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PGC outlaws party fires on game lands

Posted on October 24, 2013

Delmont, Pa. — Pennsylvania game commissioners put the word out at their recent meeting here: The party is over on state  game lands.

Sort of.

Responding to the growing rash of drinking and drug parties on game lands around the state – many that involve campfires and even, occasionally, bonfires – commissioners unanimously passed a resolution that requires people who build fires on game lands to have a valid hunting, trapping or fishing license.

The lone exception is through hikers on the Appalachian Trail on a just a few tracts.

“The Game Commission doesn’t have a problem with many of the small, open campfires set and maintained on state game lands,” agency law enforcement chief Richard Palmer said.

“Historically, hunters, trappers, anglers and Appalachian Trail through-hikers using state game lands have been permitted to use open fires for cooking or warming purposes.”

Recently, however, there’s been an increase in the number of open fires on the more than 1.4 million acres of game lands the agency manages that have nothing to do with the intended uses of those tracts, Palmer explained.

A few of them are not properly monitored or extinguished, and in dry conditions cause wide damage.

To address that problem, the commission is putting limits in place to regulate who can set and maintain fires at game lands.

Game Commissioner Jay Delaney, of Wilkes- Barre – who perhaps not coincidentally, is a municipal fire chief – declared that the issue burns him up.

“This may not mean a lot to a lot of people, but all one has to do is look at the wildfires and the loss of life and firefighters that have occurred in the West and Midwest to know why this is important,” he said. 

“So I think this sends a clear message that we don’t want open fires made by non-hunters and non-trappers. And if you do build them, you will be penalized for it.”

In addition to limiting fires to license holders, the commissioners ruled that precautions must be taken to prevent the spread of the fire on game lands, and fires must be attended at all times and extinguished completely before the site is vacated.

“Fires will not be permitted at times when the fire index rating used by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is high, very high, or extreme in that area,” Palmer said.

“A person causing a wildfire, in addition to facing possible criminal penalties, is liable for damages and the cost of extinguishing the fire.”