Do people have the right to act recklessly, or at least with minimum regard, when it comes to their own safety?
Or should the state step in with rules for their own good?
That’s essentially the question that the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commissioners are being asked to debate.
In February, members of the commission’s boating advisory board – which has no authority to make regulations on its own, but does make recommendations to the commission board – suggested that the agency require boaters to wear life jackets when on the water between Nov. 1 and midnight April 30. The regulation would apply to boaters of all ages in motorboats less than 16 feet in length and in all canoes and kayaks, whether they were underway or at anchor.
The intent of the regulation is to save lives during cold weather months, which are statistically the most dangerous time of year, said Laurel Anders, director of the commission’s bureau of boating and access.
There were 1,424 reportable boating accidents in Pennsylvania over the last 15 years, she said, resulting in 187 fatalities. The winter months accounted for 117 of those accidents, or just 8 percent.
But they also accounted for a disproportionate number of fatalities – 45, or 24 percent of the total.
“The springtime is especially deadly,” Anders said. “People look outside and they see all of that sunshine and they think ‘what a great day to go boating.’
“But what’s very deceiving is how cold the water still is from wintertime. Large rivers and large lakes are especially slow to warm up.”
A few random thoughts and observations…
** Wildlife, like politics, apparently makes for strange bedfellows.
When Pennsylvania Game Commissioners gave tentative approval to a proposal lifting the protection on porcupines – essentially making it legal for people to shoot them wherever and whenever they’re causing damage, or for any other reason really – two very disparate groups joined in opposition.
Carolyn Mahan, a professor at Penn State-Altoona and president of the Pennsylvania Biological Survey, a group of scientists who work based on facts, said that a no-closed-season regulation “seems premature” given that the commission has no real data on porcupine abundance or distribution.
Meanwhile, Sarah Speed, Pennsylvania director of the Humane Society of the United States — often called, by hunters anyway, a group that works based on emotion — called the regulation “ecologically ill advised” and “unwarranted and seemingly capricious.”
My guess is those two groups aren’t on the same side of an issue too often.
If you’re like me, it was probably a relative or a close family friend who got you involved in the outdoors.
For me, it was my grandfather. When I was very young, we’d collect worms from the backyard compost pile to go bluegill fishing at a nearby county park. Later he took me squirrel hunting at the neighbor’s farm and deer hunting on the game lands and – even though he couldn’t get around well enough do it himself any more – gave me pointers on how to beat the briars for rabbits.
He did all of those things naturally, as a matter of course, just like plenty of other sportsmen of his generation.
But we’re living in a new age now, and what was once common isn’t always so anymore.
That thought struck me while sitting at the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s meeting in Harrisburg in late January. Commissioners all signed the “Anglers’ Legacy Pledge” , which says they’ll introduce at least one new person to the outdoors each year.
Fortune favors the bold, they say. But the reckless? The overeager? The brash? Maybe not so much.
But how do you tell when you’re being one as opposed to the other?
That’s something those within the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission have been debating, at least to a degree.
Commissioner Bill Sabatose of Elk County has been pushing the commission to ask state lawmakers to create a family fishing license. It would allow one person, say a husband, to buy a license, and get fishing privileges for his wife, too. Total cost would be more than one license, but less than two.
Sabatose believes it might make the commission some additional money.
“How will we know unless we try it?” he asked at the commission’s January meeting.
Others aren’t quite ready to make that leap.
John Arway, the commission’s executive director, said he’d like to get to the point where the commission can actually decrease license fees, via a family license or just cheaper individual ones. But he wants some form of alternative funding in place first.
“I don’t want to enter into a program where we have a risk of losing money before we have alternative funding in place,” Arway said.
That risk is real, it seems.
The idea of offering discounted licenses is a tricky one, said Mark Damian Duda, head of Responsive Management, a Virginia-based human dimensions research firm specializing in the outdoors.
It’s a known fact in Pennsylvania and elsewhere that increasing license fees causes people to quit fishing. Some of them eventually come back, but not all of them do.
Conversely, theory holds that lowering license fees should create more revenue by convincing more people to fish, he said.
“Economic models say that would happen. But we have not found a state willing to do that and see if it would really happen,” Duda said.
If you’ve been reading this blog – and what conservation-minded sportsman isn’t – you know Roxane Palone has written about the Camo Coaltion, PennFuture’s attempt to give sportsmen a voice in the political arena.
I’ve been following the group’s development, too, because I think it reflects a real void in the sporting community.
Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future – PennFuture’s official name – created the coalition in an attempt to join sportsmen and environmentalists into “a unified voice about state government policies that address fishing, hunting, trapping, wildlife, habitat conservation, outdoor recreation and other sportsmen’s concerns.” That unified voice isn’t there – at least not effectively – right now.
Decades ago, the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs was “THE” voice of sportsmen, the largest and, in many ways, only sportsmen’s group out there. Then sportsmen began splintering away. Turkey hunters went off on their own. Then Archers. Waterfowlers. Trout fishermen. Bass anglers. Grouse hunters, pheasant hunters, woodcock hunters. Even flintlock hunters, to an extent.
