The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) recently approved a 10-year management plan for the state’s largest rodent, the beaver. Though beavers are plentiful now in the state, at one time they were all but extinct.
According to Tom Hardisky, PGC wildlife biologist, the history of the beaver is quite interesting. Beginning in the 1600s, pelts were in high demand for top hats. The waterproof, fashionable, felt hats remained in style for almost 300 years. Many historians credit the demand for beaver pelts as the major contributor for America’s westward expansion.
Around 1850-65, the last wild beaver colony was known to exist in Pennsylvania. By 1915, no beavers were left in the state. So in 1917, the PGC began a reintroduction program, starting with a pair of beavers from Wisconsin. From 1918-25, it released 100 additional beavers into the wild from Ontario and New York. Since then, the population has been increasing.
A trapping season was established in 1934, and 6,500 beavers were taken. Since that time, the harvest has fluctuated up and down, but the trend is moving upwards. At the same time, the price for pelts has been going down. It began to fall sharply after 1980, and today the average price is just $15. The harvest is measured in number taken per 100 square miles, with Wildlife Management Units (WMUs) 1A and 1B in the northwest part of the state having the highest harvests.
We still have a month and a half of winter left, but already some of us are getting cabin fever. Now is the time to break up the season doldrums and visit the fantastic Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show in Harrisburg PA. The 2011 exposition will be held at the Farm Show Complex from February 5 – 13 and is packed with literally something for everyone from three to 93.
There will be over 1,200 exhibitors at the show, including: Mossberg, Savage Arms, Benelli, Innerloc Broadheads, Secret Weapon Lure Company, Campbell Camera’s, Nosler Custom Guns, Lancaster County Marine/Hobie Kayaks, Benchmade Knives, Kodabow, and Grumman Boats.
Some of the favorite companies in the 56-year-old show are: Hoyt USA, Primos, Cabela’s, Chevrolet, Michael Waddell’s Bone Collector, Thompson/Center Arms, Muddy Outdoors, Quaker Boy, Summit Treestands, Horton Crossbows, Excalibur Crossbows, Shu-Fly Fishing, Susquehanna Fishing Tackle, Kinsey’s Outdoors, and many more.
One of the exhibit halls is full of outfitters and charters from around the world who can help you select your dream hunting and fishing trips.
There is a new hall this year called “The Fishing Experience”. It features a Kids Trout Pond and a pond for the Capital City Bass Masters Casting Contest. Visitors will be able to meet Babe Winkelman, Hank Parker and other fishing celebrities.
During both World War I and II, meat was rationed. Hunters harvested extra food for the table so that domestic livestock could be processed for fighting men. In 1917, the US Department of Agriculture did a press release exclaiming “Save the does. During the coming hunting season kill only full grown bucks”. The reasoning behind such a request was that the average doe weighed less than an average buck; the buck yielded more meat.
Hunters were told by the federal government to make every deer count by following these recommendations:
Amid WWII, the Fish and Wildlife Service produced a leaflet called “Save Game Meat-It’s Valuable”. Meat purchased in the store was limited to 2½ pounds per week for anyone over 12 years old. This rationing resulted in soldiers having meat on the frontlines, and in more hunters bringing home wild game for the table. The 135,000,000 pounds of wild game normally used in American homes in hunting seasons could release sufficient beef, mutton, pork, and poultry to feed an army of 5,000,000 men for two months.
Hunters were also encouraged to harvest duck and geese and salvage the feathers. The feathers were used to line aviators’ suits. Harvest figures nationwide for 1943, provided by the Fish and Wildlife Service were:
Killing more deer, especially doe, did not come without its critics. A few sportsmen felt that a powerful movement was underway to slaughter deer and elk herds, spurred on by the “more-meat-at-any-cost crowd” and “big livestock interests”.
Hunters were asked not to waste anything. Soon, recipes for muskrat (marsh rabbit), roast possum, ground hog, and baked raccoon were turning up in Game News and other magazines. Muskrat pie, fried muskrat, broiled muskrat, smothered muskrat, Maryland potted muskrat, pickled muskrat, and stewed muskrat livers were just some of the favorites shared.
Predator and rodent control took on added urgency during the war years. Dr. Ira Gabrielson, Chief of the Fish and Wildlife Service said that “control of harmful and destructive birds and mammals is also essential in the efficient production of supplies for war purposes, and that losses to stored grains, foodstuffs, and cloth fabrics credited to rodents and mice in the United States during World War I amounted to many millions of dollars”. Fox became public enemy number one as the amount of trappers decreased and a shortage of traps dramatically increased. Snares became legal to use during WWII as a result.
