PA Governor's Conservation Elk Tag: A Brief History

Pennsylvania has one special elk license, which is issued each year in addition to the normal allocation of tags. Some refer to this as a "Governor's Conservation Tag", while others refer to it as a "Special Conservation Tag" or some combination of these phrasings.

Special Conservation Tags Are For Bulls Only
 A brief synopsis of how this special license came to be may be found in Pennsylvania Game Commission News Release #017-09, which states as follows:

"In 2001, a recommendation to provide one special elk license for wildlife conservation organizations to auction was originally included in the Game Commission Elk Hunt Advisory Committee Report as one of the concepts for promoting elk hunting. However, the recommendation was set aside at that time because it was determined that legislative authority was necessary to do so.

Rep. Marc J. Gergely (D-Allegheny) introduced House Bill 747 to grant the Game Commission authority to provide one antlered elk license to a wildlife conservation organization to auction. Of the auction proceeds, up to 20 percent may be retained by the wildlife conservation organization and the rest turned over to the Game Commission for elk management. Signed into law on Oct. 9, Act 101 of 2008 (previously House Bill 747) was unanimously approved by the House and Senate."
(Source PGC News Release #017-09)

Act 101 of 2008 states, "the auction will be open to residents and non-residents of the Commonwealth".

The first conservation tag was awarded to the National Wild Turkey Federation and sold for $28,000 at its' national convention in Nashville, Tennessee, in February of 2009. The successful bidder was Jim Nyce, of Green Lane, Montgomery County, who took a 6x6 bull on Oct. 14, in Benezette Township, Elk County. The decision to award the tag to the NWTF caused a great deal of controversy at the time as many thought that The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation would be a more appropriate organization to auction an elk tag and many were disappointed as they expected the tag to sell for much more.

The tag was awarded to the RMEF in 2010, which auctioned the tag off for $35,000 to another Pennsylvania resident Bob Ehle of Orefield. Ehle harvested a 5x6 on Oct. 7, in Shippen Township, in Cameron County.(source PGC News Release 120-10) This prompted prominent outdoor writer Bob Frye of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review to write an article, "Pennsylvania elk herd among nations finest, but for how long?", which is well worth reading. Mr Frye reports that the Boone and Crockett Club ranked Pennsylvania in the top 10 trophy bull producing states of the decade, but goes on to ask,can it sustain that ” and keep hunters' interest high” when the herd numbers fewer than 700 animals?" This article in turn was featured in an October 05, 2010 post on Field and Stream Blogs, "Pennsylvania Hunters Pay Big Money for Chance at Trophy Elk" By Chad Love, which links to Mr. Frye's article and is followed by reader comments, which encompass a range of reactions, which we will explore in the near future.

In 2011, Michael McGinnis of Lyndhurst, Virginia became the first non-resident to obtain the conservation tag. According to PGC Release #126-11 November 08, 2011, "Roe(PGC Executive Director Carl Roe) also noted that Michael McGinnis, of Lyndhurst, Virginia, who was the successful bidder for the Elk Conservation Tag, harvested an antlered elk. McGinnis harvested a 7x9 on Oct. 19, in Jay Township, in Elk County. McGinnis purchased the Conservation Elk Tag during the Safari Club International’s national conference in early 2011, and was able to hunt from Sept. 1-Nov. 5. Under the state law that created the Elk Conservation Tag, of the $29,000 that McGinnis bid for the tag, $23,200 will go to the Game Commission’s Game Fund and $5,800 will be retained by Safari Club International.

In 2012 the tag will be auctioned by the Wild Sheep Foundation at their upcoming Expo in Hunt Valley, Maryland in February. ACT 2008-101 has a sunset provision and the Governor's Conservation Tag will expire on July 1, 2013 unless renewed. Watch for a future post explaining some of the pros and cons of this concept.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.


Paul Staniszewski Featured Friday On VisitPA Facebook Page

Paul Staniszewski, who is a frequent contributor to this blog e-mailed me to let us know that VisitPA has a facebook presence and that they featured one of his elk photographs on  "Fab Friday Fan Foto"  The photo is also posted below with Paul's permission.

Bull Elk In Winter: Courtesy of Paul Staniszewski-all rights reserved.
Those who have a facebook account are encouraged to see the post on the VisitPA  facebook page.  Be sure to follow the links for information on The Elk Country Visitor Center.