Granted, some of those groups are Federation members, as a whole. And representatives from all of them have joined forces in the past to jointly support things like hunting and fishing license fee increases.
But I’ve also heard – from numerous state lawmakers – that they don’t believe there’s any sportsmen’s group in the state that represents the majority of rank-and-file hunters and anglers. That’s an excuse for inaction as much as anything sometimes, but it’s their reality.
Melody (Zullinger) Schell, the Federation’s former executive director, was able to blunt some of that reality by being a constant presence at the Capitol. She was there – at Game and Fisheries Committee meetings, hearings, and commission meetings – to remind lawmakers sportsmen were out there and watching.
But she’s gone and the Federation is still seeking a replacement.
That will be tough. Forget for a minute that any director, to be effective, will have to be passionate to the point of working as long as it takes to be a force, without regard to pay, because it’s unlikely the job will ever be a really high-paying one.
But even paying a person at all will always be a challenge.
Just ask the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited. The group’s treasurer, George Kutskel, wrote in a story on the cover of its spring newsletter titled “PATU is at a crossroads” that in completing its strategic plan, the council was told by its members that hiring full-time staff was a priority.
At the same time, though, advertising revenue in the newsletter is down significantly enough that it’s only being offered – unless specifically requested otherwise – electronically rather than on paper to cut costs. Doesn’t sound like there’s much money to hire a director there.
A gas severance tax that includes dedicated funding for wildlife was the main topic at the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs 78th fall convention this weekend near Allentown. At the Saturday Game and Trapping Committee meeting, Tim Schaeffer of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) told participants to contact their elected legislators and demand they pass a severance tax before their October 1st deadline.
The PFBC isn’t just about fish and boats. And it wants to inform anyone who will listen about all the things it does to protect our water resources.
Tim’s presentation focused on the role of the PFBC in the current natural gas boom, the costs to the PFBC associated with new gas development, and the need for a severance tax to protect the environment.
The Marcellus gas development has brought additional work and mandates to the PFBC beyond fishing and boating. PFBC Bureaus of Law Enforcement and Environmental Services are working with the gas industry to ensure the protection of our aquatic resources and reptile/amphibian habitats.
This year, the PFBC reviewed three times more gas permits than last year. Not only are well site procedures inspected, but pipelines must also be approved so as not to adversely affect habitats for such threatened species as rattlesnakes.
PFBC works with the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC), which has no enforcement arm, to review dockets for water draw down to make sure there is always adequate water in the river. Each approved water withdrawal location has a tamper proof meter that records the quantity of water withdrawn. In addition, each tanker truck driver must keep logs in his truck that documents his actions. The PFBC validates this information for the SRBC.
It also helps the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in doing pass by flow reviews.
The DRBC is expected to issue new proposed rules on how Marcellus shale development in its watershed will be implemented next month. It is concerned with water quantity, pollution from gas wells, and treatment and disposal of frac water. Gas companies must get its permission to take even one drop of water from the river.
PFBC works with companies to train them in how to disinfect their equipment so that invasive aquatic species aren’t brought into the state or transferred from one water course to another.
According to Tim, PFBC and DEP have a very good working relationship. DEP shares its weekly data with PFBC, including where new permits are located. For example, Waterways Conservation Officers (WCOs) worked from November through February to inspect 131 well sites, and one third of the sites had water quality issues. Some of these problems were reported to the DEP, but neither agency has enough staff to inspect all active sites.
Tom Kamerzel, Director of Law Enforcement for the PFBC, also addressed the convention participants. He reiterated that the PFBC focuses on the protection of aquatic resources. He stated that some gas transmission lines go under our streams. He has also had two truck accidents that resulted in frac water entering streams that had to be investigated.
Talk about the management of white-tailed deer in Pennsylvania and you’ll rarely find a lot of agreement. Many people have their opinions, and facts too often are powerless to sway them.
There’s not a lot in regards to fishing that engenders that kind of debate – except perhaps the bait versus no bait issue.
We may be seeing that again soon.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) is set to initiate a study with help of the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Penn State University. It will look at whether allowing bait to be used on catch and release waters leads to mortality significant enough to impact the quality of fishing.
The results should be interesting; how they are interpreted might be more so.
There’s little debate that bait fishing kills more fish than does fishing with lures or flies. Plenty of studies have concluded that, including one done by Rudy Lukacovic of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
His study looked at striped bass – Pennsylvania’s will look largely at trout – and determined that while stress factors like water temperature, the size of the fish and time out of the water all impact whether a released fish survives, physical injury and stress are the two most important factors. And bait leads to more problems on both fronts, he wrote in a report of his work.
“Fish can be physically damaged from hook wounds and during handling and release. They can be physiologically stressed by the exertion from the fight,” Lukacovic said.
