Mentor programs may merge

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval to a measure that will bridge the mentored youth and mentored adult hunting programs at their meeting Monday.

The mentored hunting programs are designed to increase hunter recruitment by providing an opportunity to experience hunting without the requirement to obtain a license.

Hunters and furtakers in Pennsylvania can purchase their first licenses at age 12, after successful completion of a Hunter-Trapper Education course. The mentored youth program enables those younger than 12 to participate in hunting, while the mentored adult program allows those 18 or older to participate, simply by obtaining a permit and following program requirements.

Under their current framework, the mentored programs leave out those ages 12 to 17. The only way hunters ages 12 to 17 can experience hunting is to become certified and buy a license.

The measure preliminarily approved by commissioners allows unlicensed individuals under the age of 17 to participate in the mentored youth program, and allows those 17 or older to participate in the mentored adult program.

The measure is scheduled for a final vote in January.

Mentored hunters may hunt only certain game species and must follow other requirements.

Mentored youth may hunt only squirrels, rabbits, doves, woodchucks, coyotes, deer and turkeys. Mentored youth under the age of 7 do not receive their own big-game harvest tags; their adult mentors must possess a valid harvest tag when hunting deer or turkeys, and the mentor must transfer the tag to the mentored youth upon harvest by the mentored youth. Additionally, the mentor and mentored youth may possess only one sporting arm between them, and it must be carried by the mentor at all times while moving.

Mentored adults may hunt only squirrels, ruffed grouse, rabbits, pheasants (pheasant permit required), bobwhite quail, hares, porcupines, woodchucks, crows, coyotes, antlerless deer and turkeys. Mentored adults receive only a spring turkey tag with their permits. To harvest a fall turkey, their mentor must possess a valid fall-turkey harvest tag; and to harvest an antlerless deer, their mentor must possess a valid antlerless license or Deer Management Assistance Program permit; then transfer the applicable harvest tag to the mentored adult at the time of harvest. A mentored adult must hunt within eyesight of the mentor, and a mentored adult can only participate in the program for a total of three, unbroken license years.

Under the proposal, that three-year maximum would apply to all mentored hunters ages 12 or older. After three years in the program, they’d be required to get a license.

Mentored youth hunters under 12 would continue to be able to take part in the program each year until they turn 12. However, youngsters who participated in the mentored youth program for at least three years before turning 12 would be required to get a license at 12, rather than continuing as a mentored hunter.

Purchase of a hunting license by any mentored hunting program participant automatically would invalidate any mentored permit and associated harvest tags held by the same.

In other action, commissioners:

¯ Tabled a final vote to expand the agency’s guide permit program, citing a need to revisit language on how the proposal would apply to family members who tag along on elk hunts, as well as guides who work for a permitted outfitter. The proposal could be reconsidered for adoption in January.

The expansion of the guide permit program to cover all commercial guiding activities on state game lands and all commercial and noncommercial elk guiding is intended to provide greater legitimacy to guide permit holders by establishing minimum standards for a required knowledge base to be a guide.

Commercial guiding would be considered any guiding activity provided by any person to another person for a fee, remuneration, or other economic gain, including bartered goods or services. There would be an exemption for leashed-tracking dog services to recover elk, black bear and white-tailed deer.

¯ Acted to ensure resident disabled-veteran hunters would continue to be eligible for special disabled-veteran goose hunts at Middle Creek and Pymatuning Wildlife Management Areas, even after they gave up their disabled-veteran licenses for senior lifetime licenses.

As it is now, only resident disabled-veteran license holders are eligible to apply for the special hunts. The proposed change would extend the ability to apply to anyone holding a senior lifetime hunting or senior lifetime combination license who can provide documentation evidencing their eligibility for a resident disabled-veteran license or reduced fee disabled-veteran license.

¯ Gave final approval to a measure that strengthens the “public hunting” component for deer-control permits the Game Commission issues for deer problems on private and public properties, often within suburban and urban areas.

The revision adopted by the board further defines public hunting as hunting available to the general public that “shall not include hunting opportunity that is afforded to an individual, or class of individuals, solely by virtue of their public employment.”

¯ Took preliminary action to update the state’s list of threatened and endangered species, which includes downgrading three protected cave bat species and reclassifying them as state endangered species.

The three bat species, all of which have been decimated by white-nose syndrome since it appeared in Pennsylvania in 2008, are the northern long-eared bat, tri-colored bat and little brown bat.

Additionally, the board voted preliminarily to upgrade the peregrine falcon’s status from endangered to threatened; upgrade the piping plover from extirpated to endangered, and list the red knot — a federally threatened species — as a threatened species within Pennsylvania, as well.

¯ Classifies Hungarian partridges as wild birds. The measure specifies that Hungarian partridges lawfully may be released on public and private lands for dog-training or hunting purposes without first securing a permit.

¯ Approved the agency’s updated 2018-2027 Wild Turkey Management Plan, which will guide the agency’s turkey management for the next decade.