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Changes to seasons on the table

| Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, 10:59 p.m.
Whether to allow hunters to shoot hen pheasants in wildlife management unit 2A is a question Game Commissioners may have to answer in January. Bob Frye | Tribune-Review

Don't call them proposals just yet. They're still “suggestions.”

But when Pennsylvania Game Commissioners meet in Harrisburg Jan. 27-29 to give preliminary approval to seasons and bag limits for the 2013-14 hunting and trapping seasons, they'll perhaps deal with some suggestions already laid out by agency staff.

One idea that's been floated is opening wildlife management unit 2A in the southwest corner of the state to cock and hen pheasant hunting. It's cocks only now, largely because of an unsuccessful past effort in the Pike Run watershed to restore wild pheasant populations.

“Clearly, they did not come anywhere close to reaching their goals for sustaining wild populations,” executive director Carl Roe said.

As a result, the commission wants to make it possible to stock hens and cock birds in the unit and let hunters chase them next fall.

“We're interested in providing opportunity,” Roe said.

At least a couple of commissioners are split on the idea, though. Commissioner Jay Delaney of Luzerne County said the board rejected the same idea last year, wanting to protect any wild hens in the area. He said he's inclined to do so again.

Commission president Ralph Martone of New Castle is open to letting hunters take hens now that the commission has put an end to the wild pheasant project in Pike Run.

“Either we're protecting something or we're not. How do you weigh the extra recreational opportunity against a handful of hens that might be on the ground?” he said.

The commission, meanwhile, is suggesting taking opposite tracts on two other species, snowshoe hares and porcupines.

Prior to this year, the snowshoe hare season was statewide. This year, it's limited to just a couple of management units.

The change was made to protect hare populations where they are thought to be weakest while still allowing some hunting.

Commission staff want to go back to a statewide hare season next year, though, while also launching a study aimed at determining how many hares there are, where they are located and whether it might be possible to restock hares or create hare habitat.

There's no evidence hunting is a significant factor in hare populations, said commission biologist John Dunn. Hunting is the only way the commission can get much information about the animals, though.

“If we don't have a season, we basically have no indication if there's any contraction or expansion of hares,” he said.

Delaney said he'd be OK with going back to a statewide season, but only if the commission is going to use the data it provides to do something for hare populations.

“This is a species of special concern. We're hunting a species of special concern,” he said.

The commission has a similar lack of information about porcupines, but wildlife staff wants to close the season on them altogether.

Cal DuBrock, director of the commission's bureau of wildlife management, said hunters took about 10,000 porcupines last fall. No one knows how many have been taken this year.

Given that — and that no one can say how widespread or abundant porcupines are — biologists want to shut things down, DuBrock said.

Delaney said the number of roadkills he sees would indicate the state has an “abundance” of porcupines. Commissioner Dave Putnam of Centre County agreed and said he isn't sure hunters are really targeting porcupines or killing any that they wouldn't have taken anyway.

But commissioner Dave Schreffler of Bedford County — who opposed the creation of the season initially — said there's no data either way.

“We really don't have the information about the ecological role they play,” he said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at bfrye@tribweb.com or 724-838-5148.

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