Winter is an excellent time to visit Elk Country, especially when there is snow cover,as it can make for  exciting photo opportunities.  I especially like to film elk in the falling snow as it is easy to capture the falling snow flakes on video, and the snow creates a wild, dramatic backdrop against which to photograph wildlife.
Snow does not show up as well in still as in video in many cases, such as in the photo below of a young bull on the weekend before the 2011 elk season.

Bull Elk During Snowstorm
There was a moderate snow coming down, and while the flakes do show up in the still photograph, they are much more noticeable in video taken at the same time.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill


Looking Back

Note: While the following post deals with the Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer Blog, it is posted here as it is pertinent to the Pennsylvania elk herd.

This blog was originally developed as a venue to present my wildlife photography and videos to the public, with a special emphasis on Pennsylvania's elk herd.  The first post was made on October 1, 2007.  It was titled "The Shedding Of The Velvet" and featured four photos of whitetail bucks.  Since that time, a variety of wildlife species have been covered, but I would assume that elk and deer have been the most discussed species by far.

Elk Have Been A Major Focus Of Blog Since The Beginning

The launching of the blog also coincided with the beginning of serious post-production work on "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd", which was released in September of 2008. "The Truth" is a 2 hour 42 minute film that deals briefly with the overall history of Pennsylvania Elk, goes into an in depth history of the herd from 1995 until 2008, covers the life cycle of the elk with a special emphasis on the rut, and concludes with a look at elk management issues.

The film differs from most mainstream press coverage of Pennsylvania elk and from other films on the subject in that it takes at critical look at Pennsylvania's elk management policy.  The concept for the film actually began years ago when I was an employee of the PGC Food And Cover Corps, and Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer.  At that time Billie Cromwell was a Food And Cover Corps foreman and as such was my supervisor.  On his own time, Billie shot video footage of the elk herd, which he then turned over to PGC videographer, Hal Korber, who incorporated a great deal of it in The Pennsylvania Game Commission video, "Pennsylvania Elk: Reclaiming The Alleghenies".  Billie had been going to elk country since the 1980s and had been around the elk a lot.  He was an avid hunter and shooter, but soon recognized that the elk herd was something special and as such he was the first one who exposed me to the view that the elk were "best utilized as a viewable resource"  I must add that this was and is a commonly held view among many who are part of the "elk culture" on Winslow Hill.   Most of these people are, or were, avid hunters who recognize the need to control the elk population at some point, but based on the PGC's past track record, and some of the statements we were hearing and reading, it was easy to be alarmed at what direction an elk hunt might take.

Billie Cromwell With Canon L2 Filming Near Saddle, Sept. 1998: video still capture  Canon L2 by W.Hill
 Fulton County Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer, Andy Carbaugh was gracious enough to take me to Elk County on President's Day in 1995, and I returned for a day trip that August and then spent 4-5 days during the last week of September that year recording the rut.  This marked the beginning of years of collecting video footage of the elk herd and my experiences with the elk served to convince me that Billie was right in his thoughts about the elk herd. Along with this came the desire to make a film, which would not only enable me to share many of the unique experiences I captured, but to present a different point of view to the public than that which was officially promoted.

This became possible when I retired from the agency in 2007 and was free to express my personal viewpoints in both writing and film.  Billie and well known elk photographer, Ron "Buckwheat" Saffer, both gave me tremendous aid in preparing the script for the film, contributing video footage and still photographs, and providing support and inspiration along the way.

At a meeting shortly before "The Truth About Pennsylvania's Elk Herd" was released, Billie and others were reminiscing about the making of the PGC video and Billie remarked that had he known how that "Reclaiming the Alleghenies" would be used to advance the agenda for an elk hunt, and even tourism to the extent that it was, that he would not have participated in the project.  He was  especially bitter that his name was mentioned only once in the closing credits of the film and he believed that some did not even want it listed there.  It was not listed anywhere on the jacket of the video, although the name of every other person involved to a major extent was listed, along with credit for what they did, and Billie was involved to a major extent as a significant portion of the rut footage was filmed by him.

A major concern that began when talk of a hunt first surfaced and continues to this day is that restraint would go out the window once the hunt started, with larger and larger license allocations and an undue focus on shooting the large acclimated bulls.

The point of all of this is that the blog has always been issue driven to a certain extent. During the past year I have moved it more in that direction and hope to continue to pursue this course.  I do plan to continue writing about  the natural history of wildlife, and photography/video equipment and techniques also.

In addition I wish to thank everyone who purchased the film, or supported the blog.  I have met many of you in elk country as a result and truly appreciate your support.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.