Thursday, May 19, 2016

PA Game Commission Offers Support for Sunday Hunting Legislation

The Pennsylvania Game Commission today offered testimony to legislators on an issue important to the state’s hunters and trappers. Game Commission Deputy Executive Director Bryan J. Burhans testified before the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee about the potential expansion of Sunday hunting. The testimony is provided in full below:

 “Thank you Chairman Scavello, Chairman Brewster, and members of the Senate Game & Fisheries Committee for the opportunity to come before you today in regards to the expansion of Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania.  I am Bryan Burhans, Deputy Executive Director for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.”

To be clear, we are in fact talking about the expansion of Sunday hunting opportunities in Pennsylvania.  Currently hunting on Sundays is permitted on a very limited basis in terms of species, but it is legal every Sunday throughout the year, not just the typical hunting season.  I believe that point bears repeating – every Sunday throughout the year. We have one of the most restrictive laws for Sunday hunting, and it is important to note that only four states currently prohibit Sunday hunting altogether – Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Delaware.

Contrary to some rhetoric that is floating around out there, the No. 1 reason that people stop hunting is lack of time.  The overwhelming majority of hunting takes place on Saturdays; people work during the week, don’t get a lot of time off, have other commitments, etc.  For a lot of hunters the only option is Saturday. By expanding Sunday hunting, we would be able to increase recreational opportunities for hunters.  Sunday hunting is an effective means of recruiting new hunters and retaining current hunters by increasing the value of the hunting license through offering additional opportunities to spend time in the field.

In a recent survey of lapsed hunters – those who at one time bought a license – 49 percent stated that having the opportunity to hunt on Sunday would encourage them to buy a license again.  Without having the ability to schedule seasons to include one of the days when individuals have the most amount of time available, the PGC is limited regarding what it can do to recruit and retain hunters.
Unfortunately, we know of many cases where Pennsylvania residents, particularly near the state lines, don’t even purchase a Pennsylvania hunting license.  Instead, they opt to drive an hour or so to hunt in Ohio or New York because they are able maximize the time they have available by hunting both Saturday and Sunday. 

Likewise, we miss out on license sales to non-resident hunters because they don’t want to come to Pennsylvania to only be allowed to hunt on Saturday. Youth participation is vital to maintaining the long-standing tradition of hunting in Pennsylvania.  Over the past decade, we have worked to increase hunting opportunities for the youth; mentored youth hunting, early rifle season for deer, additional junior hunting privileges, early opening day for spring gobbler, junior pheasant hunts, junior waterfowl hunts, etc.

With a plethora of other activities vying for their time, especially during the week, and more and more activities taking place on Saturdays, it is difficult for young hunters to get out.  Even to assume that they have Saturday free, many hunters don’t want to drive a few hours to camp just for one day to hunt. We can effectively double the number of hunting days for youths during the school year by offering Sunday hunting.

Suppose you couldn’t golf on Sundays, or ski resorts were required to close on Sundays.  Would that be enough to drive the number of participants down?  Maybe a better question would be, to what degree would that drive participation down?  If you think about it, on a nice Sunday during the summer, just about any golf course is going to be booked with tee times from sun-up to well into the evening. The PGC recognizes that other recreational user groups are paying close attention to this issue as they have been for years – groups like the hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, among others.  These groups advocate for just one day per week that they can recreate as they choose without the fear of a hunting related incident or accident.

The truth of the matter is that these groups recreate 365 days per year, including Saturdays and Sundays during hunting seasons.  They recreate on State Game Lands, State Forests, at State Parks, and in the Allegheny National Forest; all lands where hunting is permitted. It is important to note that despite the inaccurate portrayal by these groups, hunting is an inherently safe sport.  In fact, over the past decade, hunting related shooting incidents have decreased by half.  In 2015, the total number of hunting related shooting incidents was 23.  Out of nearly 935,000 hunters, 23 incidents represents less than one one-thousandth of 1 percent.

