At a September meeting, the Pennsylvania Game Commission will consider adopting a permit for non-hunters who use state game lands.
The proposed permit would be required only for those riding bicycles, horses or snowmobiles on designated game land trails. Others, such as hikers or birdwatchers, would not be affected.
A recent study concluded that low-impact users like hikers and birdwatchers typically don’t cause the types of damage to game lands – and associated repair costs – that the permit fee would help offset.
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners will consider the recommendation at its regular meeting to be held September 22 and 23 in Delmont, Pa.
Hunters Fund Game Lands
Historically, hunters and trappers have shouldered maintenance costs. Unlike state or county parks, the state game lands system was created and is maintained almost entirely with funds from the sale of hunting and furtakers’ licenses.
Game lands are managed to improve wildlife habitat, and create hunting and trapping opportunities. The use of game lands by other outdoor enthusiasts long has been permitted on designated trails, though restricted during hunting and trapping seasons, and prohibited on some sections of game lands.
However, recreational riding often spills over to non-designated trials. In some cases, it might be difficult for a rider to distinguish a designated from a non-designated trail or signs are torn down, or just ignored.
And the damage to wildlife habitat and the upkeep costs can mount very quickly.
Money Spent on Trails
There are more than 1,328 miles of designated trails on game lands to accommodate horseback riding, bicycling and snowmobiles—about the distance from Harrisburg to Florida.
In reviewing recent spending records, the Game Commission identified about $230,000 in known costs over the past three years associated with trail maintenance and signage. Other projects to build or maintain game lands roads, parking lots or other infrastructure – all of which benefits trail users – topped $4 million in less than three years. Trails also serve as rights of way, meaning they create areas that must be excluded from revenue generators like timber sales, accounting for the potential loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.
Damage to trails due to horses, bicycles and snowmobiles can be considerable.
When the ground is saturated, horses can leave hoof prints 6 inches deep. And in areas with heavy traffic, or that stay wet most of the time, the damage is even worse. It’s no different with bicycles and snowmobiles, which also can damage habitat and infrastructure and create the same type of erosion and sedimentation concerns, at ford crossings and elsewhere.
The permit being considered would seek to better regulate riding on designated trails, thereby mitigating that impact as well as raising revenue for associated maintenance costs.
Given the Game Commission’s duty to mitigate damage caused by uses not related to hunting or trapping, a lack of action might also jeopardize the receipt of future Pittman-Robertson funds, which are derived from a federal excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition, then doled out to the states for habitat restoration and other uses.
Under the recommendation proposed, the privileges to ride horses, bicycles or snowmobiles would be included within the existing State Game Lands Shooting Range Permit, whose name would be changed to “State Game Lands Permit.”. The $30, one year permits can be purchased online through the Outdoor Shop at the Game Commission’s website.
The permits are only required for non-hunters age 16 or older.
Opportunity to Comment
Those wishing to comment about the proposal can do so at the Board of Game Commissioners meeting on Monday, September 22 at the Lamplighter Inn, 6566 William Penn Highway, Delmont, Westmoreland County, Pa.
Public comment, limited to five minutes per person, begins at 8:30 a.m. The commissioners may vote on the proposal during the meeting’s second day September. 23. The September 23 meeting is scheduled for the same location and also will start at 8:30.
Comments also may be submitted via email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. or in writing to ATTN: Game Lands Permit, Pennsylvania Game Commission, 2001 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797.
Comments received will be shared with the commissioners.