I always find it more difficult to say the things I mean than the things I don't…W. Somerset Maugham

Archive for 'PGC'

On Tuesday of this week, PA State Representative Mike Hanna,  the minority whip who represents Clinton and a northern portion of Centre County, do what many legislators do who have too much time on their hands.  He wrote a ridiculous memo to his fellow representatives asking them to co-sponsor a micro-managing bill that would amend “the duties of the Pennsylvania Game Commission” and provide “for an Antlerless Deer Harvest Committee”.

The line in the memo that is so goofy is this: “Currently, the PGC determines antlerless deer allocations with minimal public  involvement.”  Where has the good representative been for the past decade? Surely, he is just using that line as political rhetoric.  He certainly can’t really believe in such an absurd statement.

Here is just a partial list of the things the Game Commission does to garner public input into deer management, i.e., doe management:

  1.  A new Facebook page, twitter account, and YouTube pages relating to deer management and that accept comments
  2. A human dimensions person who surveys hunters about their satisfaction with deer management
  3. Past Citizens Advisory Committees on deer management
  4. Deer open houses in each region
  5. A revised deer management plan that solicits comments and ideas from the general public
  6. Commissioners who answer emails, letters, and phone calls in their private residences regarding deer management
  7. Public comment period for all who want to speak before each PGC meeting (expressly forbidden in the state legislature)
  8. PGC website pages describing deer biology and management
  9. A set of deer brochures that informs hunters and others on how the deer herd is managed
  10. Articles in the PA Game News relating to deer management that are subject to hunter scrutiny
  11. A press secretary who keeps the public informed and fields questions on the  website

I’d tell Mike Hanna the same thing I told another representative from northern Pennsylvania, “just because the Game Commission doesn’t agree with you on every facet of deer management doesn’t mean it isn’t listening to you and hunters.”

In order to try and get his way on doe allocations, Hanna wants to establish an Antlerless Deer Harvest Committee that would propose allocations and whatever number they decided would be binding on the PGC.  The obvious question would be “then why do we have deer biologists, or even a Game Commission?”  If they are not respected and listened to, the Game Commission just should abolish their deer biologist positions.

Hanna ends his memo by stating “it is imperative that we ensure that the PGC is serving the interests of our sportsmen … “.  But it was Hanna himself who first led the charge to give virtually all of the Spring Creek/Rockview land, not to the Game or Fish Commission, but to Penn State University to build condos. When sportsmen are not looking, it is he who is not their friend.

It’s the same old story in government.  When one doesn’t want to or know how to lead, the answer is always form another committee. If Hanna is incapable of leading, he needs to get out of the way so that the Game Commission and its biologists can continue to take the lead in managing not only deer and its habitat, but all the birds and mammals in Pennsylvania.

Roxane Palone

Anticipation has been building all year.  It’s November and that means the start of firearms buck season.  Buck season?  Yes, for the first time in a decade, Wildlife Management Unit 2A in southwestern Pennsylvania,  will have a 5-day buck season, beginning November 28, followed by a 7-day concurrent buck and doe season.  In sportsmen’s terms, it is known as a split season.

The goal of the game commission’s biologists is to stabilize the herd population in 2A.  But a study done by Dr. Chris Rosenberry, the commission’s chief deer biologist, indicates that WMUs with a split season had a 20 percent reduction in the doe harvest.  In order to compensate for that, the game commission increased the antlerless license allocation in 2A to 65,000, the highest allocation ever in this WMU.

But there is a concern that all the antlerless licenses may not sell out.  In the past decade, WMU 2A has been the last rural WMU to sell-out, indicating that the market is already saturated.  If licenses are not sold and used, and the doe harvest decreases, the result could be an increase in the deer population in 2A.  Overpopulation is always followed by habitat degradation.

Biologists believe it is much easier to grow the deer herd than it is to reduce it.  It generally takes the selling of four antlerless licenses to harvest one doe. In other words, the goal of stabilization may not be met.