We have heard from many people on both sides of the issue, hunters and non-hunters.  I can tell you that a majority of those that we hear from support Sunday hunting.  Where the difference is lies with what season they want Sunday hunting implemented.  Rest assured, that if given the authority to further regulate Sunday hunting, the PGC would be looking for input from a wide variety of stakeholder groups and will endeavor to engage these stakeholders before passing any new regulations in regard to Sunday hunting. Additionally, Sunday hunting will provide substantial economic benefits to rural areas and businesses by increasing money spent by hunters on lodging, food, gas and other incidental items.

According to the 2010 report by Southwick Associates, prepared for the Pennsylvania Legislative Budget & Finance Committee: In 2010, if Sunday hunting were permitted, considering spending and economic multipliers...  “Spending by all hunters would likely have increased by $460.0 million. The multiplier effects of that spending would have produced $803.6 million of total output in the Pennsylvania economy and supported 7,439 jobs with $247.4 million of salary and wage income. The increased activity would have generated $56.8 million in tax revenue to state and local governments and $60.7 million in federal tax revenues.”

By nature, Sunday hunting is what is commonly referred to as a blue law.  Blue laws are antiquated, religious-based laws that were originally designed to restrict or ban some or all Sunday activities in order to encourage a day of worship or rest.  To date, all but two blue laws in Pennsylvania have been repealed: the complete ability to hunt on Sundays, and the option to purchase a vehicle. 
In 1937, the Legislature repealed the blue law that made it illegal to fish on Sundays.  The law was changed so that fishermen were permitted to openly fish any public waters, and allowed to fish private waters with the permission of the landowner.

According to the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission’s historical records, “The Bureau of Law Enforcement reports that relatively few landowners take action to restrict fishing on Sundays, but anglers should respect "Sunday Fishing Prohibited" signs where they are posted. A person who violates a Sunday fishing restriction commits a summary offense of the third degree.” The PGC is willing to work with landowners who choose to not allow Sunday hunting on their land, even going as far as providing the corresponding signage at no cost to those landowners enrolled in our public access programs.  We are also willing enforce a Sunday hunting restriction for landowners, much like PFBC agreed to when their blue law was repealed.

Today, with the exception of hunters, every single person in Pennsylvania has the ability to recreate as they choose every day of the week.  In 1937, it was determined that fishermen should be allowed to recreate as they choose any day of the week.  It wasn’t mandated that you had to fish on Sundays, but you had the option.  Almost 80 years later, we are asking for the same consideration.  A considerable majority of hunters want the ability to recreate as they choose to on Sunday.  If an individual chooses not to, that is absolutely fine as well.  The time has come and hunters deserve the option. Thank you again for your consideration.  I would be happy to take any questions you may have.”

Release #39-16
May 18, 2016
For Information Contact:
Travis Lau

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Does Your State Need Future Forest Stewards?

Penn State Extension offers a new program to teach youth about forests and the concept of good forest stewardship.

If we are going to have productive and healthy forests in the future, we need future forest stewards today. This is the reason Penn State Extension is offering a new, free program to teach youth about forests and the concept of forest stewardship. The program, Future Forest Steward is a successor to the Junior Forest Steward Program they offered for 10 years with great success. Focusing on youth to embrace forest stewardship today is nothing new to Extension.

According to Sanford Smith, Penn State Extension natural resources and youth-education specialist, Pennsylvania youth often know very little about the forests and natural areas that cover the state. “We have been committed to getting kids excited about, and interested in Penn's Woods for many years,” he says.

Future Forest Steward is designed for implementation by teachers, youth-group leaders, and other adults working with youth. Penn State Extension is now seeking interested adults to help facilitate the program. “The adults we need do not have to be naturalists or forestry experts to carry out the Future Forest Steward program,” Smith explains. “An interest and willingness to learn right along with youth is the only thing we require. The program is suitable for both formal and non-formal educational settings.”

