Sunday, January 29th, 2023
Sunday, January 29th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Few lawmakers at license fee hearing

Cambridge Springs, Pa. – Well, at least hotel space wasn’t an
issue.

State lawmakers have been saying for three years that if the
Pennsylvania Game Commission wants them to increase the cost of
hunting license fees, it will have to make a good case for needing
the money.

The commission got a chance to do just that Aug. 12. Sen.
Charles McIlhinney, the Berks County Republican who is the prime
sponsor of Senate Bill 1527, which would raise an additional $3.5
million annually for the commission by increasing license fees
gradually over the course of the next seven years, held a hearing
on the bill in Crawford County.

He had said going into the meeting that it was designed as an
opportunity for the commission to explain to sportsmen and
lawmakers why it needs more money.

The trouble is, almost no lawmakers bothered to show up. The
only two in attendance were McIlhinney himself and Sen. Robert
Robbins, the Crawford County Republican who hosted the event.

Still, commission Executive Director Carl Roe outlined the
agency’s needs.

The cost of hunting licenses last went up in 1999, he said. That
was designed to carry the agency through about six years.

Now, nearly a decade later, the cost of gas has gone from $1 a
gallon to $4 a gallon. Labor costs – tied to state employee
contracts negotiated without the commission’s input – have
increased almost 40 percent. Even the cost of fertilizer has
increased, from $490 a ton to $800 a ton in at least one region in
the last year alone.

The commission can no longer absorb those increased costs
without having to make sacrifices – the kind impacting sportsmen
and wildlife – Roe said.

“All of these increasing costs are outside of our control and
leave us with the choice of cutting or eliminating programs and
services,” Roe said.

“We have cut back on purchasing new equipment, suspended
important wildlife research, reduced program and project budgets,
been forced to temporarily close some of the rifle ranges on our
game lands, allowed vacant positions to go unfilled and, in some
cases, eliminated services altogether. We have been forced to
drastically cut patrols by our conservation officers and wildlife
biologists, as well as the habitat improvement work of our food and
cover crews.”

That’s unacceptable, said Rocco Ali, of Apollo, president of the
Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs and one of two people
to testify at the hearing. Sportsmen are ready to pay more to hunt,
he said, if that’s what it takes to take care of the state’s
wildlife and hunting heritage.

“Although no one ever likes to pay more, most sportsmen
understand the cost of doing business of protecting our wildlife
and hunting heritage, and thus support the need for an increase,”
Ali said.

If the commission doesn’t get some additional revenue soon,
those sportsmen will be the ones to suffer, he said. Efforts to
recruit and retain new hunters could suffer, access to game lands
could suffer because of a lack of money to maintain roads and
bridges, and the commission’s nursery – which provides seedlings
that become habitat – could close.

He expressed some frustration at having to explain all of that
again, three years after a coalition made up of most of the state’s
larger sportsmen’s groups first said they supported a fee
increase.

“It is unfortunate that we have to come here again, to tell you
that we support a fee increase for the Game Commission, that we
support keeping our agencies financially sound and independent,”
Ali said.

Not everyone was so supportive, however.

The other speaker at the hearing, Joseph Schrader, of Cambridge
Springs, a member of Cambridge Springs Rod and Gun Club, said he
opposes any increase in license fee costs, for a number of
reasons.

McIlhinney’s bill would increase the cost of an adult resident
license from the current $20 to $25 from July 1, 2009, to June 30,
2012; $30 from July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2015; and $35 beginning
July 1, 2015. The cost of an antlerless deer license would go from
$6 now to $13 on July 1, 2009, and then $16 on July 1, 2015. The
cost of a migratory game bird licenses would go from $2 to $5,
effective July 1, 2009.

His bill would also lower the cost of a non-resident junior
license from $40 to $5. That’s part of an ongoing effort to
encourage young people to try hunting and trapping.

Still, with the cost of things like gasoline and groceries
increasing, many people might have to give up hunting if the cost
of licenses increase, too, Schrader said. What the commission
should do, he said, is more aggressively use its game lands to make
the money it needs, he said.

“I believe that the Pennsylvania Game Commission should be
required to do more oil and natural gas drilling, and strip or deep
mine where feasible” to make additional money, he said.

If lawmakers do consider giving the commission more money
through higher license fees, it should be tied to changes in deer
management, he added.

“With the sharp decline in the deer population in the last six
years, adult hunters need an incentive to purchase a license for
themselves and their children. A majority of hunters that I have
talked to want to see any increase in license fees tied to a
reduction in doe licenses. I agree,” said Schrader, who also said
he opposes the commission’s mentored youth hunting program.

Roe countered by saying that the game lands are not necessarily
the revenue generator some might think. Cutting more trees, for
example, doesn’t necessarily insure a financial windfall. In the
previous two years, the commission made about 25 percent more than
expected on game lands because timber values were up. That helped
the agency survive, he said.

Now, though, with demand having dropped, revenues from the sale
of black cherry and sugar maple are down 30 percent, while the
money to be made from selling red oak is down 50 percent to 60
percent.

As for deer, while it’s true that the population is not what it
was 10 years ago, it is now more in balance with its habitat, Roe
said. Plans are to maintain the herd at its existing size – in all
areas outside of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia – until the habitat
improves, at which time it will be allowed to grow accordingly, he
said.

“In sum, deer management is an ever-changing and evolving
process,” Roe said. “Just like the deer population of today differs
from the deer population of 10 years ago, the deer population 10
years from now will look different than it does today. We are
confident the short-term discomfort that the plan has caused for
our hunters in the form of lower deer numbers will be outweighed by
the long-term benefits we experience in the years to come and, more
importantly, which we pass onto our future generations.”

Whether that will be enough to spark lawmakers to act on
McIlhinney’s bill any time soon is the question. Some sportsmen
fear privately that it will not.

McIlhinney has said that he hopes to hold at least one more
hearing on his bill, perhaps in November. Senators aren’t expected
to return to session after October, though, so under that scenario,
any vote would have to wait until at least 2009.

At least the idea is moving forward, though, said commission
President Roxane Palone, of Greene County.

“I’m very encouraged by the hearing, and I’m very pleased Sen.
McIlhinney is trying to do the right thing. He understands the
issues very well,” she said.

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