In the past, the game commission board stated that a split season would result in hunters seeing more deer.  But Rosenberry’s study concluded that hunters didn’t see more deer and weren’t satisfied with the number of deer they did see.

A bigger concern is hunting opportunity in a split season.  Junior hunters in many schools have the first day of firearms season off, and they take advantage of the concurrent season.  Now, they can only harvest a buck on their day off from school, a restriction they aren’t accustomed to.  By the time the doe season opens on the first Saturday, the pressured deer should be holding tight  and/or completely nocturnal.  So the chances of harvesting a deer are somewhat diminished.  It’s a good thing that luck is also a factor of hunter success.

The concurrent season seems popular with adults too, many of whom have limited days to hunt.  Now, they must remind themselves to not harvest a doe until the first Saturday of the season.  Some non-resident hunters have also expressed disappointment in not being able to harvest a doe on the first day.  Anything that takes away hunter opportunity is not a good regulation.

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PA Special October Youth Hunts

October is the time for the World Series, football, and trick or treat.  October also presents many opportunities to take the kids outdoors and get them involved in special youth hunts.   The youth squirrel hunt is open October 8 – 14 for junior hunters, ages 12 to 16 without or with a license.  They must have completed a hunter-trapper safety course and be accompanied by an adult.  Mentored youth under the age of twelve can participate after securing a permit from the game commission.  They must be accompanied by a licensed adult at least 21 years of age.  Mentored youth are not required to have a hunter-trapper safety course.

The junior pheasant season and junior cottontail season is October 8 – 15 for kids ages 12 to 16, with or without a license, accompanied by a licensed adult, and having successfully completed a hunter-trapper safety course.  Mentored youth cannot participate in this junior hunt.

October 20 – 22 is the statewide junior antlerless deer season.  Junior hunters are required to have the proper licenses to participate.

Though it didn’t pass in time to be in the “Hunting & Trapping Digest”, mentored youth can harvest an antlerless deer for the first time this year, including the October junior season.  When hunting antlerless deer, the adult mentor must be in possession of a valid antlerless deer license that can be transferred to the youth if he/she harvests an antlerless deer. The field harvest tag is to be completed by the youth and attached to the carcass; however, the reporting of the harvest is to be completed by the adult mentor as if they had harvested the deer.

In addition to squirrels and antlerless deer, mentored youth are permitted to hunt groundhogs, coyotes, and antlered deer.  They can participate in the spring gobbler season but not the fall turkey season.  When hunting antlered deer, a mentored youth can follow the same antler restrictions that junior hunters follow.

The mentored youth must tag and report any antlered deer taken. With the new permit required for participants, mentored youth will now have the field harvest tag that must be attached to any antlered deer harvested.  Also, the youth must report his or her harvest, which can be done online, or by mailing a harvest report card, within five days.  Mentored youth can see a sample carcass tag and use the harvest report card available in the “Hunting & Trapping Digest”.  The mentored youth may not use the mentor’s tags or harvest report cards if the youth harvests an antlered deer.

Even if a child is not ready to hunt yet, he or she can accompany an adult licensed hunter or trapper as an observer.  The child can’t participate in the hunt in any way and must wear the required amount of fluorescent orange.

There are more hunting opportunities for youth than ever before.  The days are still long enough for some groundhog hunting after school. Or go for a few hours on a Saturday. Some people have Columbus Day, October 10, off and that may be a good
day to go hunting with a child.

For more information about seasons and bag limits, or the Mentored Youth Hunting Program, visit www.pgc.state.pa.us and click on “Hunt/Trap”.  Have fun, be safe and enjoy the cooler weather. — Roxane Palone

By Don Heckman, PA Chapter NWTF Executive Officer  

The Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) Board of Commissioners adopted Season and Bag Limits regulation changes on April 19, 2011 to go back to traditional opening of the fall turkey hunting season on the last Saturday of October for 2011.  Review your 2011-2012 “PGC Hunting & Trapping Digest” to get the complete list of start and end dates for the Fall 2011 season.

