Habitat Work Underway On Pennsylvania State Game Lands
Game Commission food and cover crews begin season of wildlife habitat improvements; Illegal dumping and ATV use remain problems.
Pennsylvania –-(Ammoland.com)- The Pennsylvania Game Commission’s teams of land managers, foresters and Food and Cover Corps crews are focusing their efforts – and the agency’s resources – on a massive amount of habitat improvement projects on the more than 1.4 million acres of State Game Lands this spring.
“Wildlife habitats are changing across the landscape as farming practices evolve and urban/suburban expansion convert former wildlife habitats into various types of developments, from homes to shopping malls,” said Carl G. Roe, Game Commission executive director. “According to Pennsylvania’s Wildlife Action Plan, 300 acres of wildlife habitat are being lost every day, primarily to sprawl.
“For this reason, the Game Commission’s network of State Game Lands is critical to ensuring that wildlife will always have access to the three habitat components it needs to survive: food, shelter and water. And, through our habitat improvement efforts, we strive to ensure habitat diversity for all wildlife.”
As an example, Chester/Lancaster/York Counties Land Management Group Supervisor (LMGS) Linda Swank said that her Food and Cover Corps crews are working to re-establish several non-productive hedgerows that were removed this winter on State Game Land (SGL) 43 in Chester County.
“More wildlife-friendly trees and shrubs will be planted in those areas over the next few years,” LMGS Swank said. “The crew also is working to establish a few more warm-season grass fields at Muddy Run in southern Lancaster County, and putting in some hedgerows there as well. Mowing is starting already and lime and fertilizer are being spread to begin the preparation for planting. The next few weeks will be non-stop for both crews.”
Bradford/Susquehanna Counties LMGS Richard J. Lupinsky Sr. said a four-acre border cut around food plots is planned on SGL 12 in Bradford County.
“This will create brush piles, which serve as escape cover for wildlife, and will release apple trees, shrubs and vines,” he said. “We have cut about four acres in the past, which resulted in grouse and rabbit populations increasing. We will be planting six acres in this same general area in fields that have not been planted in years.”
Carbon/Luzerne/Lackawanna/Monroe Counties LMGS Michael Beahm said an area of SGL 119 in Luzerne County will undergo major habitat changes.
“Currently, there is a 30-acre area of fescue grasses and scattered food plots close to Francis E. Walter Dam,” LMGS Beahm said. “Each fall, the area is utilized as a youth pheasant hunt site with marginal habitat. This spring, a prescribed burn is planned for the area to remove the heavy thatch created from the fescue cover. The prescribed burn will be the start of its transformation, followed by an herbicide application and replanting the area with native warm-season grasses. These changes will take a couple years to mature, but wildlife value will improve greatly along with the hunting.”
Lawrence/Butler Counties LMGS Jeffery T. Kendall and his Food and Cover Corps crews have been working hard to prepare for the upcoming planting season.
“The crews plant many food plots with various grains and grasses to benefit many different species of wildlife,” LMGS Kendall said. “The plots are planted for food and cover for different times of the year to help wildlife.”
Sometimes, the drive to implement habitat improvements can be made difficult by weather, especially in remote parts of Pennsylvania. For example, Potter/Tioga Counties LMGS Denise H. Mitcheltree said winter conditions persisted through March and made travel within the remote State Game Lands quite difficult.
“Food and Cover Corps crews in Potter and Tioga counties used a variety of means, including snowmobile and snowshoes, to access locations with bluebird boxes,” LMGS Mitchelltree said. “The crews were able to finish cleaning out 156 bluebird boxes in preparation for the spring nesting season. They also cleaned out and repaired 20 duck boxes that could not be access earlier. When not working on nesting structures and general infrastructure maintenance, the crews were able to prune 286 fruit trees and release 124 apple trees throughout the seven State Game Lands. Six brush piles also were built to provide escape cover for birds and small mammals.”
Adams/Cumberland/Franklin Counties LMGS Barry Leonard said his Food and Cover Corps crews were busy repairing damage caused by recent heavy rains to roads and parking lots.
