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Start date of squirrel season generates talk

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Unless state lawmakers change things, 2013 will be the last that Pennsylvania has a conservation elk tag.

For the past several years, the Game Commission has awarded the tag to one conservation group, which then raffles it off. The group gets to keep some of the proceeds — tags have sold for upwards of $30,000 — with the rest going to the commission for use to create elk habitat. Legislation that created the tag expires after this winter, though, so unless state lawmakers extend things, it will go away.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, which raffled off the first tag, will raffle off what could be the last this winter.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, 12:26 a.m.
 

Might Game Commissioners move opening day of the state's squirrel season up to early September?

That's not something biologists are recommending yet. But commissioners recently asked for and heard a report on the feasibility of such a move.

Squirrels are almost universally abundant across the state. “If there's one game animal that could use some additional attention in Pennsylvania, it's squirrels,” reads the news release the commission put out prior to the season last fall. The agency — always on the lookout for ways to recruit new hunters into a dwindling license-buying base — also has touted squirrel hunting as a good way to introduce kids to hunting.

Yet the Game Commission traditionally waits until mid-October to open the season on squirrels; it began on Oct. 13 this past fall. By comparison, Indiana opened squirrel season Aug. 15, Kentucky Aug. 18, New York, Maryland, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Ohio and Virginia Sept. 1, West Virginia Sept. 8, Massachusetts Sept. 10, Michigan and Delaware Sept. 15, and New Jersey Sept. 29.

The two reasons given in support of a later opener — the possibility of shooting pregnant squirrels and the presence warbles or bot flies — don't hold a lot of water, it seems.

Commission biologist Matt Lovallo said research done in New York in the 1980s as a result of a legal challenge found that only about 0.5 to 2.8 percent of the squirrels taken by hunters in September were lactating females.

That was not shown to be enough to impact populations, the study found.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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