Commission changes rules, expands mentoring

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners on Tuesday gave preliminary approval to a measure that would simplify requirements to wear fluorescent orange material while hunting.

There would be no changes to the requirements that apply in many seasons. And the use of orange will continue to be highly recommended for all seasons, whether required or not.

The measure will be brought back to the April meeting for a final vote, and any changes would be put in place for the 2019-20 license year to begin July 1.

The proposal would eliminate the requirement to wear fluorescent orange at any time while archery hunting for deer or bear. This would eliminate all overlap periods when archery hunters are required to wear varying amounts of fluorescent orange while moving or post orange material while in a fixed position.

The proposal also would eliminate the requirement for fall turkey hunters to wear fluorescent orange material.

All other seasons would continue with their existing fluorescent orange requirements.

Also, commissioners said they will entertain a proposal to allow semiautomatic rifles for big game in the 2019-20 license year.

The Game Commission is accepting public comment on the matter, which could be considered at the commissioners next quarterly meeting April 9. If voted upon and given preliminary approval in April, the measure could be considered for final adoption in July and put in place for the 2019-20 license year.

Written comments can be submitted by email to pgccomments@pa.gov up until the April meeting.

Like the proposal to move the opening day of the firearms deer season to the Saturday after Thanksgiving, which was given preliminary approval on Tuesday, the proposal to expand opportunities to hunt with semiautomatic rifles seeks to provide for the changing demographics of license buyers and their needs.

Also approves was 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.

Mentored permits under the new framework will be available when 2019-20 hunting licenses go on sale. Mentored hunters may hunt only certain game species and must follow other requirements.

And, a minor change adopted by the board ensures resident disabled-veteran hunters continue to be eligible for special disabled-veteran goose hunts at Middle Creek and Pymatuning Wildlife Management Areas, even after they give up their disabled-veteran licenses for senior lifetime licenses.

Previously, only resident disabled-veteran license holders were eligible to apply for the special hunts. The change extends 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.

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The Pennsylvania Game Commission, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services, is conducting a project in Blair and Bedford counties to reduce the impact of chronic wasting disease. CWD is a threat to Pennsylvania’s deer and elk populations. Deer and elk infected with CWD have lower survival rates, and this can lead to fewer deer and elk and fewer hunting opportunities.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is implementing this reduction to minimize the impact of CWD on the deer population in this specific area. The decision to reduce deer numbers is based on experiences in other states where reducing deer numbers has reduced the effect of CWD.

During the past deer hunting seasons, the Game Commission provided hunters the first opportunity to harvest more deer by increasing antlerless licenses and Deer Management Assistance Program permits in northern Bedford and southern Blair counties. Currently, Game Commission staff are conducting post-hunting season deer population surveys to estimate the number of deer in the area. Removals will only occur on lands with landowner permission, and will be completed this winter and early spring.

Separately, the mystery surrounding the deaths of perhaps two dozen deer in upper Dauphin County might have been solved.

Preliminary test results have come back for three deer picked up in the Powell’s Valley area, and all three had one or more types of pneumonia. Further testing to check for the presence of other diseases has not yet returned results.

Pneumonia is a rare occurrence in deer, and the reasons it might have cropped up in the area are unknown.

The Game Commission continues to encourage those in the area who see deer that appear to be sick or encounter deer that have died from unapparent causes to report them to the Southeast Region Office at (610) 926-3136.

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