If you’ve got an opinion on how the commonwealth should best manage its wildlife population, now is the time to voice it.
As usual, the Pennsylvania Game Commission will hold its annual two-day April meeting to set the length of hunting and trapping seasons, bag limits and rule changes for 2020-21, beginning on Monday.
What is unusual, however, is the manner in which the meeting will be conducted. Because of the spread of COVID-19, the commissioners will be holding their first virtual meeting.
Although live-streaming the event is standard practice, holding such an important event where none of the commissioners are physically present is a first.
“It will be a totally new experience,” said Travis Lau, the game commission’s communications director. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed that everything goes off without a hitch.”
Whether you’re concerned with deer colliding with your vehicle, eating your shrubbery, or presenting a perfect shot angle, the PGC will consider your input – if it’s submitted this week.
“The clock is ticking on folks who want to provide comment, especially if they want to take the option of submitting a recorded voice comment that requires us to call them on Friday,” states Lau.
Online form: The PGC’s home page provides an online form to be placed on a call-back list. On Friday, folks on the list will receive a call between 8 and 11 a.m., where they will have up to five minutes to voice their recommendations. In the event the calls exceed the three-hour window, or if email is a preferred option, using email@example.com will assure your opinion is considered.
The board of commissioners need to read and hear all comments before the start of the April 7 meeting, and have even allowed a time slot from 8:30 to 11 a.m. that day for that very reason.
“The sooner the better,” said Lau, who urges people to cooperate in a timely manner. And if you believe that your advice will become lost among volumes of other suggestions, Lau admits that is not often the case.
“If they pre-register they can expect a call,” he said. “They (the commissioners) usually only get about 15-20 comments at the April meeting. It’s usually not a large number of comments.”
Lau said that organized groups such as the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and the United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania are traditionally represented at the meetings. Those meeting formats have changed to include a Saturday to accommodate public comment from those who work during the week. The January meeting, where changes are preliminarily considered, was held on a Friday and Saturday. The intention was to do the same for April’s meeting until the commission noticed that it coincided with trout season opening in the southeast portion of the state.
CWD concerns: And COVID-19 is not the only detrimental health issue facing the PGC. The spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the state’s whitetail population is at the forefront of concerns.
“There’s going to be a lot of Monday’s meeting that’s dedicated to a discussion about CWD, ahead of what will ultimately be the adoption of a CWD response plan,” said Lau, who added that there were many wildlife agency people from other states who have dealt with the disease, slated to attend. “A big part of that meeting is going to deal with CWD.”
Deer season: The first day of the meetings is also when antlerless deer allocations are typically discussed.
Since deer season runs late into January, the harvest numbers were not gathered in time for the commissioner’s annual January preliminary meeting.
“Not until you have your final numbers on the harvest can you start to look at your population post-hunt, and decide how many antlerless licenses you want to allocate to match your objective of whether you want to hold deer numbers steady there, or increase or decrease them,” explains Lau. “There are a lot of hot topics, and several of them are interconnected, the Saturday opener (for deer firearms season) being among them for sure.”
There was pre-approval for a statewide concurrent deer season with a Saturday opener at the January meeting. Commissioners may decide to have it run concurrently in the more urban Wildlife Management Units and partially concurrent in others, said Lau.
“That’s the big question too,” he said. “There was also discussion at the January meeting about a longer archery season that runs deeper into the rut. There was nothing preliminarily approved, but it was discussed.”
Bear season: Another topic that was discussed in January focused on bears. Last October featured the first statewide weeklong bear muzzleloader season, and a two-week bear archery season that stretched into November.
An additional week of the bear muzzleloader season that would overlap the early antlerless deer muzzleloader season is on the table.
There was also pre-approval for muzzleloader bear hunters to do something that was once illegal – that is, carrying along a bow for antlered deer.
“The law’s being changed there,” Lau said. “It’s just a language change that would allow bear hunters in muzzleloader season to also carry bows.”
He said that if approved next week, “Basically anytime there’s a bow season for deer and bear, and (running concurrently with) a muzzleloader season for deer or bear, properly licensed hunters could carry both.”
Although it seems out of the ordinary to carry both a muzzleloading firearm, and a bow or crossbow, with all the accruements, Lau said that judging by hunter response there are many who wish to do that.
Season lengths, bag limits: When looking at season lengths and bag limits from the previous year, many things can change between preliminary approvals at the January meeting and the final adoption in April.
“So, just because something is approved preliminarily in January, by no means does it mean that it’s a done deal,” said Lau.
This week the PGC will announce more details on where and how the meeting can be viewed or listened to in real time. Announcements will be made via news releases, emails and posts on the agency’s website and social media pages.
Lau said that when the game commission has a plan for how to access the live-streamed meetings next week, “We will be putting the news out through every means that we have.”