Wednesday, January 21, 2015

PA Considers Hiking Ban in Hunting Seasons...and Ultrarunning

If you hike or run on State Game Lands in Pennsylvania, this affects you!

The text in blue below comes from an Associated Press article by LYNN OLANOFF, The (Easton) Express-Times.

A rule change is under consideration by the PA Game Commission that would affect hiker use of State Game Lands.  The two items of major concern are:

--Totally banning hiking on State Game Lands during the principal hunting seasons

--Requiring that hikers obtain a permit for State Game Lands hiking during the rest of the year.  Of course, "hiking" would include trail running, so this might affect YOU.

Here is a link to the proposed rule.  You definitely should click over there to actually read the language yourself before reacting.

After the end of the AP article I'll include a copy of my emailed comments back to the PA Game Commission (PGC).  Feel free to borrow or steal any of my words.  You may email comments to the PGC here.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) — Fall foliage season is a popular time for hiking in Pennsylvania.
But fall hiking on state game lands might be prohibited if a new regulation under consideration by the Pennsylvania Game Commission is approved.
The commission is scheduled to consider a new rule Jan. 27 that would forbid hiking and other non-hunting activities on state game lands during fall and spring hunting seasons, which total more than 130 days. Hiking would still be permitted on Sundays, when hunting is disallowed.
The new rule would affect hiking along Blue Mountain in the Lehigh Valley and also nearby popular spots such as Glen Onoko Falls in Jim Thorpe and Top Rock Trail on state game land in Haycock Township, Bucks County, said Mark Zakutansky, Mid-Atlantic policy manager for the Appalachian Mountain Club, based in Bethlehem.
"Fall foliage is such a draw," Zakutansky said. "Hikers have always been respectful in wearing orange and staying on trails — it seems a little knee-jerk."
The Appalachian Trail and other long-distance trails that go through state game lands would be exempt, but Zakutansky said hiking advocates worry access paths to those trails through state game lands would be restricted.
"That's a concern that people will be limited in their access to the Appalachian Trail because a lot of the access trails will be off-limits," he said.
Bethlehem resident Marty Desilets likes to hike — but even more so, he likes to take photographs.
"There's definitely a huge interest in Glen Onoko, as well as a lot of area up by Ricketts Glen that would be effectively shut down by this," Desilets said. "It seems a little heavy handed to me that they would go to the length that they're going."
The Pennsylvania Game Commission has previously proposed other restrictions on hikers, such as requiring a permit, which also is again up for consideration Jan. 27, Zakutansky said. But the total ban during the spring and fall hunting seasons is a new idea that was only made public Jan. 12, he said.
"What is being proposed is dramatically different than what has been proposed in the past," he said.
The spring hunting season goes from the second Saturday in April through Memorial Day, while the fall season goes from the last Saturday in September until the third Saturday in January.
Biking, horseback riding and snowmobiling is already prohibited on state game land during those two seasons, and hiking also is considered a secondary use on the property, said Travis Lau, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
Much of the land was purchased through hunting permit sales and taxes on hunting equipment especially for hunting, Lau said.
"You're not talking about tracts of land purchased with public money," he said.
Lau said he's inquired if Glen Onoko Falls would be covered by the proposed restriction but hasn't heard back. He said he believes access trails through state game land to the Appalachian Trail would be restricted.
The permit rule also being considered Jan. 27 would require hikers to get a free permit from Harrisburg or a regional game commission office to hike on state game land at any time. A permit issued in 2015 would be good through 2018, Lau said.

My comments to the Game Commission (email link here):
I’m a long-time hiker, and volunteer trail maintainer with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC).   I am the overseer of the Reese Hollow Shelter and Trail—open to the hiking public--which are part of PATC’s  Little Cove Cabin tract west of Mercersburg, PA.

I’m really concerned about this proposal for permits being required, because at Little Cove, the PATC property is literally surrounded by State Games Lands # 124.  We maintain multiple trails cross our property, and by agreement with PGC even maintain an adjacent Hunter Access Trail totally on State Game Lands.  But half a mile in any direction will take you from PATC property to SGL property.  This would be a major issue for our cabin users, who go there to hike and to experience Penn’s Woods.  

I focus on this property because it’s where I volunteer, but my concerns are valid throughout the entire state.  Here are my principal concerns:

1.  What exactly is the problem that PGC is trying to solve?  In other words, what specifically is wrong with the status quo that necessitates PGC considering this action?  I don’t see that articulated in the PGC proposal.  If, for example, PGC perceives a safety concern with non-hunters being in the woods during hunting season without wearing orange blazing, that solution would seem to be a totally different issue than requiring permits.

2.  The Tuscarora Trail should be added to the list of major through hiking trails.

3.  If this permitting comes to pass, how will the target population of non-hunters become aware of these rules?  There is no mention of penalties if a hiker fails to have the proper permit.  What about enforcement—does PGC have a handle on how much workload this might add to its conservation officers?  For example, I recently called the PGC about a dead hawk I found in a cardboard box beside the road.  It took a week for an officer to even make telephone contact with me.  I think they already have plenty of duties.

4.  And here’s another possible unintended consequence: it seems that PGC would have to invest a ton of money in signage and boundary notifications to ensure that people would know that they are entering State Game Lands where hiking permits are required.  Also the costs of the permitting process itself would seem to be non-trivial.

Gary ______

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