The Game News also got into the war effort. Beginning in 1941, it published pictures and brief descriptions of “Those in Service” to honor Commission employees who joined the military. It reported the name, civilian job, and duty station. It initiated a program called “Breaching the Gap”, entreating those who renewed their subscriptions to send along an additional 50 cents (one year subscription rate) so that a soldier in the field would receive Game News. It was a real moral booster, and one soldier wrote that his Game News was “passed around so much that it soon wears out”.
Furs were important to the war effort. Before the war, the US imported furs from China, Russia, and Australia. Due to the war, half of the $250,000,000 fur requirement was cut off. In May 1944, the War Emergency Board announced that through the efforts of 3,000 fur garment collection points, 50,000 fur-lined vests were delivered for the use of the Merchant Seamen. However, the Board was urgently in need of more old fur garments.
Many sportsmen’s clubs had organized drives to collect rubber, tin, lead, iron, steel, and other scrap metal. In order to save metal for the military, the Game Commission stopped producing tin licenses and went with fiber instead. Steel used to make traps was drafted by the government to be made into tanks, ships, and planes. Sportsmen collected used cartridges and shells in order to salvage the brass. Each city had a local Metal Salvage Committee as part of the National Salvage Program to recycle used ammo.
With the rudder shot to pieces, an engine out, and fuel leaking from the starboard tank, the pilot, struggling to keep the Fortress flying, can see the cliffs of Dover ahead. The palms of his hands are sweating with anxiety. He has no fear however, of losing his grip on the B-17’s control wheel. Between the moisture laden skin of his youthful fingers, and the hard surface of the wheel, is one of nature’s most supple fabrics, deerskin.
You may be wondering what a flack-damaged B-17 or B-24 Liberator has to do with hunting. Aviators, from Eddie Rickenbacker flying his Nieuport in WWI, to Pennsylvania’s own Jimmy Stewart, flying heavy bombers from England in WWII, were grateful recipients of garments provided, in part, by harvested whitetails. Some were Game Commission employees, such as Lt. Nicholas Ruha, who wrote that he was flying a lot and dropping bombs with the words “compliments of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Division G” written on them.
Soldiering in WWI and WWII was wrought with misery and deprivation. Food, clothing, and ammunition were always in short supply for some soldiers, airmen and infantry. It took many people behind the scenes on the home front to provide the necessities. Pennsylvania hunters and outdoorsmen made major contributions to the war efforts in both wars.
Beginning in 1943, the US Fish and Wildlife Service began to solicit hunters for deer hides. An all out appeal asked hunters to turn in their hides for the production of military equipment. General Conservation Order M-310 issued in June 1943 by the War Production Board, spelled out who could possess deer hides and in what quantity. Hunters could keep hides for their personal use, but the Army asked them to forego such “personal gratification” and give them up. Four pairs of aviator gloves could be made from each hide.
Deer hides furnished quality leather for pilot’s gloves, headgear, and mukluks (Artic shoes) for cold climate use. Deerskin proved to be the only suitable material for pilot gloves. The War Production Board tried other types of leathers, but they all proved unsatisfactory for these gloves.
The Fish and Wildlife Service published specific directions for skinning and preparing deer hides. States were also encouraged to educate hunters on how to prepare deer hides for the leather market. The hide was rubbed in salt, covered with paper, and then allowed to dry for eight or ten days. Then it was wrapped in a bundle, hair side out, and sent to a dealer or tannery.
When WWII started, some states, including Pennsylvania, prohibited the sale of deer hides, but the US Department of the Interior asked those states to repeal the ban during the war years. During the 1942-43 hunting season, hunters nationwide donated 238,000 elk and deer hides, and during the 1943-44 season, 162,427 hides were turned in. The War Production Board commended both hunters and state game commissions for their cooperation. Hunters’ efforts were cited as an “important contribution to victory”.
The December issue of American Hunter has a great article titled “How Coyote Predation Affects Deer Herds” that highlights studies about coyote predation on fawns.
Coyotes were not indigenous to states east of the Mississippi River. They have been on the rise for decades in Pennsylvania and New York. Now they are beginning to populate the southern states. What studies show is that when coyotes are new to an area, their predation habits are different from those that established themselves long ago.
