannon said she has already seen more woodcock then she ever remembers seeing at this time of year, including numerous sightings of woodcock hens with chicks. "Northcentral Field Forester Kyle Clouse was riding with me one day when we encountered a woodcock hen with three chicks attempting to cross Route 46, which bisects SGL 30 in McKean County," she said. "Kyle valiantly risked his own safety to jump out and hurry the young timberdoodles across the road before they were struck by oncoming traffic."
York County WCO Kyle Jury reports several warnings and citations have been issued in the past few weeks for destruction of the backstops and digging for lead and copper at the SGL shooting range in Dillsburg. "These types of activities not only slowly destroying the backstops, but also are unlawful and cause safety issues for the violators if the range is in use. The range will continue to be monitored to deter these actions."
Southcentral Region Forester Brent McNeal reports a complex habitat project is being carried out on SGL 67 in southern Huntingdon County. "The goal for this area is to restore the scrub oak/pitch pine communities that have been in decline for the past few decades," he said. "So far, 229 acres have been treated with timber sales, Hydro-Ax mowing and prescribed fire to achieve this goal."
Bedford/Fulton Counties LMSG Jon Zuck, this past spring, with the assistance of Bedford County WCO Chris Skipper and Fulton County WCO Kevin Mountz, apprehended four individuals illegally operating ATVs on SGL 261. "More incidents of this illegal activity are being reported and officers are using patrol and camera surveillance to address this issue," he said.
Bedford/Fulton Counties LMGS Jonathan S. Zuck and his Food and Cover Corps crews are working with four different NWTF chapters to improve habitat on SGLs in Bedford and Fulton counties. "The Tussey Mountain Strutters chapter is providing lime, seed and fertilizer to plant clover and sorghum food plots in the Maple Run/Ravers Gap area of SGL 73," he said. "The chapter also is providing fruit trees and fencing material to improve existing fruit orchards. The Juniata Gobblers chapter is providing lime, seed and fertilizer to plant sorghum food plots in the Elk Lick road area of SGL 97 to provide a winter food source for turkeys, pheasants and other wildlife. The Allegheny Mountain chapter cleared and planted a one-acre food plot in legumes and will be providing lime, seed and fertilizer for fall plantings between gates 2 and 3 on SGL 26. We also are working with the Tuscarora Longbeards chapter to improve wildlife openings in the Whips Cove area of SGL 65 through the application of fertilizer and the planting of clover and small grains. In addition to the wonderful support of the NWTF, Creative Pultrisions, a manufacturer of fiberglass products in Bedford, has donated more than 2,500 fiberglass stakes during the past year for fencing fruit trees. Crews have been busy protecting fruit trees by fencing them with these stakes that hold the protective wire cages in place. The cages are made from recycled wire from deer deterrent fences that were removed from the SGLs."
Southcentral Assistant Regional Forester Roy Bucher and Juniata/Mifflin/Perry/Snyder Counties LMGS Steve Bernardi started a habitat project on SGL 212 in Snyder County. "The habitat project is a small forested oak stand that will be managed for red-headed woodpeckers," he said. "The objective is to create a park like habitat. The site has had a prescribed burn applied to it the last two spring seasons. This past winter we set up a non-timber sale forest habitat improvement cut that was marked by the foresters and cut by the local Food and Cover Corps crew. The woody debris from the cut helped provide fuel for the prescribed fire this past spring. This habitat project may require the repeated use of prescribed fire to keep the park-like habitat. The area also will be monitored for the encroachment of invasive and non-desirable species."
Southcentral Assistant Regional Forester Roy Bucher currently has an active timber sale on SGL 322 that is incorporating many different objectives. "This sale is part of a habitat project to help revitalize an old, decadent scrub oak community, regenerate and expand a small area of aspen, and create early successional habitat that is lacking in this area of SGL 322," he said. "This habitat project is a cooperative effort between the foresters, land manager and regional biologist. While recently checking on the site, I came across a female grouse with a nice sized brood accompanying her. This project should provide excellent habitat for the grouse in the area."
Southcentral Region Field Forester Eric Monger reports there has been work on the woodcock project on SGL 107 in Mifflin County, and the third stage is being set up this summer. "Woodcock surveys show that there is an above-average woodcock population," he said. "There also are two aspen cuts that have been laid out and are awaiting cutting on SGL 194 in Snyder County, which should yield great grouse habitat now and into the future."
Blair/Huntingdon County LMGS Robert Einodshofer reports, this past winter and spring, Food and Cover Corps crews began improving and expanding small conifer plantings that were started 10 years ago as part of a highway habitat replacement project on SGL 118. "Ten of the 14 blocks were improved and now are roughly one-half to one acre in size," he said. "In each, the borders were pushed back and competing hardwoods were removed this past fall and winter. In all, 8,000 pine and spruce were planted as these conifer thickets will fill a void that is being left as the hemlock wooly adelgid has infects the native hemlocks in this area."
