Pennsylvania sportsmen’s groups press lawmakers for conservation support
One of the primary reasons Pennsylvania is such a great place to live and recreate is that it’s home to some of the nation’s best natural resources. Wildlife and public land areas abound, there are more stream miles than any state other than Alaska, and it boasts the nation’s largest legion of bowhunters.
It’s a wonderful place to enjoy the outdoors, and many do so while simultaneously bolstering the economy and speaking up for the protection of the wild places they love.
Pennsylvania’s 1.3 million anglers and 780,000 hunters spend $1.3 billion dollars annually to pursue their passions. These outdoor pursuits support more than 20,000 jobs in the Commonwealth, generate roughly $800 million in salaries, and contribute more than $300 million to state and local taxes.
In a world where money talks, that gives Pennsylvania’s sportsmen some clout.
So state legislators were all ears when leaders from Pennsylvania’s major hunting, fishing and wildlife organizations – groups representing tens of thousands of Keystone State outdoorsmen and women – visited the state Capitol recently to discuss conservation priorities.
Begun in early 2018, the Sportsmen’s Policy Working Group is comprised of several organizations, including Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP), National Wild Turkey Federation, Ruffed Grouse Society, Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen and Conservationists (PFSC), Ducks Unlimited, the American Woodcock Society, United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania State Shotgunning Association, and the Quality Deer Management Association, working in unison on shared policy interests.
The group, along with the executive directors of both the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, visited the Capitol to discuss the importance of the Environmental Stewardship Fund and the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund as they help restore streams, conserve clean water, and protect public access to hunting grounds; how sportsmen and women rely on properly funded fish and game agencies to conserve fish and wildlife habitat in the state; and how the expansion of Sunday hunting can help stem declining numbers of sportsmen and women.
“Pennsylvania has a number of hunting and angling groups pursuing varied missions, but we’re all united around a commitment to conservation of the Commonwealth’s natural resources. The meetings at the Statehouse demonstrated that. Sportsmen and women in Pennsylvania want to see robust conservation funding, strong fish and wildlife agencies, healthy fish and wildlife habitat and expanded recreational access,” said David Kinney, Eastern policy director for Trout Unlimited.
Derek Eberly, Pennsylvania Field Representative for TRCP, added, “Hunters and anglers rely on healthy wildlife habitat, clean waters, and public access to enjoy their pursuits in Pennsylvania. Supporting the policies that provide these services and conservation programs is part of our responsibility to the future generation of our sport. We are glad to work alongside our fellow sportsmen to bring that message to Harrisburg.”
In 2018, TRCP conducted a survey of sportsmen and women and found overwhelming support for policies and programs that conserve fish and wildlife habitat. Some survey highlights shared at the meeting include the following:
- That 92% of PA sportsmen support strengthening or maintaining water standards protecting rivers, lakes, and streams.
- Only 7% support relaxing water quality protections; and 92% of hunters and anglers believe Exceptional Value (EV) stream protections should be provided to every stream that meets the criteria.
- That 80% of sportsmen support restoring funding to the Environmental Stewardship Fund to (Growing Greener) to $200 million annual level.
- That 75% of sportsmen in Pennsylvania identify as a “conservationist.”
- That 74% of PA sportsmen and women support raising the cost of a fishing license to support conservation.
“It’s great to speak communally on issues from water quality to hunting access. This is how conservation work gets done,” Benjamin C. Jones, CEO and president of the Ruffed Grouse Society and American Woodcock Society, said.
Nate Fronk, chairman of the Pennsylvania Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, added, “Hunters and anglers need to make their voices heard in Harrisburg. Our goal is to create a positive chorus of sportsmen and women around issues that affect us all and use that voice to let our lawmakers know where we stand.”
The Sportsmen’s Policy Working Group shared the following agenda items as their top priorities:
- Conservation funding: Growing Greener and the Keystone Fund are important to hunters and anglers. Projects supported by these funds clean up abandoned mine drainage; preserve land for hunting and headwaters of trout water; restore streams; and help farmers implement conservation practices.
- Fish and game agency support: These independent agencies are critical to protecting, enhancing, and conserving the fish and wildlife habitat we rely on to pursue our passions. Unlike most agencies, they rely on license fees rather than tax dollars. Those who use the resource (hunters, anglers, and boaters) largely fund them. These license fees have not kept pace with rising costs over the past two decades.
- Recreational access: Pennsylvania is alone among the Mid-Atlantic states in prohibiting hunting on Sundays, which limits opportunities for sportsmen/women and youths for whom work, school and other activities occupy the remainder of the week.
After a formal breakfast meeting with several key lawmakers and additional meetings with legislators in their offices to address these policies, the united group felt confident about the impact of their efforts – especially when Governor Tom Wolf purchased his first-ever fishing license right on the Capitol floor.
“For too long, hunters, fishermen, and other conservationists haven’t spoken with one voice,” PFSC Executive Harold Daub said. “PFSC is proud to be part of this partnership, and is committed to ensuring Pennsylvania’s sportsmen and women are heard by our legislators.”