Last updated: June 15. 2014 10:25AM - 994 Views
By - tvenesky@civitasmedia.com

Tom Venesky
Tom Venesky
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It’s an idea that’s bound to stir debate.

During the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s board meeting late Tuesday, commissioner Brian Hoover asked staff to research the possibility of implementing a “user permit” for those who utilize the agency’s 1.4 million acres for activities other than hunting and fishing.

It’s a unique idea, but on a national level it’s nothing new.

Kentucky and Mississippi, for example, require everyone, including hunters, trappers and anglers, to buy a user permit to utilize their Wildlife Management Areas, which are the equivalent of game lands. In Mississippi, the cost of a permit is $17.29, while in Kentucky, the permit is required on some public lands.

In Iowa, hunters and trappers are charged a $13 Wildlife Habitat Fee to hunt and trap anywhere in the state, public or private lands.

In Washington, those who want to drive a vehicle on any state park need a Discover Pass, which costs $30 annually or $10 for a day.

The PGC purchases land through the sale of hunting and trapping licenses, along with, revenue from timbering and energy leases that take place on game lands. The user permit would be similar to the one that the agency requires for their public shooting ranges from those who don’t have a hunting license. And like the range permit, Hoover said, a valid hunting or trapping license would exempt someone from having to purchase a user permit to go on game lands.

And, in a move that makes sense from a financial standpoint, the user permit would cost more than a hunting or trapping license, serving as an incentive to forego the former and buy the latter. The move would save a few dollars for game lands users while giving the PGC more federal reimbursement by selling additional hunting licenses.

The only hitch I see with this idea is in order to buy a hunting or trapping license one has to pass a PGC safety course. I’m not so sure birdwatchers or mountain bikers would be so eager to invest the time to take the course.

As a hunter and trapper whose license money has helped purchase game lands, I really never had a problem with non-hunters utilizing PGC property. There are restrictions in place to avoid conflicts with non-hunters during hunting season and I’ve always thought of keeping the game lands open to everyone as a “good will” gesture by the Game Commission. The agency owns some beautiful natural areas, and allowing everyone to enjoy and appreciate it is a good thing.

But I also see the other side.

Hunters and trappers have paid their share in license fees to use game lands, so why shouldn’t others? Since I have to buy a hunting license to hunt on game lands, shouldn’t the horseback rider have to buy a permit to utilize that same property?

Basically, hunters and trappers are the only ones that have to pay to use game lands for their chosen activities while everyone else can use them for free.


While a game lands user permit seems like a good idea, steps must be taken to make sure it is user-friendly. Options such as a cheaper one-day or three-day permit would be a good idea to accommodate the occasional user.

The biggest concern that would need to addressed is making sure hunters and trappers remain the primary voice at the table when it comes to the Game Commission. By offering a user permit to non-hunting groups, would that open the door for those segments to have representation on the PGC board? Would it make it easier for someone with an anti-hunting agenda to become a decision maker on the PGC board?

It’s likely one of the many topics that will be debated if the game lands user permit idea gets close to becoming a reality.

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