Hen Harvest Rate Study Area 1 and Study Area 2 WMU’s are intact and the study is  currently scheduled to run 3 more years through 2013.  Both short term and long term impacts on the  Hen Harvest Rate Research Study are now back on track for 2011 to be reviewed  yearly so the research study data will not be jeopardized.

With  Fall 2010 turkey hunting season now behind us, the real questions continue to be asked, what fall season framework will be recommended by PGC Bureau of Wildlife Management after the study is completed and research data are fully documented, analyzed, and  reported?  And with or without Thanksgiving Day, Friday, and Saturday  turkey hunting?

That’s one reason PGC is conducting a 4 year hen harvest rate research study. Its research data will provide answers to these questions by acquiring hen harvest rate data under the current fall seasons, then changing fall season lengths during the study to see how harvest rates change in relation to season length.  PGC Commissioners can not be  changing fall turkey hunting season lengths during the course of research  projects.  I believe that reasoning has  now been fully recognized and will continue to be followed throughout the  study.

To  me, that means continuing the traditional 3 weeks, 2 weeks, 1 week, or closed fall turkey seasons according to turkey population trends in each WMU.  With the introduction of turkey management areas (TMAs) in 1981-1983, followed by the new wildlife management unit structure being adopted in 2003, that is 28 years of doing it right by the book, Resource First, wild turkey management.

The 2010 fall turkey hunting seasons were  changed for 2011 reverting back to the traditional structure, except with the  continuation of Thanksgiving Day, Friday, and Saturday.  I believe that  decision to change back to traditional fall seasons was absolutely the correct  decision for Commissioners to get wild turkey management by the book back into the “Management Plan For Wild Turkeys In Pennsylvania”, PAGE ii, EXECUTIVE SUMMARY.

I also firmly believe the larger wild turkey management picture is obtained  through the wild turkey population model by using constant and controlled wildlife management units, actual field data for monitoring population trends, continued updates to current information, charts and graphs, and using all this to document future management planning.

Pennsylvania’s wild turkey management improved immensely from 1958 to present.  I start with 1958 because that is the 50+ years I am familiar with and have been provided invaluable wild turkey management information, articles, and been around long enough to remember my discussions with PGC biologists Roger Latham, Jerry Wunz, Arnie Hayden during the building days, and then Bill Drake, Mary Jo Casalena, and Bob Eriksen up to the completion of the restoration days.

From the mid 1960s to spring 2010 wild turkey state-wide populations, wild turkey management, and turkey hunting opportunities have steadily improved due to PGC professional based management decisions for the wild turkey resource.  Just look at the estimated statewide population density chart from 1960 to 2010 as one of many documented data proofs.  Add in wild turkey harvests, and turkey hunter numbers and you have the basis for the next 40 years of Resource First wild turkey management and not social management.

Wild turkey management decisions and turkey hunting improvements have been well received and well managed in the Commonwealth from spring season 1968 (when spring hunting re-opened) to spring season 2011.  My personal thank you and I would believe a state-wide chorus of thank yous to PGC and its 6 Regions for providing the best wildlife management, wildlife habitat, wildlife protection, information/education, and automated technology services and administrative support they can do.

I personally believe that proof has been well documented and displayed to the public through PGC articles in Game News, “Hunting and Trapping Digest”, News Releases, PGC web site, and many technical presentations.  And I personally have written several articles in “PA Turkey Talk” over the past 10 years detailing the facts that not one PGC state-wide wild turkey management decision can be documented in those 40+ years as providing a negative or disruptive impact on the state-wide wild turkey populations.  NOT ONE!

I tip my camo hat to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, as I have done many times in my 36+ years with the Pennsylvania Chapter National Wild Turkey Federation, for its successful wild turkey management planning and accomplishments.

Now,  just think how much better the future of wild turkey management and turkey  hunting will be in the next 40+ years if the PGC “Management Plan For Wild Turkeys In Pennsylvania” is completely followed and fully funded to provide better and up to date wild turkey management data and information.  This focus is spread across all aspects of wild turkey and wildlife management planning including adequate funding for: improved wildlife habitat management, improving turkey hunting safety education, improving wildlife protection opportunities, and hunter information & education opportunities.

