For those of us involved in the outdoor world and by that I mean hunting and fishing, it’s no secret that the two commissions that oversee our resources are having some financial difficulties. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission handles the state’s fish and reptiles and our boating regulations and the Pennsylvania Game Commission covers our state’s remaining wildlife. Unlike other states our two commissions operate separately of each other and both are asking for license increases to continue operating at the level to which we have become accustomed.
As you all know we have just completed another traditional opening day of trout season here in Pennsylvania and if you were out and about that day you saw the large numbers of anglers enjoying the pursuit of trout. Trout fishing is one of my favorite outdoor activities and while I didn’t get out the first day I have been hitting the wonderful special regulation areas. While I doubt that our trout angling will go away, there is certainly some possibility that changes may occur in our trout program especially if the commission is unable to secure a license increase.
Recently John Arway, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, told members of the House of Representatives game and fisheries committee that the situation is bad and getting worse. At this point commissions do not have the power to raise license fees on their own; that must be granted by our legislatures. Arway explained that the two biggest expenses the commission had are law enforcement and that includes pensions and raising trout in our hatcheries; that accounts for about 50% of the budget. The number of trout being stocked was cut back a number of years ago and if some additional funding doesn’t become available there may be further cuts to the trout stocking program. We are blessed with some pretty good trout fishing in this state albeit many are stocked and I would hate to see that program cut back.
In the meantime the Pennsylvania Game Commission is dealing with its own financial woes; they too are asking for a license increase since they haven’t had one since 1999. One of the commissions most popular programs is the stocking of pheasants but that has already been cut back to save money. The Game Commission has already closed two of its four pheasant farms and has switched to buying day-old chicks to raise rather than raise birds from eggs.
The Game Commission does have the ability to create special permits like those for trapping fishers and otters and for taking bobcats and hence at their March meeting the commission gave final approval to creating a $25 permit in order to hunt pheasants. While this comes far short of alleviating all their financial woes, it will help keep the pheasant program going for awhile. All adults who wish to hunt pheasants will be required to purchase the special permit starting with the 2017-18 license year; junior hunters will be exempt from having to buy the permit.
It remains to be seen where all of this is going; politicians are reluctant to grant fee increases, it’s like a tax increase-nobody wants it. It has been suggested that the two commissions combine to save money; I have serious doubts about that. I know we are the only state that has two separate commissions but that hardly makes it a bad thing. In fact I think we are better off keeping the commissions separate. We will have to see where all this plays out in the days to come and I’m sure there’s a lot of us watching the situation closely.