Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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PA: Floods kill 40% of PGC’s birds

Harrisburg – It’s tough being a pheasant hunter in Pennsylvania,
what with the number of birds available having steadily declined
over the years.

Now it’s about to get even tougher.

The same storms – Hurricane Irene and tropical rainstorm Lee – that
caused widespread flooding and prompted President Obama to offer
federal disaster assistance to 19 Pennsylvania counties – played
havoc with Pennsylvania Game Commission facilities.

They destroyed roads, culverts, pipes and structures on game lands
and other commission properties.

“We sustained about $3.5 million in damage spread across 13
counties in all,” said Matt Hough, assistant executive director for
the agency.

That includes significant damage to the commission’s Loyalsock and
Northcentral game farms, both in Lycoming County. The result has
been lots of dead or escaped pheasants.

The Loyalsock Game Farm had 44,000 pheasants before Loyalsock Creek
overran its banks, knocked down the nets covering some holding
fields and tore open the seams on others. Afterward, it had
21,000.

Commission employees have since recaptured about 4,000 pheasants,
and may be able to get 2,000 more, but that’s about it, said Bob
Boyd, assistant director of the commission’s Bureau of Wildlife
Management.

The situation at the Northcentral Game Farm is even worse. There,
the commission had 19,000 birds before flooding; afterward it had
none. Crews have recaptured only 800, and expect to get just a few
hundred more, at most.

The losses are unprecedented, he said.

“The flooding we saw from two hurricanes in two weeks is something
we’ve never had to deal with before,” Boyd said.

“There were people five miles downstream who were finding dead
pheasants in their flooded basements,” Hough said.

The result is that the commission – which had a goal of releasing
100,000 pheasants statewide this fall – will have 30 to 40 percent
fewer to offer this year.

That’s devastating, said Rick Kovacic of Fayette County and
president of the Tri-County Chaper of Pheasants Forever.

“Oh, absolutely, heck yeah. [The commission] didn’t stock that many
birds to begin with, and the hunting wasn’t that good last year. It
wasn’t that good the last two years,” Kovacic said.

“So that’s really bad news. You’ve ruined my day.”

How the remaining birds will be allocated remains to be
determined.

The Game Commission was scheduled to put out a press release Sept.
12 detailing where birds were to be stocked and how many were to be
released at each location. That won’t happen for awhile now, as an
evaluation of what’s left continues.

“It’s probably going to be at least a week or two,” said commission
press secretary Jerry Feaser.

It’s likely, though, that hunters will find up to 40 percent fewer
birds in every county, Boyd said, as it’s too late in the season to
raise or buy replacement birds.

“It will be something to that effect,” Boyd said. “We’re still
trying to figure out how many birds we have and how many we need to
reserve for brood stock for next year, then we’ll know how many we
have to put out.”

“Everyone’s going to feel the pain of that,” Hough added.

Ted Onufrak, president of the Pennsylvania Federation of
Sportsmen’s Clubs, said sportsmen would support the commission if
it chose to stick to stocking as many birds as originally planned
for the youth pheasant season.

“Most of the guys I’ve talked to have said keep that the same and
let the rest of us take the heat,” Onufrak said.

Whether that will be case remains to be seen, though, Hough said.
The commission will likely give clubs hosting mentored youth hunts
as many birds as originally planned. But the fate of the statewide
youth hunt stockings is up in the air.

“Our goal is to get as many birds harvested as possible,” Hough
said. “The question is, is that in the general season or in the
youth season? We’re still thinking about that.”

The worse news is that the devastation from the flooding won’t hurt
pheasant stockings just this year either. The commission was
planning to go back to stocking 200,000 pheasants by next year.
It’s probably not going to be able to do that now, Boyd said.

“That remains the goal, but it’s kind of doubtful at this point.
We’re going to try, but there’s not a lot of time left to get ready
for that year,” he said.

The commission will probably raise somewhere between 100,000 and
200,000 birds for next fall, Feaser said, with the exact number yet
to be determined. The commission should be able to get back on
track for 200,000 birds by 2013, though, he added.

In the meantime, hunters will have to make do, while the commission
restores its game farms. The core facilities at each farm remain
intact, Boyd said, but the fields suffered significant
damage.

“We’ve got a lot of cleanup to do,” Boyd said. “Our people are
still pretty busy trying to get things cleaned up and get back on
their feet.”

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