PA Game Commission Delivers Annual Report To Legislature
HARRISBURG Pa – -(AmmoLand.com)- Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe today presented the agency’s annual report to the General Assembly, and delivered testimony before the House Game and Fisheries Committee. To view a copy of the agency’s annual report, please visit the Game Commission’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), click on “Reports/Minutes” in the left-hand column of the homepage, and select “2008” in the “Annual Legislative Reports” box at the bottom of the page.
Following is Roe’s testimony before the House Game and Fisheries Committee:
“It is a great pleasure to appear before the committee to present our annual report. We are proud of our accomplishments over the past fiscal year and we took a very frugal approach to our spending as we strive to fulfill our mission of managing all wild birds and mammals and their habitats for current and future generations.
“We submitted our annual report a few days early in order that you would have it for this hearing. It updates the legislated report requirements of public accountability, program accountability, financial accountability, and law enforcement accountability. Once again, in the program accountability section, we used the strategic plan as the vehicle to organize the information and to display some measurement data. Additionally, we are complying with the reporting requirements of Growing Greener II, as they are also included in the annual report. We continue to conduct many programs, but are restricted by resources available to do what needs to be done.
“There are many requirements to manage the 467 species of birds and mammals with which we are entrusted, including the 22 that are threatened and endangered. An important key to all species conservation is habitat in particular the protection and management of habitat. I reported last year on various efforts such as Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, private lands habitat planning program, and our integrated state game lands planning effort. Although habitat continues to be a primary focus for the Commission, I would like to address several other programs in this year’s report.
“The first program is wind energy. Of the 24 wind energy developers competing in Pennsylvania, 20 of them have signed the PGC Wind Energy Voluntary Cooperative Agreement. The Agreements have greatly improved the Commission’s awareness of project proposals within Pennsylvania, allowing preliminary wildlife resource information to be taken into account before project development. The Agreement between the PGC and cooperators requires a minimum of one year of preconstruction surveys and two years of post-construction monitoring at wind sites. Effort level for surveys is determined by assigned risk levels designated by the PGC using criteria outlined in the Agreement. Pre-construction survey results at proposed wind sites in 2007 – 2008 have provided both cooperators and PGC with valuable information that is being used to help site wind projects throughout Pennsylvania by avoiding and minimizing impacts to local and regional wildlife resources. Highlights of pre-construction monitoring during the past year were the discovery of the second largest Indiana bat maternity colony and the discovery of a female lactating silver-haired bat and maternity colony.
“Post-construction monitoring by the cooperators’ has been recently initiated and monitoring information is limited, thus few discernable trends or analysis can be noted at this time. The Commission’s commitment to safeguard wildlife resources that may be impacted by wind energy development has compelled the Commission to examine post construction monitoring on non-cooperator wind projects sites as well. Future data from post construction surveys will be paramount in assessing potential adverse impacts from wind development projects and guide our future mitigation efforts.
“The main achievements thus far have included the new bat discoveries previously mentioned, the abandonment and avoidance of some high potential risk areas by wind developers, and the fact that wind developers are starting to get the PGC involved early in the planning stages which is helping developers make better decisions in regards to siting wind facilities. The primary challenges that remain include encouraging non-cooperators to sign the Agreement, improving communication between the PGC, developers, and consultants, and making sure survey protocols are being adhered to. The format and apparent success of the PGC Wind Energy Voluntary Cooperative Agreement has been praised as a clear example of the ability of wind energy developers and natural resource agencies to partner both on a national and state level. A copy of the complete report is included in your packet and can be found on our web site.
“Last year, I mentioned a new program that was initiated for wildlife education and that is our Seedling for Schools Program. I am pleased to say it was very successful and recently received the endorsement of the Pocono Record editorial writers. This program provides seedlings from our Howard Nursery to schools for development of habitat on school grounds and at students’ homes. It is integrated into the teachers’ environmental curriculum. Over 55,000 seedlings were given to three hundred schools. This year we anticipate the program to grow considerably. The Seedling in the Schools Program was possible due to a grant from the Wildlife for Everyone Foundation with monies provided by Waste Management.
