I’ve covered a variety of sites across the gorgeous ridge-and-valley region of central PA. Most of the sites I’ve listed are in the PA State Park System managed by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). While some regions of these parks are open to hunting and fishing, these sports are prohibited in most regions of the parks. However, there have been tracts of land set aside in Pennsylvania specifically for sportsmen, known as State Game Lands. These areas are the responsibility of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. On these areas, hunters who legally able to hunt (have a license) can hunt on the entire property, provided they abide by other laws regarding hunting (proximity to roads, tag limit, etc). Historically, the maintenance and management of these properties has been funded by hunters through hunting licenses. Throw in the fact that there are 1.5 million acres of state game lands across Pennsylvania, and one can quickly see how the costs can add up.
However, hunters aren’t the only ones able to use these game lands. Hikers, wildlife photographers, cyclists, and horseback riders are all allowed to recreate on these areas as well. Often times, these non-hunters have not purchased a hunting license, and consequently are not contributing to the financial upkeep of the game lands. Aside from wearing fluorescent orange during hunting seasons (personal safety reasons; who wants to get riddled with bullet holes by someone who’s too trigger happy?), these non-hunters really don’t have to follow any special rules or pay anything. One can clearly see the dilemma this presents: there are two constituents who use the park, but only one pays for upkeep and usage.
With hunter numbers declining over the last decade, hunters are feeling the financial burden more than ever before. This brings up a very valid question: Shouldn’t non-hunters who are going to use the game lands have to pay a usage fee for using the same space the hunters pay for?
On the flip side, hunters who want non-hunters to pay usage fees may also have to deal with them wanting a larger voice in the management of State Game Lands. Currently, most lands are managed primarily for the benefit of sportsmen and wildlife. Horseback riders and cyclists may want more maintained trails to ride on, feeling they have more of an opinion now that they are financially supporting it. Some hunters feel that this increased influence from non-hunters may be counter-productive and negatively impact wildlife.
The question is, how does the Game Commission compromise over this issue. Do you issue usage fees to non-hunters and risk angering them or hunters. You want money from both parties, but who gets a bigger say in the management of these properties. They have a sticky situation ahead of them indeed.