Blair/Huntingdon County LMGS Robert Einodshofer said an area of an old timber sale that did not regenerate after the gypsy moth infestations in the late 80's and early 90's was rehabilitated on SGL 118. "The understory consisted of a blanket of hay scented fern, striped maple and black birch," he said. "The site was chemically treated first in late summer and then the area scarified with a dozer in late winter. This spring more than 8,000 pines and spruces, 4,350 oaks seedlings and 1,700 shrub species were planted by the Food and Cover Corps crew and volunteers."
Blair/Huntingdon County LMGS Robert Einodshofer said 14 acres of low-lying stream bottom were improved and replanted as part of a woodcock habitat improvement project on SGL 251. "This area had been overtaken by undesirable shrub species such as multiflora rose and autumn olive," he said. "The Food and Cover Corps crews first identified all native species to be retained and then mechanically and chemically treated with the understory in late summer and early fall. Over the winter months, the majority of over story trees were girdled to open up the understory. This spring, more than 7,000, hawthorn, crabapple, elderberry and other native shrub species were planted with the last phase of the project being complete in May with a final chemical treatment of the remaining autumn olive and rose."
Blair/Huntingdon County LMGS Robert Einodshofer said conifer planting projects began in the 1990's were recently expanded upon with four larger blocks on SGL 99. "This year, the fourth block of conifer plantings was initiated bringing the project area total to more than 20 acres of new blocks and the rehabilitation of and additional 10 acres," he said. "Over the course of the last six years, 25,000 conifers have been planted along with 10,000 oak seedlings and other wildlife beneficial trees and shrubs."
Blair/Huntingdon County LMGS Robert Einodshofer said a 10-acre block of a poorly regenerated timber sale was rehabilitated on SGL 198. "In late summer, Food and Cover Corps crews chemically treated the hay scented fern and striped maple in the understory and then felled the majority of black birch and other undesirable trees to open up the understory," he said. "This spring, more than 1,500 oaks, hickory and conifer seedlings were replanted on the site."
Carbon/Lackawanna/Luzerne/Monroe Counties LMGS Michael Beahm said that the Carbon County Food and Cover Corps crew established more than two acres of new herbaceous openings. "Game Land Maintenance Foreman Tony Colecio really wanted to find a way to improve the habitat on the Broad Mountain west of State Route 93," he said. "One thing we were missing was herbaceous openings. We selected a site based on soils and existing vegetation and it really worked out great. The new opening will be planted with buckwheat to build up the organic matter back into the soil for the first couple years. Already this spring we have seen turkeys strutting and feeding in the field."
Game Lands Maintenance Supervisor Jay R. Sporer said that the Food and Cover Corps crew recently has been using the Caterpillar 297 to remove invasive species and create early successional habitat on SGL 236. "Within the last month, we have improved about 30 acres of habitat," he said. "We will be continuing this project in the upcoming months on SGL 236 with plans to improve 80 or more acres."
Game Lands Maintenance Supervisor Jay R. Sporer said the Food and Cover Corps crews plan to plant 10 acres of grains (1 acre on SGL 236; four acres on SGL 299; one acre on SGL 310; and four acres on SGL 159) as soon as weather permits. "We also are planning on planting 10 acres of native warm-season grasses funded by the NWTF on SGL 236," he said.
Columbia/Montour/Northumberland Counties LMGS Keith Sanford said Game Lands Maintenance worker Wayne Stackhouse has been busy cutting back trees and brush along access roads on SGLs 58 and 115 utilizing a tractor with a side-arm mower attachment. The increased amount of daylight on the road surfaces will help stimulate the growth of planted grasses and legumes and improve the driving conditions on those roads open to public travel."
Bradford/Susquehanna Counties LMGS Richard Lupinsky said prescribed fire was used on 54 acres of SGL 35 in Susquehanna County to promote oak regeneration. "In Bradford County, on SGL 172, about six acres of herbaceous openings were planted to small grains, corn, and mixed grass/legumes as well as fertilizing established herbaceous openings," he said. "An additional four acres were planted on SGLs 142 and 250. On SGL 250, warm-season grasses were planted to enhance cover in anticipation of future timber harvest to compliment the overall cover of this small SGL, which is about 445 acres. As weather allows, warm-season grasses may be planted on SGL 219 and some small grains and legumes on SGL 36 strip-mine reclamation sites. On SGL 289, a herbaceous opening that was used as a lay down area for logs harvested from natural gas pipeline construction has been reclaimed and plowed and will be planted with small grains, and corn. Work on last year's Hurricane Irene damage will be concentrated on by one Food and Cover Corps crew."
