HARRISBURG, Pa., March 7, 2012 /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 "2011" in the listing.
Following is Roe's testimony before the House Game and Fisheries Committee:
Chairman Evans, Chairman Staback and members of the House Game and Fisheries Committee, as always, it is a great pleasure to appear before you to offer the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Annual report.
The Annual Report was provided to you at the end of January and includes the information from Fiscal Year 2010. As you read through the annual report, you will again see that in the program accountability section we built the report on the strategic plan objectives to give you an idea of how we manage towards the goals and objectives of the strategic plan. Our public accountability section again addresses major program areas. The budget accountability is relatively self explanatory. In the law enforcement accountability section we had seven formal complaints which is consistent with the number we have been averaging in recent years. Of the seven, one was sustained and was a case of unprofessional demeanor. Overall our wildlife protection efforts were again strong as we focused our efforts on apprehensions for illegal take of game, hunting over bait, and hunting and taking game with a motorized vehicle. Overall we had 19,128 violations detected with 5,795 citations and 13,333 warnings.
In this past year, we experienced a 62 percent increase in our Turn in a Poacher, TIP, program from concerned citizens. We attribute this to the fact that people are putting greater value on our wildlife resources as a result of Act 54's increased penalties and our program of focusing our law enforcement efforts on wildlife protection activities.
Our bear kill this past year was the largest ever with over 4,300 bear being taken. Final numbers will be available as soon as we reconcile records from a few field-checked bears. Bear conflicts seemed to escalate last year for some people in our more populated areas and in some agricultural areas like WMU 3A. We've responded by opening bear seasons on a weekend to expand hunter opportunity, expanded bear seasons in "problem" units to increase harvest, and initiated a research study to investigate the movements and habitat use of bears in suburban areas.
This past fall's elk season was one of the best on record. Success rate was very good and one of the largest elk ever taken will hit the record books. The lack of a hard mast crop in many places this year posed some interesting challenges for our hunters. We are very happy with the mild winter because the combination of a weak mast crop and a hard winter could have had a very detrimental impact on our wildlife resources.
As you recall, we introduced open seasons on bobcat and fishers with a permit. This past year we expanded opportunities for bobcat for our hounds men. We meet each year with them and they expressed interest in dividing the season between trapping and hunting. The Board of Commissioners accommodated the request and they had a successful season. The 2010-2011 fisher take was 152 and the bobcat harvest was 1,136.
Last year's hunting season was pretty good across the board. In 2010-2011, we had an estimated deer harvest of 316,240 with 122,980 antlered and 193,310 antlerless. We expect a similar harvest this year. We began a study this winter in the special regulations area of the Southeast to look at the effectiveness of deer hunting in developed areas and harvest rates of deer in rifle vs. shotgun areas.
Over the past few years we have made a concerted effort to improve communications about our deer program. A number of deer-related hunter surveys were completed during the year to assess hunter behaviors and attitudes. We sent daily hunting diaries to nearly 2,400 hunters in WMUs 2D, 2G, 3C, and 4B prior to the 2010 firearms season to monitor hunter activities, success, and satisfaction. In these 4 WMUs, the firearms season was changed from a 12-day antlered and antlerless concurrent season to a 5-day antlered only season followed by a 7-day antlered and antlerless concurrent season beginning in 2008. We also surveyed to assess hunter behaviors and attitudes regarding reporting their deer harvests. Additionally we publish the Deer Chronicle twice a year to keep the public updated on our program and last but certainly not least is our "ask the biologist" site where the public can ask our biologists any question they have on their mind. All of our deer information and data is available for the public to read and understand on our website.
As a result of some areas of improved habitat in the northern tier we have had reports of increase in grouse and snowshoe hare. The improvement in early successional growth has helped to provide adequate cover for these species. We continue to emphasize early successional forest habitat. We know that young forests and grasslands are the two critical habitats that need much attention in the Commonwealth. In our forestry for wildlife program we created over 8,000 acres of early successional growth for a wide variety of species on State Game Lands.
Two years ago we also introduced a Snow Goose Conservation hunt that ran from the end of February to the end of April. The Board of Commissioners approved the use of electronic decoys this year, adding another tool hunters can use to take this overabundant species. Hunters can apply for a no fee permit to take snow geese during this period. This will help farmers in their efforts to protect crops and assist us in reducing the number of snow geese that are impacting breeding and wintering habitats.