The program format is also flexible. Young participants 1) read an interactive publication (individually or as a group), 2) discuss the questions, and then 3) participate in a forest stewardship activity led by the adult educator or helper. A guide for adults accompanies the publication and provides answers to questions and ideas for activities that participating youth and adults can undertake.

After participants complete the three steps, their adult helpers send in a short “tally-sheet” and the youth receive an embroidered Future Forest Steward patch as an award and reminder of what they learned. The program raises awareness of forest stewardship and the importance of being a steward of the natural world. “After all, today's Future Forest Stewards will be responsible for the forests that give Pennsylvania its very name, and they will pass them on to future generations,” said Smith.

For questions about the program, contact Sanford Smith. To request copies of the Future Forest Steward publication and adult guide, contact Penn State's Renewable Natural Resources Extension Office at 814-863-0401 or Downloadable versions of the curriculum materials can also be found online.

Contact Sanford Smith

Phone: 814-865-4261

Monday, May 2, 2016

Taste test? Deer preferences seem to help non-native invasive plants spread

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Selective browsing by white-tailed deer likely is promoting the spread of some invasive plant species in northeastern U.S. forests, as deer avoid eating vegetation they find unpalatable. That's the conclusion of researchers who conducted a study of deer dietary choices at the Penn State Deer Research Center, during which captive deer were simultaneously offered a selection of eight non-native invasive and seven native plants to determine the animals' preferences.

The research is important because it quantifies interactions between deer and invasive plants -- and how, over time, deer might be exacerbating problems with non-native plant species, according to researcher David Mortensen, professor of weed ecology in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences. He expects the findings to contribute to the conservation of forest understories and natural areas.

"This study provides evidence that deer impacts on plant invaders depend on plant species' palatability," he said. "Consequently, deer selectivity likely plays an important role in the invasion process. To the extent that herbivory impacts plant communities, these results suggest that deer promote the spread of some plant invaders by avoiding them."

In the study, published this month in the journal Biological Invasions, researchers documented feeding preferences of eight mature does without fawns through three seasons (late summer, early autumn and spring). The 15 plant species were offered in containers where deer could choose among them. A camera activated by a motion detector and infrared-enabled for night viewing allowed the researchers to observe and record deer behaviors. The amount of each plant consumed also was measured.

While deer consumed more native than introduced plant biomass overall, their food preference varied strongly by plant species. Results show consistent deer avoidance of several invasive, introduced plants -- garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) and Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum). Deer also avoided one native plant, hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula). That species, which some researchers consider a "native invader," is spreading in areas of forest underbrush where deer are abundant. But other invasive, introduced plants -- Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), European privet (Ligustrum vulgare), and Morrow's honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii), and a native plant, red maple (Acer rubrum) -- were highly preferred by deer.

Deer clearly avoid certain invasive plants that are increasing in abundance in natural areas, suggesting that the herbivores are indirectly contributing to the growth and spread of unpalatable invasive plant species, noted lead author Kristine Averill, who spearheaded the research while pursuing her doctoral degree in Ecology at Penn State. Now a research associate in Cornell University's Soil and Crop Sciences Section, she suggested that deer preferences play an influential role in determining the species that make up plant communities.

"Together, these biomass consumption and behavior data indicate that deer selectivity likely depends more on species and growing season than on native or invasive introduced plant status," she said. "The extreme preference and avoidance among plant species observed in the preference trials suggest that deer-browsing selection occurs on a species-by-species basis, and likely according to species' traits."

At a minimum, Averill explained, the research indicates that deer might play an important and indirect role in the invasion processes of introduced plants. "These species-level, deer-plant interactions should contribute to deeper understanding of the variable patterns of invasive introduced plants across the northeastern U.S.," she said.

