Who Really Pays For Elk Management-Is A Change Needed ?

Bull 36-2005

There is a belief among some that support the Pennsylvania Elk hunt as it is currently implemented, that their opponents are misinformed, uneducated persons, who have little understanding of the situation. If if they could only grasp the "scientific" facts of modern wildlife management they would become enthusiastic supporters of the program instead of shouting "half-truths" from the rooftops.

First, I must confess that I did agree with this point of view to a certain extent in my early years, with the exception that elk did not enter into the equation when I entered the outdoor arena in the mid-1960s as there was only a small remnant of a herd and little or no discussion of Pennsylvania elk in any of the outdoor magazines. How then did one who was educated, enlightened and totally with the program come to develop a diametrically opposite point of view after spending the majority of their life working in the front ranks of land management and law-enforcement with the Pennsylvania Game Commission? It would take an entire book to deal with this issue in a satisfactory manner, but I hope to address it to a certain extent in a series of posts in the near future.

With this thought in mind I wish to toss out a few thoughts on who pays for our wildlife conservation programs and on elk management in particular.

Carol Mulvihill has an interesting article on this very subject in the January 9th, 2010 edition of Endeavor News . Ms. Mulvihill raises several interesting points:

"Elk management in Pennsylvania is the responsibility of the Game Commission and the funds to do it come from hunting license sales, Pittman-Robertson funds (federal excise taxes on firearms and ammunition) and funds from timber and oil/gas resources from state game lands used for hunting."

"The truth is that elk management is subsidized entirely by hunters. Animal rights advocates don’t give a penny toward elk management. Neither do tourists."

"The situation is not fair – and it’s not sustainable. Wildlife management in this state must soon be paid for by all citizens. We have hunters to thank for the subsidy of the Game Commission’s budget to manage an elk herd in Pennsylvania that tourists from far and near come to photograph and enjoy. But they can’t keep paying the entire bill by themselves."

Ms. Mulvihill is accurate in her assessments to a great extent, but there are a few other aspects to the issue.

Perhaps most important is that until the last few years the PGC DID NOT WANT to receive funding from other sources. It was only after the legislature decided to play political hardball with the agency and refused to grant a license increase, that alternative funding received serious attention. The reason was quite simple and went much like this: "If they help pay, then we must give them a seat at the table and a voice in the decision making process," and this the agency DID NOT want to do.

Another aspect to this is that many tourists and photographers do hunt some species, do buy a hunting license each year, and do help foot the bill for the elk management program. Most of the persons I personally know who photograph Pennsylvania elk are licensed hunters so the issue is not as simple as it seems on the surface.

That being said, the situation must change, but to receive public funding there needs be substantial change. First the agency needs to become The Pennsylvania Wildlife Commission, but the change in name must be followed by substantial changes in how the agency operates.

The PGC is responsible for maintaining a written elk management plan, which sets seasons and bag limits , etc., but much of the public land in the elk range is State Forest Land, which was not purchased with, nor is it managed with hunting license dollars, yet most of this land is open to public hunting.

Food Plot On State Forestry Land-Elk County Pennsylvania

This land is managed by DCNR, an agency which does plant food plots, has law-enforcement officers, etc. The PGCs role on State Forest Land is limited to enforcing laws, gathering biological data, and setting seasons and bag limits. They do not do habitat improvement work there-unless it is a co-operative type project. DCNR is a general fund agency, which is largely funded by taxpayer dollars, timber sales, etc. It could well be that the benefit the hunting industry receives from the use of these lands far outweighs what the tourist industry and animal rights advocates receive by using State Game Lands.

A close look at the 2001 elk harvest map reveals quite a bit as to land ownership patterns in the elk range. State Game Lands are shaded in gray, State Forest Lands in light green,State Parks in dark green and private property in white.

2001 Elk Harvest Map:

Courtesy The Pennsylvania Game Commission Media Resource Center

Another aspect of the situation that is often overlooked is that State Game Lands are not always purchased with hunter's license dollars. In 2000, the PGC, DCNR, The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and RMEF partnered to purchase the Gilbert Farm, which is now The Gilbert Viewing Area. The property was then conveyed to the PGC to manage and maintain. This begs the question as to what portion of this acquisition was actually paid for with hunter's license dollars.

The bottom line: While the PGC does pay for "elk management" with hunters license dollars and does own and maintain several important tracts of land, the vast majority of public land in the elk range is State Forest Land, which is paid for and maintained by everyone's dollars!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for substantiating your views with hard evidence as always Willard... unfortunately we do not have a newspaper to publish factual articles such as this in. It's a shame that somebody else's opinion can be printed and distributed in bulk and because people believe what they read they never learn the real truth. I hope this post finds its way to all readers of the Endeavor so they may see another side untainted by personal opinion.