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Commissioner Greg Isabella, the “G Man”

“G Man” is such a character, but during the recent game commission meeting, Commissioner Greg Isabella of Philadelphia showed a more serious side.  The first Philadelphia commissioner in decades, Isabella gave some farewell remarks during what may be his last commission meeting.

Over the years, he has shown remarkable courage in serving the sportsmen and citizens of Pennsylvania. In the face of great controversy and social pressures, he always did what was right for wildlife.  He understood that a commissioner represents all who live in our state, and not just special interest groups.  “The oath I took was to protect the resources of the state for all citizens of the Commonwealth of PA.” He also did an exceptional job of putting his personal preferences aside to do what was best for the whole state, and not just the Philadelphia area.

He is justly proud of the mentored youth hunt that was created during his tenure.  “Now, a dad along with his son or daughter can hunt a special youth mentored hunt for squirrels, rabbits, waterfowl, spring gobbler and deer.”

Isabella went on to lament the fact that the game commission hasn’t had a hunting license increase in years. He understands that it is wildlife that suffers when the game commission is not properly funded.

No commissioner’s remarks would be complete without talking about deer management and the acrimony it caused among some groups.  The deer program debate seemed to bring out the worst in some people.  “We cannot have hunters attacking hunters, personal attacks and disparaging remarks against PGC employees just because they do not agree with your views”, he said.  Isabella made reference to the Unified Sportsmen’s lawsuits against the game commission.  “I do not know where we are going to go in deer management. I hope we do not go backwards.  My votes these past 8 years were never dissuaded by private interest groups, the local gun club or emotion. Rather, based strictly on science.  I am pleased that I performed my duties as a commissioner and fulfilled my oath and obligation I swore to uphold 8 years ago.”

It was never about the “G man” but always about wildlife.  “Being a PA game commissioner was a great privilege and carried an enormous responsibility”, Isabella continued.  “As a commissioner I was entrusted with the responsibility of managing all mammals, wildlife and their habitats for my grandson and his grandsons. IMO I was a good steward of the resources I swore to protect.”

We have to agree that “G man” was a good steward.  He was always able to see the whole picture and take a broad view of wildlife management in Pennsylvania.  Always positive and upbeat, Isabella often brought levity to the commission.  His sense of humor and colorful accent were used as a way to sometimes diffuse a very serious situation or debate.  He always had his eyes, ears and mind to the future.

He wrapped up his remarks by thanking game commission staff and the Executive Director Carl Roe.  Selecting the executive director is perhaps the most important responsibility of the Board of Commissioners.

“As my public service career ends, I do not know if you will see me again at rallies, sportsman meetings or game commission meetings”, Isabella concluded.  “But I can assure you that my time as a member of the BOC with the PGC was the best time I had with the best wildlife agency in the country.  With that said, I stand down.  Thank you all.”

No “G man”, thank you for all your years of service.  We hope we will see you again. Your unique management style will be missed. – Roxane Palone

One of the most successful wildlife stories in Pennsylvania is that of the bald eagle.  According to PA Game Commission biologist Doug Gross, it is time to celebrate that successb in a big way.  Gross recently unveiled the state’s Eagle Management Plan during a public meeting.  Gross received more than 500 public comments relating to the plan.

According to Gross, in the past, there were three main limiting factors that contributed to the demise of the eagle in Pennsylvania – loss of habitat, lack of regulations to protect eagles, and the use of such pesticides as DDT.

For 200 years, eagles were shot freely with no regard for their place in the ecosystem. They were persecuted because they weren’t well understood. Loss of habitat, such as wetlands, caused surviving eagles to have limited nesting sites.  And the use of such pesticides as DDT caused genetic problems with fragile egg shells and eggs that wouldn’t hatch.  By the 1980s, there were only two known pairs left in Pennsylvania.

