Pheasant stamp is panned again

Harrisburg — Pennsylvania game commissioners seem to wish the issue would flush and fly away, but it appears to have taken roost. 

A recently retired regional director for the Game Commission again traveled to Harrisburg to remind commissioners how important creating a pheasant-hunting stamp is for the agency’s fiscal solvency.

Dennis Dusza, former long-time northcentral region director, told commissioners they needed to address funding for their exorbitantly expensive pheasant program if they want lawmakers and sportsmen to take the agency’s financial challenges seriously.

“I am here again to support a hunting license increase that includes a pheasant-hunting stamp as a means to generate more revenue for Game Commission operations, while at the same time putting some burden and responsibilities on the end-users of this nearly $5 million program,” he said, testifying at the recent commission meeting.

“That $5 million figure represents nearly 37 percent of the Game Commission’s entire wildlife management budget dedicated to pen-raised pheasants. That, my friends and fellow hunters, is out of whack!“

Dusza pointed out that the agency’s free-spending ways – propped up by huge game lands shale gas receipts that are now said to be  dwindling – must come to an end.

“Spending money is only a problem when you don’t have it. You might ask, ‘what is the big deal, we have already done this?’” he said.

“It is a formula that might have worked in the ‘50s, but with the declining number of hunters and the aging hunter base, something different is now in order. 

“When you dig a little further and project out into the future, continuing the $4 million to $5 million a year to support the pheasant program places a damper on other worthwhile programs.”

Dusza laid out a compelling case for creating a users’ fee for hunters pursuing costly stocked pheasants.

Bear hunters contributed over $2.75 million for the privilege of hunting bears last year, with a success rate of harvesting a bear somewhere around 3 percent, he said, and hunters paid $255,000 just for the privilege of being in a lottery for a chance to hunt elk.

“As mentioned previously, that nearly $5 million spent on raising pheasants benefits somewhere around 8 percent of the hunters,” he said.

Commissioners listened to Dusza without comment, and only addressed his points when asked to in a press conference after the public meeting. Several reiterated their opposition to creating a pheasant stamp.

Commissioner Brian Hoover, of Delaware County, noted that he understands how expensive the stocked pheasant program is, but believes it is essential to the agency’s future. “We are not looking to cut any programs in this budget. There are other things we can do first,” he said. 

“We don’t want to inhibit hunters going out into the woods small-game hunting or first-time or second-time hunters having a pheasant pop up. If they don’t have the stamp, they can’t shoot that bird. And I think that’s how a lot of people get involved in pheasant hunting – it is accidental.”

The agency is currently looking to trim the high costs of the pheasant program, according to Matt Hough, commission executive director. He said his staff is performing “a pretty comprehensive evaluation” of pheasant propagation and stocking practices.

Hoover did not rule out creation of a pheasant-hunting stamp, however. “Pheasant hunting has always been included in the general hunting license fee, but that does not mean that it will always stay that way,” he said.

”We are making changes as we go forward, and that may come up for discussion in the near future, and I know a lot of the sportsmen’s groups are pressing for a pheasant stamp. 

“But we have to give something for when you put your $20 down,” Hoover added. “If we make hunters have a stamp, what are they paying $20 for? We just make it an ala cart menu.”

Commissioner Dave Putnam, of Centre County, pointed out that the costs of the pheasant program increased dramatically a few years ago when commissioners decided to plow windfall shale gas revenues into the program, doubling pheasant propagation from 100,000 to more than 200,000 birds. 

He implied that costs could be reduced by significantly cutting the number of pheasants raised and stocked.

“But from all the comments we get, it is one of the most popular programs,” he said. “Right now, all hunters pay for the opportunity to hunt stocked pheasants. If we put that $25 or whatever tag out there, it is going to eliminate the casual person from going out and being introduced to pheasant hunting.”

Putnam contended that the commission’s pheasant program has played a key role in recruiting new hunters or at least stabilizing hunter numbers in the state. 

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