While a move to change the opening day of the firearms deer season from Monday to Saturday garnered most of the attention after the Pennsylvania Game Commission meeting on Jan. 29, the board implemented a host of other measures that hunters will notice in the upcoming season.
“We’ve seen this board be progressive on issues,” said commissioner Brian Hoover. “It’s not afraid to tackle traditions. Every day is a new tradition.”
All of the changes received preliminary approval, and a final vote will be held when the board meets again in April.
Here’s a look at some of the changes on tap for the 2019-20 hunting season, along with other measures impacting wildlife:
High bear numbers, more opportunity for hunters: In response to an increase in bear complaints from several areas of the state, the board expanded season lengths and time afield for hunters.
A statewide muzzleloader and special firearms season was added for bear hunters in October. The muzzleloader season runs from Oct. 19-26, while the early firearms season, which mirrors the one in place for deer and is open to junior, senior, mentored youth, disabled and active military, will be held from Oct. 24-26. Also, the archery bear season was increased to two weeks (Oct. 28-Nov. 9) and the extended bear season, which occurs during the first week of deer season, was expanded from four to six days in most Wildlife Management Units. The statewide bear season will remain at four days (Nov. 23-27).
The agency estimates the changes may increase the bear harvest to 4,000-5,000, and the goal is to remove 26 percent of the population. Recent bear harvests have fallen short of that goal.
Turkey, small game hunters lose a day: In order to accommodate for the Saturday deer season opener (Nov. 30), small game and the fall turkey season will conclude on Friday, Nov. 29. The change impacts the former three-day segment of the turkey season that took place over Thanksgiving and accounted for approximately 20 percent of the harvest.
The loss of the Saturday during the Thanksgiving season may not have a negative impact on the population as turkey numbers in parts of the state are low, commissioners said.
Fluorescent orange regulations scaled back: By a 7-1 vote, the board eliminated the requirement to wear fluorescent orange at any time while archery hunting for deer or bear. Fall turkey hunters were also made exempt from having to wear orange.
All other seasons will continue with their existing fluorescent orange requirements.
Commissioner James Daley cast the lone dissenting vote, offering details of a fatal hunting accident that took place in 1991 when there was no orange requirement for fall turkey hunters. Had the individual been wearing orange at the time, Daley said, the tragic incident would’ve been avoided.
Commissioners said the changes are intended to clear up the complexity of existing fluorescent orange requirements, which each year result in a significant number of violations detected by State Game Wardens.
Changes made to endangered, threatened species listings: Final approval was given on Tuesday for a measure that updates the state’s list of threatened and endangered species, providing three cave bat species additional protection by reclassifying them as state endangered species.
The update also upgrades the peregrine falcon’s status from endangered to threatened; upgrades the piping plover from extirpated to endangered, and lists the red knot – a federally threatened species – as a threatened species within Pennsylvania, as well.
The three cave bat species that have been given additional protection are the northern long-eared bat, tri-colored bat and little brown bat, all of which have been decimated by white-nose syndrome since it appeared in Pennsylvania in 2008.
Changes to mentored hunting programs: Final approval was given to a measure that bridges the mentored youth and mentored adult hunting programs.
The mentored hunting programs are designed to increase hunter recruitment by providing an opportunity to experience hunting without the requirement to obtain a license.
With the change, youth up to 16 years of age can participate in the mentored youth program, and those 17 and older can participate in the mentored adult program.
Under the previous framework, there was no opportunity for those 12 to 17 to participate in a mentored program.