Within the pheasant program we are still attempting to reestablish wild pheasant recovery areas. The first attempt in Pike Run in the southwest part of the state did not meet goal and was removed as a restoration area. The limiting factor was the area did not meet the requisite types and amounts of habitats. A major part of the program is maintaining open fields that were part of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, better known as CREP. Although we are promoting the program, it has been very difficult as farmers and landowners are putting acreage back into production because of the high grain prices. For example, in 2000 when we started the initial CREP, corn was $1.90 a bushel; today, it s $6.13 a bushel. Soybeans were $4.81 a bushel; today they are $12.79. With these grain prices landowners are opting for a better return on their land through crop production and not CREP.
In addition to the WPRA initiative we are planning on increasing production on our game farms from 100,000 pheasants to 200,000 pheasants for this coming hunting season. We had considerable damage to the Loyalsock and Northcentral game farms from flooding last year. We lost over 30,000 birds, several buildings and tens of thousands of dollars of damage. We have taken this opportunity to rebuild areas on our farms in ways to avoid these catastrophes in the future. This has been a monumental task by our workforce at the game farms and they deserve great credit for their efforts.
As you know we are responsible for 480 species of game and heritage species, 414 birds and 66 mammals. We have cause to celebrate and commiserate the condition of the Commonwealth's wildlife heritage species (those not hunted or trapped). Pennsylvania passed a major conservation milestone in 2011 with 212 nesting bald eagle pairs. Fifty of the state's 67 counties hosted eagle nests. In 1986, there was one peregrine falcon nest in Pennsylvania – it was the first nest in 30 years. In 2011, there were 31 active peregrine nests. Only one osprey nest was known in Pennsylvania in 1986, but by the start of 2011 volunteers and cooperators reported 115 osprey nests across 21 counties. Since 2005, regional wildlife diversity biologists have conducted a conservation initiative for the barn owl, a maintenance concern species once common in agricultural fields, grasslands and other open areas. During calendar year 2010, 62 barn owl nest sites were confirmed with 12 new active nesting sites identified.
On the downside, in 2010-11, we witnessed the rapid spread and extreme virulence of White Nose Syndrome (WNS). This disease threatens the continued existence of even the most common species of cave-dwelling bats. In five years since its discovery in upstate New York in February 2006, WNS had been confirmed in 16 states and four Canadian provinces and two additional states had suspected sites by the end of the 2010-2011 hibernation season. In Pennsylvania, WNS had been confirmed in 15 counties and we were up to 35 counties by the end of winter 2010-2011. Rates of decline for three bat species – little brown, northern long-eared and tricolored – were greater than 90 percent.
During 2010-2011 fiscal year, agency regional diversity biologists prepared 119 private landowner habitat management plans for 12,759 acres as part of the Private Landowner Assistance Program. Since program inception in 2004, more than 930 plans have been produced for a total over 140,680 privately-owned acres. Regional diversity biologists also contribute to comprehensive planning for State Game Lands, host annual habitat management workshops for landowners, provide public presentations about species of conservation concern, serve as ambassadors through participation in conservation organizations, evaluate Marcellus Shale activities and assist research efforts by other Game Commission biologists.
To switch gears a little, in the automation technology arena we have several major initiatives this year. The first is a consolidation of our land management information in a geographic information system. We are consolidating land records, boundaries, mineral and timber rights, species of special concern and the integrated State Game Land plans under one control environment in GIS. The data will be layered so users can easily segregate the information they need. This will allow easy access of information by many users to facilitate management of game lands.
The second major automation effort is to move our dispatch operations from a paper based one to an automated environment. The new Computer Automated Dispatch (CAD) system is in the pilot stage this past year with eighteen units in the field. This will allow better communications and dispatch of incidents from the region office to the officer in the field. The officer can be on patrol outside the vehicle and he can receive dispatch requirements on the laptop in his vehicle. When he returns, the requirements are there and he only needs to call for any possible clarification. This will speed up operations and allow officers to manage their requirements better. The laptop is portable and can be transferred to the officers' office in his home for general use. We believe this will also allow officers to handle many of their administrative requirements in an easy manner. The system also includes a vehicle tracking system to help insure officer safety.
We significantly expanded our social media environment this year. We had provided various videos over you-tube in the past. However, this year we expanded into Facebook and Twitter. We did this at virtually no cost by moving a person from our print media to the social media. We had a meeting about recruitment and retention with several of our partners last summer and one the issues that came from that meeting was how to engage and get the message out to our younger target audience. We believe this venture into social media will help engage our youth to "Connect with Wildlife."
The last area I will address in the automation technology effort is an application for our game lands. We have a vendor that has built an application for an Android or iPhone type environment where a person can enter a State Game Lands and get directions to it plus all the hunting information for the State Game Lands as it pertains to seasons and bag limits as well as mapping capability. We are in the contracting phase of this application.
One of the major personnel challenges we face is management recruitment and the management pay scales. Management personnel of the Commonwealth have not received step increases or general pay increase generally afforded to them by past practice of following the state's labor contract with AFSCME since 2008.
