PGC celebrates 1.5 million state game lands acres

Harrisburg — Call it a “square-milestone.”

Pennsylvania’s state game lands system, which since 1919 has provided critical habitat for wildlife statewide, and a network of lands open to public hunting and trapping, now tops 1.5 million acres.

That’s a land base larger than the state of Delaware. And Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough said all Pennsylvanians can take pride in the achievement of what the 1.5 million-acre milestone represents.

“Early in its existence, the Game Commission recognized the importance of preserving wildlife habitat, and at the same time, creating opportunity for hunters and trappers by opening those lands to the public,” Hough said. 

“For years and years, Pennsylvania’s hunters and trappers have paid into this system with the purchase of their licenses, and the sporting arms and ammunition they use in the field. Countless conservation organizations have stepped up to fund land purchases, and hundreds of private individuals have donated parcels that were added to the system.

All of this has been done exclusively to benefit Pennsylvania’s wildlife and to perpetuate the state’s great hunting and trapping heritage, Hough noted.

“We all can look back with pride upon what it has taken to assemble and effectively manage these 1.5 million acres of state game lands,” he said.

“And at the same time, we can know in our hearts a great service indeed has been done for the state’s wildlife and for generations of hunters and trappers, past, present and future.”

The Game Commission launched its system of state game lands nearly a century ago with the purchase of 6,288 acres in Elk County – a tract that would become State Game Land 25. By 1936 – just 16 years later – there would be 500,000 acres preserved on 100 game lands in 52 counties.

The game lands system hit the 1 million-acre mark in 1965. The average cost per acre of the first million was $5.65.

The 1.5 millionth acre was acquired among 2,109 acres to be added to State Game Land 195 in Jefferson County. A 2 p.m. ceremony commemorating the milestone will be held Saturday at the game lands.

Of course, acquisitions come at a slower pace today compared to those early years because land is much more expensive.

Game lands are present in all but Philadelphia and Delaware counties, spanning the state to provide convenient hunting and trapping opportunities for hundreds of thousands of license buyers.

Game lands are carefully managed to provide necessary habitat for the state’s 480 species of wild birds and mammals. They’re open to many recreational uses other than hunting and trapping. And each fall, more than 200,000 pheasants raised by the Game Commission are released on game lands for hunting.

Simply put, said Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners President David Putnam, the commonwealth just wouldn’t be the same without state game lands.

Pennsylvanians love the outdoors, Putnam said. And through the state game lands system, the opportunity to explore wild, open spaces typically can be found both near and far – on more than 1.5 million acres, he said.

That’s an accomplishment to celebrate, he said. 

“Wildlife in Pennsylvania is better off because of our game lands, and all Pennsylvanians can be proud of that,” Putnam said. “But Pennsylvanians are better off, too. And it’s important to recognize the people who have made our state game lands system what it is today.

“Without the hard work – today and through the decades – of the many within the Game Commission; without the financial support from the state’s hunters, trappers and other conservation partners during that time; and without the support of the public, in general, we would not be celebrating this milestone,” Putnam said. 

“We owe them a debt of gratitude for what they have done for Pennsylvania and for wildlife.”

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