In South Carolina, where coyote numbers are on the rise, studies show that about half of the fawn predation was caused by coyotes. In Georgia, another area that coyotes are just beginning to populate, predation was studied in two areas. In the first, coyotes and bobcats were trapped aggressively, resulting in two fawns for every three does present. In the other area, no trapping was done, and results found only two fawns for every 28 does present.
Another study that is being conducted by the USDA Forest Service in South Carolina attributes 85 percent of fawn deaths to coyotes.
The Pennsylvania fawn mortality study conducted years ago found that of the fawns killed by predators, about half were killed by coyotes and half by black bears. Since that time, coyotes and bear populations have increased and coyotes have saturated most areas of the state.
These studies are important to wildlife managers in terms of predator-prey ecology. But they can’t draw multi-state, regional conclusions from site-specific studies. These studies were done at a specific point in time relating to trends in coyotes populations. Additional studies will have to be done once the wildlife managers feel the coyote populations within a state have begun to stabilize.
While it’s true that coyotes can have a significant impact on fawns, states like Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi have a long history of coyotes, but still have plenty of deer. This may be the result of the coyotes establishing their niche in the ecosystem and reaching a balance with the available prey.
With the midterm elections coming up tomorrow, we are reminded that Pennsylvania hunters, fishermen, and wildlife really need a champion in the General Assembly. If sportsmen and wildlife conservation are to secure alternative funding and constitutional rights, there is no more opportune time to act than now, beginning at the polling place.
This week in the Tribune-Review, Bob Frye informed his readers that four states – Arizona, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Tennessee –have questions of their ballots asking voters to amend their constitutions to make hunting and fishing rights.
In Pennsylvania, these activities are not rights protected by our system of government, but are considered privileges. It is very difficult to amend the state constitution, which is a good thing, or it would be changed constantly by emotions, reactions, whims, and perceived offenses.
A proposed amendment can originate in either chamber of the Assembly, the House or the Senate. It is introduced as a Joint Resolution and it must be approved by a majority vote of the entire legislature. Approval is required in two successive sessions, i.e. 2011-2012 and 2013-2014. So, any amendment making hunting a right would take more than four years.
The second step involves public notice. Once the proposed amendment is passed in one session of the General Assembly, it must be published in at least two newspapers in each county three months before the next election. This is done to give citizens the opportunity to learn of the proposed amendment and the position taken on the amendment by candidates for election to the General Assembly. As a result, some voters may want to elect new representatives, based on the incumbent’s vote or a candidate’s anticipated vote on the amendment. After the election, the new General Assembly must again pass the amendment by majority vote. If it passes the second time, the proposed amendment will appear again in newspapers.
The third step also directly involves voters. Once the amendment passes, it will appear as a referendum on election ballots statewide. If it is passed by a majority vote of the citizenry, then the constitution will be amended. If the amendment fails to pass, it cannot be submitted again for five years.
So sportsmen will be relying on the good graces of the 90 percent of folks in Pennsylvania who don’t hunt or trap to change the constitution. In other states, ballot referendums have sometimes cost sportsmen their right to trap or to hunt a particular species.
It seems that great minds think alike. The hunting year has gone by as fast as my Z4, and it’s time to buy our hunting licenses for the new year. On July 2, we can begin to buy DMAP permits, and soon after, on July 12, we can send for antlerless licenses. It wasn’t that long ago that antlerless licenses went on sale in mid-August.
Getting back to great minds, Kip Adams, who works for the Quality Deer Management Association, sent along some information about purchasing an archery license. Kip believes, as I do, that the price of a hunting license is a bargain. He compares how much it costs in the different states to purchase an archery license. It turns out that Pennsylvania is $6 below the national average.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission by law cannot set its own prices for hunting licenses. The General Assembly has that authority but has not raised license fees since 1999.
I did some investigating to find out how Pennsylvania is doing price wise compared to the surrounding states for all types of licenses. The chart below compares adult resident prices for general hunting licenses, trapping licenses, and various permits. This chart tries to compare the same services in each state to a hunter buying all the same services in Pennsylvania. In my examples, each hunter can harvest one buck and one doe. There are some instances where comparisons are not equal and those are noted. Some states have a very different type of licensing structure from Pennsylvania.
|TYPE OF LICENSE||STATE|
|Rifle stamp||No charge||10.50|