“Culverts that get clogged with leaves and debris result in water running across roadways thus degrading the road surface,” LMGS Leonard said.
Roe noted that the Game Commission is mandated, by state law, to spend a specific amount of money on habitat improvement each year. That minimum is based on an established rate of $4.25 for each resident and nonresident adult general hunting license and $2 for each antlerless deer license. During the 2009-10 license year, the Game Commission sold 846,293 resident and nonresident adult general hunting licenses and 867,697 antlerless deer licenses, for a total minimum of $5,332,139.
“In reality, we spent $5,902,523 on habitat improvement projects, which was $570,384 more that the legislatively-mandated minimum,” Roe said. “This was not a one-time aberration, however, as we have routinely exceed the minimum threshold set by the Legislature because we recognize how important habitat improvement is for all wildlife.
“However, when you combine our stable license sales with the increasing costs of conducting habitat work – from gas prices to repairs of heavy equipment – we are seeing the amount of work we are able to accomplish stagnate or decline. Fortunately, with organizations such as the National Wild Turkey Federation and Pheasants Forever, we are able to do more than what our license dollars allow.”
Clarion/Jefferson Counties LMGS George J. Miller said the NWTF Millcreek Chapter recently completed a habitat project to plant beneficial trees and shrubs on SGL 74 in his two counties.
“About 40 volunteers from the NWTF Chapter and Wal-Mart planted more than 200 trees and shrubs, including serviceberry, high-bush cranberry, arrowwood, crabapple, nannyberry, and Washington hawthorne, in the interior of three fences established last year as part of this same type of project,” LMGS Miller said. “The dry weather last April and early May, along with girdling of the bark by rodents over the winter months, caused mortality in most of the trees and shrubs previously planted. In addition to the plantings, the group added tree tubes for additional protection against girdling by mice and added fertilizer to promote growth and vigor. The Chapter will come back this summer to remove woody, invasive species that are crowding out the desired plantings. After the trees and shrubs become well established, the fencing and tree tubes will be removed.”
Perhaps one of the most important wildlife habitat partnerships for the future is the Game Commission’s cooperative effort between the agency’s Howard Nursery and local land managers and the American Chestnut Foundation. This partnership has been working to raise more than 700 blight resistant American chestnut hybrid seedlings, which represent the most nearly pure American strain yet produced.
Armstrong/Indiana/Westmoreland Counties LMGS Art Hamley said his Food and Cover Corps crews are assisting with the establishment of an American chestnut orchard.
“We are very optimistic that this generation will play an extremely important role in the restoration of blight resistant American Chestnuts to Penn’s Woods,” LMGS Hamley said. “Returning this native food source to the wilds of Pennsylvania will be a welcome addition for a wide variety of wildlife.”
Bedford/Fulton Counties LMGS Jonathan S. Zuck said, on March 5, the Thunderbird Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society (RGS) assisted the agency in conducting a “Habitat Day” on SGL 73 in Bedford County.
“About 50 volunteers improved habitat for ruffed grouse and other wildlife by clear-cutting about five acres of pole stage timber and constructing six brush piles,” LMGS Zuck said. “It was truly a team effort with members of the RGS, local sportsmen’s clubs, Fort Bedford Boy Scouts, and concerned individuals working with the Game Commission to improve wildlife habitat. A special ‘thank you’ goes out to the Thunderbird Chapter for providing lunch.”
Howard Nursery Superintendent Cliff Guindon said the Game Commission’s “Seedlings for Schools” program, in its fourth year, shipped roughly 110,000 seedlings to 850 school buildings in Pennsylvania.
“Seedlings were shipped the weeks of April 18 and 25 to coincide with Earth Day and Arbor Day activities at schools,” Guindon said. “All seedlings are donated by the Game Commission’s Howard Nursery and shipping costs are covered by the Wildlife for Everyone Foundation with funding from Waste Management, Mealy’s Furniture, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Wildlife program. Elementary school grade levels have choice of white pine or silky dogwood seedlings. Other species from the nursery public sales list are made available for ‘Seedlings for Habitat’ projects for middle and high school programs.”