Beginning in the early 1980s, 80 eaglets were flown from Saskatchewan to the state for restoration of Pennsylvania’s population.  At the same time, DDT was banned from use.  Eagles don’t begin to reproduce until they reach age five, if they are able to survive until then.  That is about the same time they get their distinctive white head feathers.

Since the relocations, their recovery has been nothing short of phenomenal.  Since 1980, 1,800 eaglets have been born.  The state has seen the population increase 15 percent annually.  There are now at least 199 nesting pairs that have produced at least 293 eaglets last year.  By comparison, there were only 48 nests back in 2000. Eagle nests have been located in 49 counties in the state, including the Tinicum Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia.  Eagles generally travel 50 miles from where they were born to start new families.

Gross feels the most important reason for the eagle success has been widespread public support and involvement by several groups.  At the same time, there seems to be an increased tolerance of people by eagles themselves. The PA Game Commission’s Bureau of Information and Education has produced several great publications about eagles, including brochures about bald eagle nest etiquette for people and what happens during the nesting season.

Due to the restoration and education efforts, bald eagles are no longer an endangered or threatened species. They are still protected on the federal level by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act.

Bald eagles serve as a flagship conservation species of the riparian forests and wetlands.  They lay eggs in February through April, from one to three per nest. The same nest is used for decades, the pair adding material to it each year.  One nest in Ohio weighed two tons and was used for 34 years.

If you find a nest, don’t try to go near it. It is best to stay at least 1,000 feet away and use binoculars to view the birds.  It is better to use a vehicle as a blind than to be out in the open when viewing a nest.  Try to stay quiet and don’t do anything to flush the parents from the nest.  If the eagle begins to seem agitated, leave the area at once. At the same time, respect the landowner’s rights.

It shouldn’t be long before nests are found in every county. — Roxane Palone

This just in from the Pennsylvania Game Commission:

In the last year, John Eveland has been offering his views of the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s deer management program.  Unfortunately, there have been many mistakes and errors on the part of Mr. Eveland, as well as completely false allegations. I would like to offer your readers a rebuttal from the Game Commission.

It is important to note that the debate over deer management has existed in this state since the first antlerless deer season was held in 1923.  So, in a larger sense, Mr. Eveland is simply the latest to play the role that many others have over the past nine  decades; that of proclaiming the imminent demise of our deer herd.  It is without doubt, that this debate will last another 90 years.

I do not believe anyone can pretend that a solution could ever be reached that will please all interests, from hunters to landowners, from farmers to those who want to return to the days of seeing hundreds of deer a day while afield.

However, as that debate continues, certain facts regarding wildlife management practices must be reinforced, as these principles hold very specific meaning to those trained in the science of wildlife management. Admittedly, some of these concepts are as foreign to the layman – myself included – as nuclear engineering. Despite the complexities, the procedures and techniques used by wildlife management professionals involved in the present scientific community are irrefutable, no matter how dry, boring or confusing they may be to you or me.

That being said, the premise for most of Mr. Eveland’s allegations is that the Game Commission’s deer management agenda was defined by Audubon, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), and other environmental interests and focused solely on deer herd reduction. On this point alone, Mr. Eveland’s assertion is patently false.

The fact is, in 2000, the Game Commission began an earnest effort to reach deer density objectives that had been put in place in the 1980s.  Unfortunately, during the 1980s and 1990s, deer populations routinely exceeded these objectives. Difficulties in reaching these objectives were documented in two articles published in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, a scientific, peer-reviewed journal, in 1997. The Game Commission’s desire to achieve these objectives led to increased hunting pressure on deer populations, not an alliance with “special interests” as claimed by Mr. Eveland. There was no conspiracy, nor secret meetings. Every step of the agency’s herd reduction plan was discussed and adopted in public meetings. The bottom line is Mr. Eveland’s allegations that the Game Commission’s deer program was designed by some secret cabal are false.