“After many years of effort and quite a bit of consternation for us, we will have a Point of Sale System in place and it will be fully automated for the new license year on June 15, 2009. A new company Active Network, purchased Automated License Systems and provided additional resources to insure our system was operational. We ran a pilot in September and with some minor glitches that were corrected, we moved forward with final system development. We are currently deploying the rest of our agents and look forward to being fully operational for this license year.
“One area that has really improved is our Turn-In a Poacher program. We automated that program on our website and it allows individuals to provide information on illegal taking of wildlife, both game and non-game. We increased the publicity of this program including cards and flyers on the program. Last year, we had 451 TIPS and over 50% were on the new electronic forum. These tips resulted in several prosecutions including one that was completed in less than 24 hours from the time we received the report as the information was that precise and timely. We believe the electronic means provides more anonymity for the callers and allows us to get information to the regions in a more timely manner.
“A new area of concern is white nosed syndrome in our bat populations. Last year there was considerable bat mortality in New York and other Northeastern States. Mortality estimates from the USFWS are as high as 500,000. We had our first confirmation of white nosed syndrome in Mifflin County and we have two other hibernacula where we suspect white nosed syndrome to be. To date we have not had a large mortality event, but we are monitoring this situation closely.
“We had a pretty good hunting season last year. Our hunters spent many hours afield, and Pennsylvania continues to be a national leader in hunting participation. There were mixed results for species, but overall there was considerable success. Harvests were up for fall turkey, rabbits, pheasants, quail, doves and geese. Harvests were slightly down for squirrel, woodcock, bear and ducks. Spring turkey and ruffed grouse were about the same.
“We continue to emphasize small game hunting in our habitat efforts and programs. Our pheasant reintroduction program is well under way in the Montour County area and initial flushing counts this year are very positive. I am pleased to report that we are initiating our third pheasant reintroduction effort in the Somerset County area. We have an excellent working relationship with Pheasants Forever and local land owners who are really making this program possible. The first transfer pheasants in this area will occur this year.
“Our buck harvest was down in 2007-2008 due primarily to bad weather the first day of the 2007 firearms deer season. The rain and miserable weather across the state resulted in 50 percent lower buck harvest the first day. Although some of that lower harvest was made up during the following two weeks, it did not meet previous harvest levels. For this year’s deer season we had quite a variety of management differences in our Wildlife Management Units. We continue to decrease the herd in three WMUs, we are increasing the herd in three WMUs and are continuing to stabilize the herd in the other 16 WMUs. However, we do have different seasons in those WMUs. There are four WMUs that have a five day buck only season followed by a seven day concurrent season. We are looking forward to seeing the results of those study areas. We are also continuing with antler restrictions that have received many positive comments. The results are evident as we are seeing an older class of bucks in the population. Citizen Advisory Committees continue to play an important role in deer management decision making. We have completed CACs in 10 WMUs with 5 more scheduled for this winter. By March we will have completed CACs for nearly 70 percent of the WMUs. As can plainly be seen, we are not using a one-size fits all approach to managing deer in our WMUs.
To move to our fiscal situation, at the end of June 2008 we had a Game Fund balance of $35,590,000 on a cost accounting basis. This was an increase in the anticipated balance of $32 million. Part of the increase was due to marginal increases in revenue, but the greatest impact was a conservative approach to spending that allowed us to lapse almost $8 million forward into this fiscal year in anticipation of lower revenues this year due to the collapse of the timber industry. If our projected revenues come to fruition, we anticipate this year’s balance to be below $34 million. Although a balance of $34 million sounds like a lot it does not cover anticipated expenses over the next few years. As you well know since we receive no appropriation from the general fund, our revenues as in the private sector are based on earnings. We need approximately $23 million in the game fund to cover expenses for the first three months of the fiscal year. That leaves a difference of $11 million. Our increase in personnel costs for the next two years is almost $6 million. This leaves a minimal balance to cover decreased revenues from the downturn in timber and interest revenues.
