Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe presented the agency’s annual report to the Legislature before the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee at a hearing yesterday in the State Capitol. A copy of the agency’s annual report is available on its website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) in the “Reports/Minutes” section under the “Legislative Annual Report,” and select “2007.”
Following is a copy of Roe’s remarks to the Senate committee.
“It has been a very productive and challenging year for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, as we strive to fulfill our mission of managing all wild birds and mammal and their habitats for current and future generations.
“As required by state law, we delivered our annual report and update of our Growing Greener II program on Jan. 31. We will offer some comments on the report and add additional information on various issues. As we continue to improve in areas, you will notice in the report that for the second year we organized the program accountability section in line with the strategic plan. This year we have combined some measurement data with the analysis of where we are on achieving the objectives in the plan. We move forward in some areas, but are hampered by the lack of resources to achieve some very important objectives.
“Habitat is a key life requisite for all wildlife and we continue to be concerned about encroachment on wildlife habitat. As you are well aware, we are responsible for approximately 465 species; 429 birds and 66 mammals; with 22 threatened or endangered. Slowing the loss of wildlife habitat is critical to ensuring a future for many of our native species. In the past 30 years American Woodcock populations have declined by 40% in the Northeast Region of the United States. Bobwhite Quail have declined by 95%, the Eastern Meadowlark declined 80%, and the Upland Sandpiper declined 90%. Species at most risk are typically associated with wetlands, riparian areas, old field shrub/grasslands, contiguous blocks of old growth forests and special habitats such as eaves and vernal pools.
“Developing and maintaining these areas is extremely important for a variety of game and non-game species. We work hard to develop these areas through several programs. The first is Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, CREP where we are putting 265,000 acres of habitat back on the ground. We are almost finished the upper Susquehanna Basin CREP and will soon have over 200,000 acres of farm land planned and planted that covers both the lower and upper Susquehanna River basin. The other 65,000 acres are in the Ohio River basin where we have approximately 19,000 acres planned and planted. We should complete the CREP program over the next two to three years.
“Additionally, through the use of the Federal State Wildlife Grant Program we have hired a wildlife biologist for each of the Regions to better focus on assisting private landowners in restoring and enhancing more wildlife habitat on their properties. We believe that with additional funding this program can have a tremendous impact on treating habitats on a much greater scale than just on our State Game Lands. I mentioned last year about the ringneck pheasant reintroduction efforts in the Southwest part of the state. This year I am pleased to tell you that we worked with Pheasants Forever in a trap and transfer effort in the Montour County area. The reintroduction has been going well and we are monitoring survival and population response.
“Just as a follow up to last year, our integrated State Game Land Planning model was implemented as we completed a pilot state game land plan in each of the six regions. This program integrates the region’s land manager, the region forester and the region wildlife management supervisor in the planning process to develop a plan that is viable and practical and adaptable to changing circumstances. Each plan is unique to the game land and allows for an adaptive management style that is to the best advantage of the wildlife resources and our sportsmen and women.
“Shifting focus for a moment to our fiscal situation, by the end of the June, 2008, we anticipate a Game Fund balance of around $32 million dollars on a cost accounting basis. To get to that level, in addition to the revenue increases, we took a very conservative approach to spending, particularly on the personnel side where we maintained approximately 110 vacancies through the year. That included 32 vacant WCO districts and about 30 food and cover crew vacancies. Our 27th WCO Class graduated on March 8, and they filled 21 of the 32 vacant WCO districts. We will still have 11 vacant districts with another 6 districts probably vacant by the end of this fiscal year. By June 2010 we anticipate a return to over 30 WCO vacancies statewide. We are planning on having another WCO class in March of 2009, but that decision will ultimately be driven by the availability of funds.
“Although we believe we manage our fiscal resources very responsibly, the expenses we cannot control continue to present a challenge. For example we annually pay various state agencies such as the Department of General Services, Office of Administration -IT and the Comptroller Office almost $1.7 million dollars for support they provide. The new state labor contract that went into effect on July 1, 2007 will increase our personnel costs by an additional $2 million the first year and at year four, 2010; the annual increase in cost will be around $9.5 million. The total increase in personnel costs over the life of the four-year contract is over $23 million.
“Although a balance of $32 million sounds like a lot, it does not cover the anticipated expenses for the next three years. As you well know, since we receive no appropriation from the general fund, our revenues, as in the private sector, are based on earnings. We need approximately $22 million on hand in the game fund to open the doors on July 1, the first day of the fiscal year. If you take the $22 million from our anticipated fund balance of $32 million then we only have $10 million to cover any additional expenses for the next three years. As you can see the balance does not even cover the increased personnel costs, let alone the inflationary effect on day-to-day operations. As an example, when you approved our last license increase in 1998, gas was around $1 a gallon. Today it averages above $3 a gallon with most reports seeing it settling in around $3.50 a gallon by this summer
“I do not want to dwell on the license cost issue, but the most common observer can see something is wrong when hunters from our neighboring states of New Jersey and Ohio can hunt as a non resident in Pennsylvania cheaper than they can as a resident in their home state.
