We've come to the end of 2013.
It's a time to reflect on the months that have passed and, most important, it's a chance for us to look forward. If the momentum that started this year continues into 2014, the months ahead could be quite interesting.
One of the biggest news makers of the year came from our legislators in Harrisburg. Last spring, they adopted a bill that forced a study to measure the feasibility of merging the Fish and Boat Commission with the Game Commission.
The goal of the lawmakers is to see what sort of cost savings, if any, could be realized if the two regulatory agencies were combined. As the only state in the nation with two separate agencies, Pennsylvania's divided structure often gets attention, especially during economic hardships.
Sportsmen are anxiously awaiting the results of the study. Most folks think the news won't be all that different than a similar study that was conducted in 2003. It said there would be cost savings, but it wasn't enough to warrant merging the agencies.
This time the situation is different, though. One agency, the Game Commission, has plenty of revenue, but the Fish and Boat Commission is stretched tight. A merger may make stronger fiscal sense.
But the merger will likely hinge on the idea of who gets what. If the current accounting system is kept in place (which the rumor mill favors), the state would maintain separate game, fish and boat funds. If that happens, a merger is unlikely. The current fiscal bottlenecks would remain in place. Without major fiscal restructuring, a combined agency would solve few, if any, problems.
A perennial hot topic in Pennsylvania is deer season. That won't change next year. A decade ago, the debate focused on herd management. Hunters were worried about the effects of antler restrictions and liberal harvest regulations. These days, we argue about the calendar. In 2014, the fight will likely grow louder.
Traditionally, the main firearms deer season has started on the Monday after Thanksgiving. For decades, few folks complained about it. Factories willingly halted their assembly lines and schools closed their doors while students and staff hit the woods.
But things are changing. Fewer folks are hunting each year. For the majority of folks, the opening day of deer season comes and goes like most other days. Businesses make hunters take vacation days and students are often expected to be in school. Naturally, an idea has arisen to have the season start on a Saturday.
The Game Commission promises to study the issue sometime next year. I'm convinced opening day will change, but the decision likely won't be made in 2014. Even so, the topic will get a lot of attention.
The state's youngest sportsmen will continue to be treated favorably next year. They already get ample hunting opportunities, but starting this spring, young trout anglers across Pennsylvania will be able to hit streams and lakes before anybody else. The Fish and Boat Commission's trial attempt at a youth trout day was so well received last year, the agency has expanded the idea across the state.
We're about to put a fine year in the history book. A lot of good was done over the last 12 months. Let's hope 2014 treats the state's sportsmen just as well.
-- Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.