Juniata/Mifflin/Perry/Snyder Counties LMGS Steve Bernardi said 15 young men and their instructors from the Carson Long Military Academy in New Bloomfield, Perry County, recently assisted with a habitat project on SGL 171 in Juniata County. They erected several bluebird nest boxes, replanted fruit producing seedling to replace some that had died and made improvements to a five-acre herbaceous opening.
Bernardi added that the same group assisted the Perry County Conservation District in cleaning up a large illegal dumping area on SGL 281.
“They picked up more than five tons of trash and debris and around 300 tires – about 4.6 tons – that had been dumped over a bank along a remote roadway,” Bernardi said. “Many thanks to this group for doing this work that may other wise would not have gotten done anytime soon.”
Dauphin/Lebanon Counties LMGS Scott Bills said, on April 14, a group of Cub Scouts from Pack 77 helped plant winterberry, alder, viburnum, mountain ash and crabapples on SGL 211, in an area that usually attracts migrant woodcock.
“Invasive alien species, such as honeysuckle and multiflora rose, were cut and removed from the area by members of the 28th Class of Wildlife Conservation Officers (WCOs) prior to their graduation,” LMGS Bills said. “The Upper Dauphin Area High School’s conservation club also will be planting many of the same species in recovered fencerows on SGL 211 soon. Some 600 seedlings will be put in the ground by this hardworking group.”
Berks/Schuylkill Counties LMGS Matthew D. Belding said the Ruffed Grouse Society, Charles Bechtel Chapter, had a working field day on SGL 110 on April 9.
“For many years, the Ruffed Grouse Society has contributed many hours of labor and thousands of dollars to assist with our habitat management of SGL 110 in Berks and Schuylkill counties,” he said. “This year, we had more than 25 people attending to plant 1,000, three-year old white spruce. The evergreens will provide winter and escape cover not only for the grouse, but for many other species of wildlife.”
Despite all of this work to improve wildlife habitats, Game Commission officers continue to see disregard for State Game Lands by individuals who view them as nothing more than rural dumps and courses for motorized vehicles that are illegal to use on State Game Lands.
For example, Mercer County WCO Lawrence R. Hergenroeder is investigating the recent dumping of a large projection screen television in SGL 284 parking lot.
“If you witness this type of illegal activity, please pass on any vehicle and subject information you can to the appropriate Region Office,” WCO Hergenroeder said. “State Game Lands are open for public use, but those responsible for this type of illegal activity will be subject to stiff penalties when they are caught.”
In another case, WCO Hergenroeder cited a New Castle man for dumping household trash on SGL 178 in Neshannock Township.
“When confronted with the evidence, the man admitted that the dumpster he usually uses was full, so he drove to the SGL and threw it over the embankment instead,” WCO Hergenroeder said.
Allegheny County WCO Dan Puhala reports that a dump truck load of yard debris was intentionally dumped in the parking area for the shotgun range at SGL 203.
“The large pile of brush was found dumped in the middle of the parking area causing obvious access issues,” he said. “Inconsiderate acts such as this have a negative impact on all of those who use the State Game Lands. The tire tracks on scene indicate that a dual wheel dump truck was used in this incident. Anyone having information regarding this careless act should call the Southwest Region office at 724-238-9523.”
Fayette County WCO Brandon Bonin, while patrolling SGL 138, discovered a large dump site containing; tires, shingles, and assorted household products.
In another recent case, WCO Bonin issued a citation to an individual for operating an ATV on SGL 238.
“I have received information that ATVs are on this State Game Land frequently, and I will be increasing law enforcement patrols in this area, especially targeting the unlawful operations of these machines,” WCO Bonin said.
Westmoreland County WCO Brian Singer and his Deputy WCOs investigated several illegal dumping cases in his district.
“We have been able to track down the violators and charges have been filed for trash illegally dumped on lands open to public hunting,” WCO Singer said. “We remind individuals that penalties for this kind of activity can cost hundreds and even thousands of dollars, much more than the trash companies charge to pick up the trash at your doorstep.”
Roe said that the Game Commission’s land management teams have accomplished much so far this year, and that they have plans to do even more.