“In a recent report by the Southwick Associates for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Pennsylvania continues to have the second most hunters in the nation just behind Texas. Pennsylvania hunters led the nation by spending a total of 16.86 million days afield, exceeding second place Texas by 2.6 million more days. What does this mean to the economy of Pennsylvania? Using the multiplier effect, hunting alone is still more than a $3 billion industry and generates over $214 million in state and local taxes. Currently none of the $214 million is reinvested back to helping protect and ensure a secure future for the very wildlife and wildlife related programs that generate these revenues. This needs to be fixed.
“This last year, 2006-2007 hunting season was very productive. We continue to enjoy large bear harvests and turkey seasons were very successful for our hunters. It appears grouse hunters are enjoying the up cycle of grouse populations where early successional habitat is available. Small game including rabbits appeared to be more plentiful than in recent past, again, where good habitat can support the population growth. Furtaker opportunities are plentiful for a variety of species. We would really like more hunters to take part in furtaking, particularly on coyotes and foxes. Even more importantly we had the safest hunting season in our history with only 46 hunting related shooting incidents reported. This can be attributed to the great hunters we have in Pennsylvania who clearly identify their target and know what is behind it.
“Just to follow up on that topic, we have included in your packet a copy of our updated Hunter Trapper Education Manual. We believe the updated manual and the companion instructor notes are a major step forward in providing a better product to the public. Our program is in its second year of deployment and we will finish deploying the updated program across the entire state next year. During a recent evaluation, the International Hunter Education Association stated that our updated materials were, if not the best, one of the best in the nation and many other states are using our manual and instructor notes. Additionally, we are offering a distance education module of the program. An individual can study at home by the book or on the computer and then come to a location for about a two-hour timeframe to take the test. We believe this will give those who do not want to be in a classroom setting an opportunity to complete hunter trapper education. We are very excited about the distance education model and believe it will expand in the future.
“I would be remiss if I did not discuss the deer for just a moment. I attended the public officials’ luncheon at the Farm Show where Secretary Wolfe mentioned that when the farm show opened in 1917 the two major topics were the advent of the gasoline driven tractor and the damage deer were causing in orchards. Ninety years later deer remain the hot topic in many circles. The 2006-07 deer harvest was approximately 361,560 including 135, 290 bucks and 226,270 antlerless deer. Deer hunting continues to be a challenge in some areas, but reports are that deer are larger and antler restrictions are working. Deer hunting continues to be a challenge in some areas, but reports are that deer are larger and antler restrictions are working. In an effort to help hunters understand the reasons behind the current deer management policy, we have increased the emphasis on communicating our deer management program through a variety of means. We have included a copy of our deer management booklet in your packet. I hope that you take the time to read it as we have provided thousands of copies to the public and will continue to do so. We conducted seven open houses last fall on deer management and are offering seven more this spring. We are increasing the communications on our deer program and will continue to do so. As we revise the deer management plan this year, we are considering two new management goals; the first is to manage the deer herd to provide recreational opportunities and the second is to improve the public’s knowledge and understanding about deer and the deer management program.
“An additional major program that we addressed last year was wind energy. The Game Commission participated in a collaborative process that resulted in the development of a voluntary wind energy cooperative agreement. Being responsible for wildlife impacts from wind energy, the Game Commission took the lead in establishing various protocols that will help wind energy companies to evaluate risk and avoid potential wildlife impacts. This program has already proven to be mutually beneficial to both the wind energy industry and our bird and mammal resources. However, to assist the execution of this program, we hired four biologists to provide monitoring of the program and assist the wind energy companies in site identification. This is an additional cost of almost $300,000. A cost we had not anticipated, but is necessary to support the program for clean energy.
“One of the most enjoyable programs we have recently offered is the mentored youth hunt program. We have received numerous letters and emails from grandparents, parents and the young hunter themselves. They were all very appreciative of the opportunity to have this experience. I would like to suggest visiting our website and see some of the pictures that were sent to us. I will guarantee you will have a smile on your face after viewing those faces.
“We should all keep that youthful enthusiasm in mind as we enjoy the outdoors. It is more than just about a successful harvest. I would like to relate a personal experience from waterfowl hunting this year. I knocked a goose out of the sky and it fell just beyond the decoys. We were getting ready to release the dog when a bald eagle swooped out of the sky and grab the goose from the water. The goose fought the eagle and broke loose. The eagle made another pass at the goose and got it about eight feet off the water when the goose broke free again. It was a great sight to witness. Although we were successful in harvesting some ducks and geese, the outdoor experience we talked about was the bald eagle trying to make off with my goose.
“There are many ways to enjoy the outdoors and the Pennsylvania Game Commission is here to help you connect with wildlife. I am sure many of you have your own special wildlife moments and those in Pennsylvania are a large part due to the efforts of the men and women of the Game Commission. Our ability to provide those moments for the citizens of the Commonwealth is directly related to resources available to execute the necessary programs.”