“We face many challenges with increased costs and fewer personnel to get the job done. We are not limited by the will to serve our hunters, trappers and other conservationists. We are only limited by resources that we have available. I do not know of any business or any other state agency that is still functional today that is operating on a1999 revenue stream. Presently, 52 percent of our revenues comes from hunting licenses. Over half our revenue has lost more than 30 percent buying power over the last 10 years due to inflationary effect. Revenues this year are even more difficult. Although there is a modest increase in gas revenues, our timber revenue from habitat improvement cuts is down by almost 50 percent. We anticipated almost $12 million in revenue and it looks like we will receive under $6 million. As an example, we had one operator walk away from an approximately $311,000 cut. The rebid came in at $111,000, a loss of 65 percent. We have been working with operators to extend their contracts with no penalty in order to keep them in business, but it does not help our bottom line. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly the failure of operators to cut timber reduces the amount of habitat work we need to get done on game lands particularly in creating early successional forest habitat.
“Another decrease in revenues is the investment account. We generally predict about $2 million in interest on our accounts that are managed by the State Treasury. This year, as of the end of December, that account lost almost $1,021,175. That basically is a $3 million dollar negative swing in the Game Fund.
“For the past three years, we have been experiencing what the rest of the state is currently going through. For example, we have had a hiring freeze for over four years except for critical positions. We already have 81 vacancies. We have reduced spending considerably. Any additional cuts of personnel and spending will severely damage our wildlife efforts.
“There is always the belief that as an independent agency that there is little oversight of our activities. That is hardly the case. I would like to review some of the audits that we had and are facing; an annual audit by the Auditor General on license revenue and sales; a triennial Audit on our Strategic Plan by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee; an audit on our timber and oil, gas minerals program by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee; a Civil Rights audit by the US Fish and Wildlife Agency; and an audit of Pittman Robertson Funds by the US Fish and Wildlife Agency. This will all occur within one year. This does not include the pending deer audit that we are looking forward to. As you can see, we are probably the most audited agency in state government.
“From a legislative perspective we anticipate a busy session for Title 34 issues. Obviously, our number one priority is a license increase. Within that bill we would like to offer an adult combination license that would include hunting, furtaking, archery and muzzleloader. The cost would be $5 less than the total of the individual fees. With the concurrent reduction in vendor fees and point of sale fees, we believe this would be a good bargain for those who purchase all the privileges. Although a license increase is always a point of contention for the Assembly, it is a marginal increase. A recent study by Responsive Management on the Future of Hunting and Shooting Sports stated that “costs and expenses related to hunting are not a major dissatisfaction or constraint on participation.” The modest proposed increase in license fees that support a $3 billion industry and provides $214 million in state and local taxes seems like a simple task to me.
“Another major piece of legislation is the increase penalty bill for multiple big game offenses. We believe that poaching has been increasing due to the scarcity of deer in some places as well as the more mature bucks that are now in the population. We truly believe this will increase the deterrent aspect of the law that at the present time does not serve to dissuade poachers who take multiple animals. Another bill we would like to see go forward is the ability to transfer an antlerless license to a mentored youth. In this situation an adult mentor would be able to transfer their tag to a mentored youth to allow the youth to take an antlerless deer. We have several other issues that need to be addressed and will require legislation. We look forward to working with you on those bills.
“Another important issue we would like to address is the retirement program for the Wildlife Conservation Officers. Currently, they are the only officers with law enforcement authority that do not receive the fifty years of age and twenty years of service retirement option. This was passed by the Assembly previously and we would like to see it go through again.
“One of our favorite programs is the mentored youth. We continuously receive positive letters and pictures from young hunters. It is a most popular program. To help monitor the program we are going to initiate a mentored youth permit available in our POS system. There will be a $1 fee plus vendor fees for the permit that will print out the permit and the big game tags for the mentored youth. This will also provide us a database of future hunters so we can better plan for Hunter Trapper Education classes to meet the needs of a specific area. Thanks to the legislation passed a few years ago, we believe we have one of the best programs in the nation, and we will continue to improve it.
“In closing, the Game Commission’s team of employees is ready and willing to do what is necessary to protect and conserve our wildlife, to improve and enhance wildlife habitat and to strengthen our rich hunting and trapping heritage. Accomplishing these tasks it is not a matter of will; it is not a matter of trying to figure out where best to direct our resources, as the focus is based on our Strategic Plan. The issue boils down to a matter of having the necessary resources to empower our dedicated workforce to put those plans into action. Thanks you for the opportunity to make our presentation and I will be glad to answer any questions.