“I’ve long said that it is not our employee’s enthusiasm and ingenuity that limits our abilities to accomplish habitat projects to benefit wildlife; it is our limited financial resources that inhibits our capability to do more for wildlife,” Roe said. “There is no doubt that we can do more for wildlife if only provided the means to do so.”
Following is a summary of other habitat projects underway in each of the Game Commission’s six regions.
Forest/Warren Counties LMGS Richard T. Cramer reported that his Food and Cover Corps crews have been busy maintaining SGL boundary lines, maintaining and replacing bluebird nest boxes, preparing equipment for spring planting, readying equipment for prescribed fires and many other duties.
Crawford/Erie Counties LMGS Shayne A. Hoachlander and all of the Northwest Region Food and Cover Corps crews, foresters, biologists, and LMGSs recently met for a two-day conference that provided or covered: mandatory pesticide license credits, habitat management techniques, commercial drivers license training, Marcellus gas operations on SGLs and other information pertinent to habitat management duties. Crawford County LMGS Jerry A. Bish noted that this training is only done once a year in this format. “In addition, it gives us time to compare strategies and techniques with our colleagues, and we had a little bit of fun,” he said.
Butler/Lawrence Counties LMGS Jeffery T. Kendall said the constant rainfall this spring has delayed the Food and Cover Corps crews from getting State Game Land fields planted. “Many of the food plots are setting idle because they are too wet to get equipment into to get them planted,” he said. “This could affect what ends up getting planted and what will be available for wildlife next winter.”
Clarion/Jefferson Counties LMGS George J. Miller reported the Jefferson County Food and Cover Corps crew will be planting about 1,600 native trees and shrubs in the riparian buffer of the remnants of the old Punxsutawney Reservoir on SGL 195. “They also will be reseeding a vegetated interior roadway on SGL 244 by applying herbicide to kill undesirable grasses, applying lime and fertilizer, and then no-till plant with legumes,” he said. “These projects were made possible by PR funding, which is revenue from an excise tax placed on firearms and ammunition that is then made available to state wildlife agencies for such projects.”
Mercer County WCO Donald G. Chaybin reported seedlings recently were distributed to private landowners enrolled in the Game Commission public access programs. “There also were surplus seedlings made available to sportsmen’s clubs, schools and youth groups,” he said. “All of these seedlings will provide valuable food and cover for wildlife in the future. In northern Mercer County, there were nearly 10,000 seedlings provided without charge to safety zone cooperators and others interested in improving wildlife habitat. Our seedlings are produced at the Game Commission Howard Nursery in Howard, Centre County.
Armstrong/Indiana/Westmoreland Counties LMGS Art Hamley, this spring, said his Food and Cover Corps crews have been rehabbing and maintaining the many leguminous State Game Land food plots and establishing new ones. He also said various SGL nesting boxes have been cleaned and repaired and await new residents.
Hamley said, over the winter months, the Food and Cover Corps crews did numerous border cuts on public and private lands, including the cutting of aspen stands to increase stem density and browse. “Apple trees have been day-lighted and some stands of larger evergreens have been topped, which helps to maintain vigorous growth at or near ground level,” he said. “Many of these efforts would have been impossible to attain without the use of the new Cat habitat machines.”
Hamley also said a prescribed burn on warm-season grass fields is planned this spring and foresters, land managers and Food and Cover Corps crew personnel have received many hours of training to assure compliance with laws surrounding that activity.
Cambria/Indiana Counties LMGS Dan Yahner said the Food and Cover crews in northern Cambria County recently spent a considerable amount of time operating a hydro-axe machine on SGLs 108 and 184 this month. “This 16-ton machine has a type of ‘brush hog’ mower attachment on the front that is capable of cutting down brush and small trees up to seven inches in diameter,” he said. “The cutting was done to remove the invasive locust trees from a mountain-top grassland bird nesting area on SGL 108. The Game Commission is conducting a cooperative study with Penn State University to record the nesting activity of threatened and endangered birds in these reclaimed strip mined areas. Among others, Henslow sparrows, short-eared owls and Northern harriers have been observed using the area. The hydro axe also was employed to cut maturing scrub oak areas on the mountaintops along the Allegheny front. This unique habitat matures over time and becomes overgrown and choked out by larger trees such as birch and sassafras. By clear-cutting these areas completely every 10 to 15 years, the scrub oak quickly reproduces new sprouts and provides untold amounts of browse and acorns for the wildlife. In days gone by, the scrub oak areas were maintained by wildfires that were started regularly by sparks from the steam engine railroads. The fires would burn out and kill the shallow rooted invasive type tree species, allowing for the deep-rooted scrub oak to re-sprout and sustain itself. Modern methods of fire suppression have caused these scrub oak areas to slowly disappear.”