"It's pretty revealing that the findings in this study correspond to what we have been seeing in the field and confirm that deer preferences play a major role in plant community assembly." Still, some invasive plants that deer seemed to highly prefer are increasing in abundance in natural areas. That pattern may be exacerbated by the deer because these plants produce fleshy fruits that deer eat, and then the seeds of the plant are spread in their feces, Averill noted.

Also contributing to the study were Penn State researchers Erica Smithwick, associate professor of geography, and Eric Post, professor of biology. The study was funded partially by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Jeff Mulhollem
April 25, 2016

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Why the Forestry “Profession” Should Harshly Criticize High-Grading

The below opinion piece was originally printed in the Winter 2016 issue of the National Woodlands magazine, of the National Woodland Owners Association. It addresses such an important topic and a common problem here in Pennsylvania that I received permission from the author as well as the magazine editor to reprint it here. Please feel free to write a response and share your thoughts after reading it.

Why the Forestry “Profession” Should Harshly Criticize High-Grading
by Dan Pubanz 

In the Autumn 2015 issue of National Woodlands was an article discussing why landowners high-grade their forests. While the explanations of these causes are clear, the concluding paragraph stated that “the forestry profession should be careful about harshly criticizing these short-term actions until we can provide long-term movement toward sustained yields while meeting short term economic and ecological needs.” If the forestry profession truly considers itself a reputable profession, it should vigorously disagree with this statement.

The woods on left were high graded 20 years ago, the right likely awaits the same fate.
While a lack of landowner understanding can often be a cause of high-grading, in many cases, high-grading is actually implemented by formally trained foresters.  In the most egregious situations, it is knowingly imposed by the forester on an unknowledgeable landowner.  Even more insidious are the more subtle degrades that take just the highest-quality trees from a forest and camouflage it by also taking a few other lower-grade trees. Foresters have long lamented the public’s poor perception of the practice of forestry and the forestry profession. Every high-graded woodlot only reinforces that perception and we are kidding ourselves of we think it doesn’t. Landowners are free to do with their land as they see fit and landowner-instigated high-grading will continue. However, a forester should never be involved in that process.

The problem of high-grading lies, fundamentally, with a lack of ethics. In forestry, we are asked to condone short-term greed that produces long-term detrimental impacts, both to the land and to the community. While other professions have standards that are supposed to curtail short-term greed (at least in theory), in forestry we accept this greed with a shrug. High-grading a forest is not justifiable even if driven by financial need. It would be far better for a cash-strapped landowner, before degrading the forest’s productivity, to sell the forest to someone who has the ethics to manage for long term sustainability.

High-graded acreage is a primary driver impeding movement toward sustained yield. Once a woodlot is high-graded, poor quality timber will occupy the site for generations before another harvest producing high-quality products can occur. In many cases, we are managing lands today that were high-graded decades ago. These lands are still far below their productive capacity and decades from being capable of sustainably producing sawlogs. We harvest the low-grade cordwood in an effort to improve their degraded condition and to supply markets with some fiber. Arguments that we should continue to accept unsustainable high-grading until we reach long-term sustainability are mystifying, at best.

Since at least 2005, the Society of American Forester’s position has been that an SAF forester’s obligation to the SAF Code of Ethics would be met as long as the forester explained the negative consequences of high-grading to the landowner. In short, foresters expect that as long as we explain the negatives, we are absolved of any responsibility for the adverse consequences. It is unlikely that the American Medical Association would accept such an approach. A better approach is found in the Forest Stewards Guild Principles, which state, in part: “When the management directives of clients or supervisors conflict with the Mission and Principles of the Guild [which preclude high-grading], and cannot be modified through dialogue and education, a forester or natural resource professional should disassociate.” The public will never regard forestry as a true profession until the “profession” takes a firm stand against any and all high-grading, and eliminates forester involvement with high-grading.

High-grading is never defensible and should always be harshly criticized by the forestry profession.

Dan is a consulting forester who manages Wolf River Forestry LLC in Shawano, Wisconsin.