By Bob Frye
Harrisburg — A program that’s working to guarantee public access
to water on private land for the benefit of anglers in Erie County
is going to spread to the rest of the state.
Over the course of the last year, the Pennsylvania Fish &
Boat Commission has been using money from the sale of Lake Erie
stamps to buy some land along Lake Erie’s shores and its tributary
streams. More often, though, the commission has been using the
money to pay landowners a fee to agree to keep their property open
to public fishing forever.
Those kinds of easements are what the commission hopes to get
more of all across the commonwealth, said John Simmons, director of
the agency’s bureau of boating and education.
To do that, the commission is hiring two people to secure
fishing easements not just in Erie, but all over the state. They
may not necessarily have a lot of commission money to work with
outside of Erie right away, Simmons said.
They will be expected to work with sportsmen’s groups and other
organizations to identify high value stream sections and pursue
grants to help pay for access, however, Simmons said.
“The Fish & Boat Commission may not even own these
(easements) when all is said and done. But whether it’s a land
conservancy or a local municipality or some other organization that
holds the easement, we just want to facilitate getting it all
done,” Simmons said.
The need to get moving on securing public access to waters on
private lands is pressing, said Ken Undercoffer, of Clearfield,
president of the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited. The
commission has been “Johnny come lately to the game” in terms of
doing that, he said, but this new effort is a start, finally.
“An increasing amount of property is being lost for both hunting
and fishing,” Undercoffer said. “Everything is disappearing behind
“The Fish & Boat Commission has to get beyond this business
of raising fish and chucking them in a stream. They’re not going to
have anywhere to throw them if they don’t watch out.”
Pennsylvania’s bounty of waters — among the states, it ranks
second only to Alaska in the number of stream miles — is at risk,
admitted Dan Tredinnick, press secretary for the Fish & Boat
Commission. Eighty-three percent of all stocked trout waters in the
state flow across private land, he said. Seventy percent of all
wild trout waters and 53 percent of “Class A” wild trout waters do,
“Pennsylvania, even with its wealth of public lands, is very
susceptible to privatization,” Tredinnick said.
It’s true, too, that the Fish & Boat Commission plans to be
more involved in restoring waterways in the years to come, said
Commissioner Tom Shetterly, of Charleroi. If anglers are going to
pay for much of that work with their license dollars, it’s
important that they get some benefit in terms of fishing
“Access is a big thing, no doubt about it. I think it’s going to
be a tremendous issue in the future,” Shetterly said.
If there is one concern in regards to this push to buy
easements, however, it’s that it could actually lead some
landowners to post their land.
Their goal might not be to keep anglers out, per se. It might be
to keep them out until they get paid for their benevolence.
It’s probable, even likely, that if one landowner who has
traditionally allowed the public onto his property sees a neighbor
getting paid to offer the same privilege, he’ll post his ground
until he gets some money, too, said Shetterly.
“I think you will see guys trying to get what they can for what
they’ve got,” Shetterly said.
There’s only so much money to go around, though, said Simmons.
The agency will focusing on getting easements for the best sites
and hope landowners elsewhere still keep their properties open to
public fishing as they always have.
Fishermen can help ensure that happens by being respectful of
private property owners, Tredinnick said.
“A big part of ensuring fishing and boating access is to make
sure we don’t lose what is already available to us. That’s
something everyone can do on their own by exercising common
courtesy to private landowners,” Tredinnick said.
“Ask permission, stay out of posted areas, don’t litter and pick
up other trash that you see, say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’
Individual actions on a local level are just as important — perhaps
more important — in preserving access as a bureaucratic
That’s all true, Undercoffer said, but he would still like to
see the state offer a property tax break to landowners who allow
the public to hunt and fish.