How popular is pheasant hunting in Pennsylvania? In 2015, there were more than 86,000 licensed pheasant hunters in the Commonwealth – an increase of 6,000 from the 2014 hunting season. More than 205,000 birds were harvested last year, up from approximately 177,000 the year before. One reason for the increase is the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) ramping up the number of pheasants made available by the state’s four pheasant farms.
Despite these numbers, the PGC has been forced to close the Western Game Farm in Crawford County and the Northcentral Game Farm in Lycoming County (the Lycoming and Armstrong County farms will remain open). The commission still hopes to release approximately 170,000 pheasants in the fall. This will not atone for the 14 people who, come Jan. 27, will lose their jobs on the farms that will close due to a lack of funds.
The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners is considering creating a pheasant hunting permit, apart from the general hunting license. The proposal of $25 for adults and $1 for junior hunters will help reduce but not solve the revenue shortfall that is plaguing the PGC and similarly impacting the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC).
As a legislator and sportsman, I can see both sides of the funding debate. Those of us who enjoy the outdoors have it pretty good in Pennsylvania. The last time hunting license prices were raised is 1999. The last fishing license increase occurred in 2005. Only Hawaii’s hunting license fees are lower than our $25 price tag and Pennsylvania’s fishing license fee of $22.70 is in line with our neighboring states.
I wrote a column on this subject last May, hoping legislation that would allow both commissions to set their own license fees would become law. Senate Bills 1166 and 1168 each passed overwhelmingly in the Senate. Both pieces of legislation were approved by the House Game and Fisheries Committee, which I chaired, but never considered on the House floor. The votes simply weren’t there to support them.
During last year’s hearings on the proposed legislation, the PGC hinted at having to take drastic measures if something wasn’t done. They discussed the possibility of closing the beautiful Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster and Lebanon counties. Thankfully, that did not happen. The closing of these pheasant farms may, however, be the beginning of the fallout.
Both bills were supported by the large majority of statewide sporting groups. The push for passage did not end with the conclusion of the 2015-16 session, as identical legislation is being drawn up again for consideration in the 2017-18 session. Following closing of the pheasant farms, PGC Executive Director Mathew Hough said that, without legislative support to increase revenues, the commission will have no choice but to continue to curtail programs.
It bears repeating that the PGC and PFBC are basically supported by the cost of the license you and I purchase. Pennsylvania does receive some federal funding (and the PGC realizes revenue from the sale of natural resources like timber, oil and gas on land it owns), but the sport we love is essentially propped up by those who love it.
I voted to support both Senate bills in committee and would do so again. The PGC and PFBC know they will each be walking a tight rope if handed this power. They will be able to essentially set their own funding levels but also know they cannot price licenses to the point that they negatively impact license sales and “cut off the hand that is feeding them.” I trust them to function in a fiscally responsible manner, and hope the bills become law for the good of Pennsylvania’s hunters and anglers.
Representative Keith Gillespie
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Scott Little