Luzerne/Sullivan/Wyoming Counties LMGS James F. Jolley noted that several habitat projects recently were accomplished. "With the help of NWTF, QDMA and Mehoopany Creek Water Shed Association, we reclaimed and old apple orchard on SGL 57 Windy Valley, two acres were mowed, 64 apple trees were pruned and day lighted, and 12 brush piles constructed," he said. "A new knuckle-boom mower was delivered and, so far to date, it has been used to mow 46 acres of road and field edges on SGLs 57 and 66. Two acres of new fields were reclaimed and planted with corn and grain on SGL 66 and one acre on SGL 206. Most work that has taken up the large portion of time is repairing roads, ditches, and replacing culverts that were damaged last fall from Tropical Storm Lee. Starting in late June, we will begin construction on several bridge projects, including a major project involving the rail-road grade spanning Cider Run, which will open the grade up to travel and hunter access to the SGLs once again."
Pike County WCO Mark Kropa received complaints of ATVs disturbing hunters and causing damage to roads on SGL183. "We increased patrols and, during the Memorial Day Holiday weekend, seven people were caught riding illegally," he said. "Several citations and warnings were issued for riding ATVs on SGL, riding unlicensed vehicles and possession of alcohol on SGL. These patrols will continue through out the summer."
Northumberland County WCO Jason Kelley is working on several dumping cases throughout the district. "One dumping case involved a large trash can being thrown out onto a parking area of SGL 84," he said. "The cost of having trash picked by a company is much cheaper that being cited for dumping trash on public lands. Anyone seeing this activity is encouraged to report it; the dumpers are littering on your hunting lands."
Berks/Schuylkill Counties LMGS Matthew D. Belding reports that the Game Commission is working with the Schuylkill County Municipal Authority, which is enrolled in the Hunter Access Program and an adjoining landowner to SGL 326, in preparing a site for a prescribed burn. "The proposed burn is a forested area of scrub oak, which is a fire dependant community," he said. "They currently are cutting 170 acres to prepare for the first burn and are creating 15,343 linear feet of newly-constructed fire breaks. They also are upgrading 18,801 linear feet of trails to be used as fire breaks. Once completed, all the work is going to provide excellent habitat for game species like deer, turkey, bear and grouse, and also will create dynamic early successional habitat for non-game species."
Southeast Assistant Regional Forester Randy Bauman reports that he and his crews currently are working on three regeneration timber harvests on SGLs 43, 145 and 156. "All of these projects are possible due to previous thinning and habitat work that established large amounts of desirable seedlings in the understory," he said. "The removal of the overstory will allow these seedlings to grow and form a new stand. The creation of seedling/sapling habitat on SGLs provides valuable food and cover for many species of wildlife."
Bucks/Lehigh/Montgomery/Northampton Counties LMGS Dave Mitchell reports that his Food and Cover Corps crews have been busy working on various habitat projects this year. "On SGL 234 in Montgomery County, they removed three hedgerows to make one large 15-acre field along the Schuylkill River," he said. "It is hoped that this large field will attract geese and provide good goose hunting opportunities on this SGL. On SGL 205 in Lehigh County, they planted a 22-acre field in Canada wild rye and Virginia wild rye, which should be a nice block of habitat for grassland nesting birds and provide a good opportunity for hunting stocked pheasants. The crews also planted three other fields totaling 17 acres in native warm-season grasses and forbes. On SGL 168 in Northampton County, the crew has planted 15,000 seedlings to provide soft mast for wildlife. Also, on SGL 168, as part of the work being done to remediate the Palmerton Zinc Superfund site, two resource islands were planted with a mixture of native seedlings and American chestnut seeds. A total of 8,000 trees were planted with 1,825 of them being a variety or blight-resistant American chestnut."