In his most recent series of claims, Mr. Eveland takes on the Game Commission’s deer harvest estimates. Game Commission deer harvest estimates are the most reviewed component of the agency’s deer management program. The Game Commission uses common, time-proven wildlife management methods to estimate the harvest. In fact, Game Commission procedures have been peer reviewed and published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, one of the world’s leading wildlife management journals. Deer harvest estimates receive their principal data from hunter-provided harvest reports; more than 100,000 annually. To corroborate hunter harvest reports, the Game Commission annually surveys hunters and asks them how many deer they harvested. For the past two decades, hunter survey results have consistently matched harvest estimates. The credibility of harvest estimates has been acknowledged by scientific reviews and is confirmed by hunter surveys.

In his analysis, Mr. Eveland calculated the deer population and then concluded the Game Commission’s deer harvest estimates are inaccurate. He further accused the Game Commission of incompetence and deception. However, Mr. Eveland’s recent assessment of deer harvest estimates contained numerous errors.

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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.

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Below is the testimony offered to the PA Game Commission on April 11 by the PA Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs:

Pennsylvania Game Commission Testimony

April 11, 2011

Good morning President Weaner, Commissioners, Executive Director Roe, staff and guests. My name is Chuck Lombaerde and I am 1st Vice President of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs (PFSC).

PFSC recently held our annual spring convention in Union County. We would like to thank Executive Director Roe, Biologist Mark Ternet and Information & Education Bureau Director Joe Neville for taking time out of their busy schedules to attend our function and provide our members with updates and information on the agencies programs and issues.

With attendees from across the state, opinions were as varied as the issues on some topics. However, there was consensus on several issues. PFSC remains in opposition to the proposal to add 3 more WMU’s to the split seasons. We do not feel there is adequate data to support this decision. We believe trying to increase deer herd numbers with split seasons across the state would certainly be too broad a brush, as not all areas can support an increased deer herd yet. Closing the first week to antlerless hunting statewide constitutes a “one size fits all” approach – a concept a few commissioners have been touting as a “fatal flaw” of the current program – so again we ask, why is it suddenly an acceptable philosophy?

The combined season provides more opportunities for our hunters, specifically for our youth hunters who usually have limited opportunities to be afield. So we again ask that you consider allowing our youth hunters to be exempt in all WMU’s. If they hold an antlerless tag, allow them the opportunity to fill their tag anytime during the two week rifle season. Allow the same for mentored hunters when we pass legislation allowing for the transfer of tags.

Many of our youth hunters no longer even get the first day of the season off school. Eliminating antlerless harvests during the first week will eliminate opportunity for many youth and adults who only have that first day of deer rifle season as a vacation day. We believe the antlerless allocations are a much better method of controlling harvest than reducing season lengths, which results in less opportunity for all.  

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The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners (PGC), based on a request from Game Commissioner David Putnam at the Board’s October meeting, and an amendment offered by Game Commissioner David Schreffler, gave final approval to a specific hunting season for porcupines. 

Under the new season, hunters can take porcupines from Sept. 1 through March 31.  The daily limit is six and the field possession limit after the first day is twelve.

Schreffler explained that the season is closed during the time the porcupine is raising her young, which stay with her about 50 days.  In Pennsylvania, it is believed they only have one offspring per year. 

Currently, there is no ongoing research on porcupines in Pennsylvania.  A season will provide some data on them through the PGC’s annual Game Take Survey.  

Hunters pursuing porcupines may use any legal sporting arm, and must wear 250 inches of fluorescent orange material.  Porcupines may be harvested from one-half hour before sunrise until one-half hour after sunset.

The season was passed over protests by the Humane Society of the United States, which called the season “unwarranted and capricious”.

Prior to Schreffler’s amendment, the proposal under “seasons and bag limits” was “no closed season except during the regular firearms deer seasons” and the daily and field possession limit was “unlimited”.  

The Pennsylvania Biological Survey and its Mammal Technical Committee asked the PGC to delay any action on the season until the population could be assessed.  It is believed that the porcupine’s range has been expanding to the southwestern part of Pennsylvania.

Among other states in the Northeast that allow the harvesting of porcupines are Maine, Massachusetts and New York, as well as the Canadian province of Nova Scotia. — Roxane Palone