“Numerous studies have shown that the location of the hook wound (physical injury) is the single most important factor influencing catch-and-release mortality. If the wound site is a vital organ the mortality, as expected, is high. The hook wound site can be influenced by hook size or configuration, the use of natural bait verses artificial lures (natural baits tend to be swallowed more frequently), bait size, angler experience or fish behavior.”
Right now, Pennsylvania has a variety of waters where anglers can fish on a catch and release basis using all kinds of bait, real and artificial. That’s by design, to “allow the broadest array of anglers to use those areas,” said Leroy Young, director of the commission’s bureau of fisheries.
If a boat capsizes (or a tree falls) at the Fish and Boat Commission meeting, will anyone hear it?
Maybe not, but you’ve got to give the guys at the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission credit anyway.
The agency is holding its summer meeting today and tomorrow in Harrisburg. For the first time that I can recall, the meeting will involve an evening session tonight in what is an attempt to get more members of the public – anglers and boaters – to show up.
Good luck, I say.
I don’t mean that to be sarcastic. I truly hope the commission meeting draws some interested sportsmen. Goodness knows it would be a first.
Typically Fish and Boat Commission meetings are “packed” if they’ve got three or four members of the public in attendance. I’m not sure why that is. Probably the fact that trout and bass and walleye seasons don’t change from year to year, and that the total number of trout stocked doesn’t vary widely from season to season, and that streams on the stocking list tend to stay there for years and years are all reasons.
Surely, if the number of trout stamps allocated had the potential to change from one season to the next like doe licenses do, you’d expect an uproar.
But none of those things happen and commission meetings are sparsely attended as a result. Unlike at Game Commission meetings, where most of the state’s big-name sportsmen’s groups are represented, rarely does anyone like Trout Unlimited ever send a representative to testify or even just sit and listen.
It took five and a half long years, but a portion of the Rockview State Prison property located in Centre County, PA will soon be open to the public, including hunters and fishermen. The prison controls about 5,000-acres of land that has been closed to the public since the 1920s.
In early 2005, the PA Department of General Services classified a 1,829-acre Department of Corrections tract as surplus, meaning it could be sold. Several agencies and organizations saw the opportunity for utilization of the vacant land and showed an interest in acquiring it.
But it was Penn State University that emerged in the forefront of possible buyers. It wanted land to expand its College of Agricultural Sciences. At one point, there was talk of building dormitories, public housing, and townhomes on the property. Many people resigned themselves to the fact that what Penn State wanted, Penn State got.
The PA Game Commission offered to buy it for twice as much as Penn State was willing to pay. It was optimistic about the deal, since it had helped Penn State out of a jam by allowing Penn State to acquire game lands on which it had done research with sewage effluent. The PGC was also confident it would gain favor from Benner Township in the deal, because it is required to give the township payments-in-lieu-of taxes, something Penn State is not required to do.
Soon, it became evident that the PGC’s offer was going to be ignored completely in favor of the land grant university. State Rep. Mike Hanna seemed deaf to the pleas of sportsmen who wanted to use the land for recreation.
But the sportsmen did not give up and eventually they prevailed. Rep. Kerry Benninghoff became involved because he was willing to sit down and work out a solution that was agreeable to all parties. The PA Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs played a big role in keeping the issue in front of the legislature. Folks in the game and fish commissions worked behind the scenes to assist where ever they could. Senators Richard Alloway II and Jake Corman represented the issue in the state Senate.
It’s a good thing Vince knew everyone who lived on the street, because I must have looked a little silly excitedly running from door to door, trying to find someone who was home on that beautiful September afternoon. Back in 1985, if you wanted to spread the news, you had to go into a house and use the phone or find a public pay phone. Finally, at the very end of the lane, Gloria Roberts came to the door. I told her I needed to call Vince’s dad Weasel right away.
What was the big news that we wanted to share that day in the small borough of Rices Landing? Vince had caught a muskie in the Monongahela “Mon” River that was just over four feet long and he wanted Weasel to come see it at the boat launch before we released it back into the river. It turned out that everyone wanted to see it. Gloria and her family followed me back to the dock, and along the way, her son Roland picked up Ernie and his family, and Mary and her children, and Jackie’s family and kids from the other streets.
Weasel came too with a few folks from Dry Tavern. By the time everyone was crowded near our small bass boat that was tied to the dock, the dock was sinking, and Weasel who couldn’t swim, was panicky. Though we all got wet and had to scramble to shore, it was a thrilling day, seeing a large muskie that Vince had caught. We all laughed about it afterwards. The muskie never did make it safely back into the river, but ended up in the smokehouse to be served at a cookout.
You see, when we were growing up, there were no fish in the Monongahela River in the Maxwell Pool. It was truly dead and we had little hope that it would one day be fishable at all, let alone a great warmwater fishery. All along the river, large “slate dumps” made up of refuse from coal mines, were polluting the river. At Rices Landing, Crucible mine was a major polluter. And acid mine drainage from several other mines entered the river via its various tributaries. Pollution in the form of raw sewage entered the waters all along its course, from the large town of Fairmont, WV to the borough of Greensboro, PA.