Dauphin/Lebanon County LMGS Scott Bills and his Food and Cover Corps crews have been very busy working on habitat improvement projects, including accomplishing various stages in three of the four approved NWTF projects on SGLs 145, 210 and 246, and one project funded by the North American Woodcock Initiative for SGL 145. "The project to benefit the American Woodcock is an augmentation planting of a year-old project and the removal of several invasive non-native species from the area which at this time is officially designated as a woodcock demonstration area," he said. "The site has already been planted with 40 smooth alder and 10 winterberry transplants in among the existing gray dogwood, silky dogwood and elderberries. The invasive shrubs have been mowed with a habitat machine and will be sprayed this summer with herbicide upon re-sprouting. A fall planting of native spruces, white and red, along with an existing spruce stand will wrap up the project in the fall. The NWTF project on SGL 210 proves to be a massive task and, once again, the removal and replacement of non-native invasive species is the object. This one targets Japanese barberry, a shrub previously planted in good faith on many SGLs as a winter survival food for wild turkeys. While it is unrealistic to think that all the barberry can be eliminated, a good portion of it has been mowed and bulldozed to date and school groups and the Food and Cover Corps crew have planted 1,000 native shrubs and trees where the barberry once stood. Vigilance and herbicide will keep the barberry at bay until the replacement seedlings, including hawthorne, arrowwood, cranberry viburnum, and winterberry can become established. All of these species are much better suited as winter and spring foods for turkeys and other species of mammals and birds. In addition, the crews have been constructing large wood and rock piles in strategic sites as additional cover for small mammals and reptiles. The remaining projects funded with NWTF money are plantings of seven different species of three- to four-foot shrubs, including gray dogwood, smooth alder and nannyberry around a constructed vernal pond on SGL 264. The fourth project is a removal and replacement of a field of crown-vetch in SGL 210 which has not yet begun."
Southeast Regional Field Forester Jonathan Weaver reports that the 2012 spring prescribed burning season was a successful one for the Southeast Region. "A special thanks goes out to all those from DCNR Bureau of Forestry, Fort Indiantown Gap, and The Nature Conservancy, who offered their time and expertise," he said. "These partnerships allow fire to be used to improve a wide variety of wildlife habitat types on SGLs across the region."
Southeast Regional Field Forester Jonathan Weaver reports that, in late March, a prescribed fire was conducted on SGL 156 in northern Lancaster County. "This particular treatment was the latest in the regeneration process of this oak stand," he said. "The local Food and Cover Corps crew felled most of the small black birch, red maple and black gum trees about ten years ago. The low shade created by these little trees inhibits oak regeneration. A deer fence was erected a couple of years ago to eliminate any browsing pressure from deer. Hayscented ferns were removed through the use of herbicides shortly before the fence was installed. Shade from the ferns makes acorn germination very difficult. All of these activities created a carpet of tree regeneration of various species. Over time, other species began to out-compete the oak seedlings. The prescribed fire was designed to release the oak seedlings from the competition. Most of the red maple was top-killed and black birch completely killed. The oak seedlings have re-sprouted and are growing rapidly. The conditions also are favorable for the recruitment of additional oak seedlings."
Southeast Regional Forester Dave Henry said the agency has begun utilizing prescribed fire to improve habitat conditions. "In the Southeast Region, a considerable amount of time and monies are being expended to prepare sites for prescribed fire," he said. "A number of SGLs have had work completed which will enable the use of fire to manage the habitat. Changes to the habitat from these burns will include the sprouting of the scrub oak and other tree seeds along with the release of pitch pine seed which will result in a new crop of pine seedlings. The new seedlings provide food and cover for many species of wildlife."
Southeast Region Regional Forester David R. Henry said a considerable amount of time and monies are being expended to prepare sites for prescribed fire. "A number of SGLs have had work completed which will enable the use of fire to manage the habitat," he said. "Specifically, a number of pre-burn needs are being addressed on SGL 326 in Blythe Township, Schuylkill County. Presently, a contractor for the agency is conducting a large-scale mowing operation. An older scrub oak/pitch pine community is present on a portion of this SGL. In order to safely and properly conduct a prescribed burn, the scrub oak on 170 acres is being mowed. Mowing of this site will prevent a fire from climbing up and burning the numerous pitch pines. At the same a time a contractor is constructing 5.66 miles of fire breaks on this SGL. Fire breaks are simply a cleared trail about eight-feet wide to provide a means of containing the prescribed fire. The fire breaks also provide access for manpower and equipment the day of the prescribed fire. The cleared trails allow the agency to safely and properly plan and conduct a prescribed fire. Construction of a series of fire breaks on this SGL will provide for the management of the forest habitat on 988 acres. Fire has been removed from this location for many years and the forest has declined. Scrub oak/pitch pine is one plant community that is dependent on fire to thrive and reproduce. Plans call for conducted the first prescribed fire this summer/fall. Changes to the habitat from this burn will include the sprouting of the scrub oak and other tree seeds along with the release of pitch pine seed which will result in a new crop of pine seedlings. The new seedlings provide food and cover for many species of wildlife."
Facts from the Pennsylvania Game Commission: Landowners interested in developing "backyard habitats" beneficial to wildlife are encouraged to check out the "Landscaping for Wildlife in Pennsylvania," available from the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The 160-page book, which costs $9.43 (plus state sales tax and shipping and handling), can be purchased through the "The Outdoor Shop" on the agency's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), in the "General Store" section in the menu bar at the top of the homepage. Orders also are being accepted at 1-888-888-3459.
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SOURCE Pennsylvania Game Commission