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Game Commission considering age-related changes to mentored hunting program

September 26, 2018

SEVEN SPRINGS — The Pennsylvania Game Commission may expand its mentored hunting program to youths ages 12 to 17.

Under the current policy, children under the age of 12 can participate in the mentored youth hunting program and those who are 18 and older can participate in the mentored adult hunting program. Both programs require a permit and the presence of a licensed adult mentor.

That leaves 12- to 17-year-olds, who cannot hunt unless they are certified and licensed. The mentoring programs are designed to increase hunter recruitment by providing an opportunity to experience hunting without a license, according to commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans.

“We are filling in the doughnut,” he said after a Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners meeting Tuesday at Seven Springs Mountain Resort.

The commissioners tentatively approved a measure that would allow unlicensed individuals under the age of 17 to participate in the mentored youth program and those 17 or older to participate in the mentored adult program. A final vote is expected in January.

Under the proposal, the three-year limit on program participation would apply to all mentored hunters ages 12 or older, according to Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau. Youth hunters under 12 could continue to participate in the program each year until they turn 12.

“However, youngsters who participated in the mentored youth program for at least three years before turning 12 would be required to get a license at 12, rather than continuing as a mentored hunter,” Lau wrote in a press release.

The price for the permits for youth hunters under 12 and for mentored adult hunters would remain the same, Lau said.

Endangered and threatened species

The Game Commission has a fiduciary duty to manage the state’s wildlife and habitat for present and future generations. With this trust comes tough decisions, said commission President Timothy Layton, of Somerset County.

On Tuesday the board unanimously voted to adjust the state’s threatened and endangered species list. The final vote is scheduled for the commission’s Jan. 27-29 meeting.

Under the proposal, the peregrine falcon will be upgraded from “endangered” to “threatened,” reflecting a steady statewide population recovery. The piping plover was upgraded from “extirpated” to “endangered,” because pairs of the native Pennsylvanian bird have successfully nested at Presque Isle State Park in 2017 and 2018. Presque Isle is the only regular location for the species in the state. The bird had been absent from the state for more than 60 years. The commission said there is a “reasonable expectation that they will return in the future.”

The red knot, a shorebird, was listed as federally “threatened” in 2014, with Pennsylvania listed in the historic migratory range. It was listed among the state’s “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” in the Pennsylvania Wildlife Action Plan because it is a rare migrant found only at Presque Isle State Park and Conejohela Flats, it is federally protected and the population is “highly vulnerable to further decline.”

Three bat species whose populations have been devastated by white-nose syndrome were listed as endangered in the state. They are the tri-colored bat, long-eared bat and little brown bat. The big brown bat, about twice the size of the little brown bat and found in people’s attics and barns, is not endangered and, therefore, not regulated, according to Dan Brauning, Game Commission wildlife diversity division chief.

“These cave bats teeter on the brink of state extirpation; extinction is not out of the question,” he said. “Their need for additional protections is obvious and overdue. For the Game Commission to do anything less would be recklessly irresponsible.”

The commission proposed listing the bats as endangered species in 2012 but put off that decision because of concerns voiced by representatives of the timber, oil, coal and gas industries and legislators who wanted more discussion because of what they saw as “unnecessary oversight and job loss,” Burhans said.

Farms and deer

Farmers came before the commission to talk about deer management.

“They are growing a great food source for deer,” Layton said. “We have seen farmers experiencing significant wildlife damage.”

He prefaced his comments by noting that the damage is not just from deer, but from resident geese, flocks of turkey and groundhogs.

Tom Croner, who with his son owns a farm near Berlin, went before the board Monday to ask the commissioners to look at ways to reduce red tape for landowners who open their land to hunting and work with the commission on deer management.

“We want to help them manage the deer population,” he said. “We open our land to hunting and we don’t post it. We have some neighbors with wooded land and that land is posted “No hunting.” The deer come to our farm to eat and then to their woodlands to hide.”

At the end of the day, Croner said he was encouraged by the commissioners’ response. “I thought they were listening.”

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