Pennsylvania game commissioners reply to Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania on predators questions

Last fall the sports authority cut down trees around the flame to make it less attractive to raptors and other birds that like to perch in the area while hunting for prey.

Are burgeoning numbers of bald eagles in Pennsylvania gobbling up stocked trout at an unacceptable rate? Is a growing reintroduced fisher population killing too many stocked pheasants, turkeys and grouse? Are hordes of red-tailed hawks eating all the bunnies and squirrels? At least one sportsmen’s group in the Keystone State seems to think so.

During the first day of the recent Game Commission meeting in Harrisburg, the board of commissioners issued the following long statement. We did not print it in the paper, but you may be interested.

“The board of commissioners received a letter from the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania asking the Game Commission to formally address what the agency is going to do to control avian predators, including bald eagles, and fisher populations. Unified Sportsmen brought up their concerns because they feel bald eagles are eating stocked trout, which are paid for by sportsmen.

Further, they feel that decreasing the number of avian predators, such as hawks, will improve small-game hunting in the state. And finally, Unified is claiming that fisher populations are too high and they are concerned about fishers preying on game populations.

Unified Sportsmen have asked the Game Commission to respond to these claims. We have asked our bureau wildlife management staff to address this issue. Here is what they said:

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Game Commission focused much of its energy and resources into predator control efforts. During this period, we did not understand the relationship between predators and prey. After decades of using predator control (such as paying bounties) with no effect, and the emergence of wildlife management as a science, the agency finally accepted the reality that predator control does not work.

There are no shortcuts in wildlife management. The discussion surrounding predator control on our state’s hawks and eagles takes the focus away from how we can bring back small game hunting to the state – and that is by providing habitat. Over the last several decades, the issue of controlling avian predators has been raised. And here it is again.

To truly serve sportsmen, we must focus on proven means to restore small game hunting. And we do this by improving the habitat. In addition, we see no evidence of fisher populations or eagles limiting access by sportsmen to fishing or hunting opportunities. To the contrary, the fisher population is creating new opportunities for trappers.

You can’t manage wildlife based on what makes intuitive sense, or based on anecdotal information. Wildlife management is complex; the interaction between predator and prey, including hunters as predators, is complicated. Because of these complexities, the agency has in place some of the best wildlife scientists in the country to help guide the agency making wildlife management decisions.

The Game Commission has made strides in its ongoing efforts to improve small game hunting in Pennsylvania. For example we’ve been partnering for many years with pheasants forever to build habitat for pheasants in several priority areas in the state. When habitat was in good condition and wild pheasants were released, they did well in several areas.

However, the majority of Pennsylvania is privately owned. Practices such as forestry and farming dictate the abundance of small game, not predators. To pretend that predator control can return small game hunting to the state is a false prophecy.

Within the agency’s 2015-2020 strategic plan, you can clearly see the agency is putting great emphasis on creating small game habitat on state game lands. We are using proven techniques such as prescribed fire and timber management to support more small-game hunting. However, our focus is what we know from the science, not anecdotal comments stemming from theory or supposition.

Our work on game lands is only limited by one factor, and that is funding.

This year, the agency set a new record in the number of acres where prescribed fire was used to improve habitat at a cost of $2.1 million. Securing additional funding is necessary for us to continue to expand the use of this tool and other habitat management tools.

Predators – whether they be hawks, owls, eagles,  bears or foxes – are an important part of Penns Woods. The species don’t compete with our hunters for game. The limiting factor is habitat  – we must focus our efforts on habitat. This is how we can make a difference.

Categories: Bloggers on Hunting, Hunting News, Pennsylvania – Jeff Mulhollem

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