This has resulted in considerable difficulty in maintaining an up and coming management work force. In many cases positions that are at the management level will receive less pay than the position that the employee is currently in. This is a major obstacle to management recruitment as it not only involves less salary, but less ability for overtime pay and other benefits provided to covered employees.
Additionally under the pay scales as of October 1, 2010, a management employee who comes in at the same level as a union employee is paid considerably less. Below are the scales for annual pay for 37.5 hour week.
Scale Management Labor
Pay Range 8 Step 1 $46,807 $50,152
Pay Range 9 Step 1 $53,438 $57,252
Pay Range 10 Step 1 $60,969 $65,311
Basically, we are paying people with more responsibility and less benefits, less money than the people working for them. The current pay scales not only hinder and in many ways preclude management recruitment for the future but they are inherently unfair. In the Pennsylvania Game Commission, this affects a significant number of employees. It includes pay scales as low as Pay Range 5 who are management or non-covered employees who live pay check to pay check.
On the legislative side, we appreciate the legislation by Representative Gillespie to remove the back tag from our hunters. Most are appreciative of the change. We believe it will cause less time to check hunters as the access to the license and identification will be much easier. One additional legislative issue we fully support is the retirement bill introduced by Representative Staback. We would certainly like to see that bill completed this year. In addition, we thank the Committee for giving prompt consideration to Chairman Staback's bill which changes the law regarding the private possession of exotic species. As we saw last year in Ohio, the need to strictly regulate the possession of exotic wildlife cannot be taken lightly. It is a testament to the leadership of this Committee that Pennsylvania is at the forefront on addressing this public safety issue.
Of course we would like to see an increase in license fees. As you know, it has been now 13 years since a license increase. And, while the revenue we have received from leasing land within the Marcellus Shale has allowed the Commission to remain solvent, it is an inadequate substitute for a consistent, steady stream of revenue which could be generated through a license increase.
To further complicate the problem, the more years that pass without a license increase, the greater the necessity that the next increase be substantial in size to make up for the years of lost revenue. This could be avoided through legislation which would allow the Commission the authority to set its own fees. Implementation of such a change would end the cycle we are currently in of long stretches without an increase followed by a sudden, significant increase. It would also allow the Commission to implement smaller more frequent changes which make adjustments for inflation and increased costs.
License fees are not a tax but a user fee. The Marcellus Shale impact fee was approved and provided resources for those requirements for some of the agencies and local governments affected by the increased demand on resources. It is time to pass a license fee increase so our wildlife resources can benefit. The public will is there for a fee increase.
An area that we are very excited about is our venture into the Human Dimensions aspect of wildlife management. This is an ever increasing important area as it helps us understand what our stakeholders feel about various elements of wildlife management. As you may recall, last year we looked at the churn rate of our hunters. It resulted in some additional questions and we have followed-up with additional analysis on that. This year we completed the last requirements of the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee's Report on Deer Management. It was recommended that we move away from the Citizen Advisory Committees (CACs) as a measure for public input on deer level and conflict issues. The CACs were believed to be biased in their results. It was suggested that we go to a survey method for the large number of stakeholders in deer management. This year we did that. We contracted with Responsive Management who conducted our survey by wildlife management unit. That survey is completed and the Board of Commissioner will receive a presentation on those findings later this month.
Basically the survey of all our stakeholders at the state level found that 18 percent said there were too few deer, 20 percent said too many deer and 54 percent said about the right amount of deer. We are currently looking at the report down to wildlife management unit level for further use in our deer management program.
Our mentored youth program continues to grow and is very successful. This past year we had 31,827 youth permits and that is up from 28,801 in 2010. We are adding fall turkey to the mentored youth opportunities this year. A mentor will be able to transfer a fall turkey tag to the youth much the same as antlerless tags. Additionally, there are discussions of opening up rabbits to become a mentored youth opportunity.
We believe we have had a very positive year in the Game Commission. The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee conducted its triennial review of our strategic plan. There are some elements in our strategic plan that we could not accomplish due to resource constraints, but we did continue to get a lot of things done. We continue to update our species management plans bald eagle, ruffed grouse, beaver, and bobwhite quail were completed and habitat type plans that will assist in our integrated state game lands plans. We know what we need to do to improve conditions for wildlife and in turn provide great opportunities for our hunters and trappers. We want to do more. This is not a matter of will but a matter of resources available to get the job done.
We are looking forward to a bright future for the wildlife resources of the Commonwealth and with your assistance we can do more. I thank you for your attention and I will be glad to answer any questions.
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SOURCE Pennsylvania Game Commission