Yahner also said the new Food and Cover Corps crew in northern Indiana County has been hard at work cutting down a stand of mature aspen trees on SGL 262. “By cutting down the old and dying trees, the sunlight reaches the ground and a proliferation of new aspen spring up from root sucker sprouts,” he said. “Many species of wildlife benefit greatly from this new and thicker aspen regeneration.”
Southwest Region Field Forester Roger Brown said a 189-acre timber harvest habitat project on SGL 82 in Somerset County is going to be a Woodcock Demonstration Area. “To date, 48 acres of the 59 acres planned to be cut along Wills Creek have been cut in the Goudy Memorial Habitat Project,” he said. “This project will improve habitat for woodcock by removing the mature trees in the stream corridor. Removing these mature trees will stimulate sprouting, creating a long swath of dense young forest growing on the moist bottomland soil. The timber harvest also will reach into the nearby forest stands, where 49 acres of an additional planned 130 acres have been cut. These cut areas will provide feeding habitat for breeding and migrating woodcocks.”
Brown also said a 14-acre timber sale on SGL 93 in Somerset County was completed in March. “This timber sale was set up to improve habitat conditions near a reclaimed strip mine on this new SGL,” he said. “A long, thin area was cut in the forest stand along the edge of the reclaimed strip mine. This will create a border edge of dense young growth between the open field area of the strip mine and the forest stand. Border edges are an important source of food and cover for wildlife. Apple trees, crabapples and hawthorn were reserved in this area, which will provide a valuable food source. A small patch of Japanese knot weed that was found on the strip mine was treated with an herbicide to prevent the spread of this invasive species.”
Brown said a 75-acre timber sale on SGL 111 in Somerset County will reduce the number of large trees that have begun “shading out” the food plots with their large branches. “Cutting the timber around the fields allows more sunlight into the fields,” he said. “This also creates border edges around the fields, allowing a transition from the open areas of the fields to the new dense young growth in the cut areas, to the forest stands. Border edges provide food and cover and are valuable wildlife habitat. Part of this timber sale also will cut some of the timber that is shading the grass game land road that provides access to the food plots, in effect, creating a long border edge. Valuable wildlife trees such as oaks and hickories will be reserved in these areas. This timber sale will be shown to interested timber buyers in May. The winning bidder will have until 2013 to complete the sale.”
Brown said a 30-acre timber sale on SGL 297 in Washington County will improve wildlife habitat by cutting large mature poplar timber along some small wet drainages in the sale area. “This will provide areas of dense young growth that is preferred by species such as woodcock,” he said. “A small stand of aspen also will be cut, again providing valuable wildlife habitat as the aspen re-sprouts. A wetland is planned for development near this timber sale. With the wetlands, and nearby fields, this timber sale will create valuable wildlife habitat. This timber sale will be shown to interested timber buyers in April. The winning bidder will have until 2013 to complete the sale.”
Southwest Region Field Forester Brandon Karlheim said a 45-acre aspen timber harvest on SGL 184 in Cambria County involves a reverted 30-plus year old strip mine that has regenerated to larch, pine, aspen, locust and red maple, mostly a pole timber size stand (six to 16 inches in diameter). “The objective of this cut is to remove the species listed to create early successional habitat that is being managed for grouse and to improve the current habitat that is already present,” he said. “This harvest will improve habitat for other mammals and bird species which thrive in early successional aspen cuts for both food and cover as well. Timber species that will be reserved within the sale will consist of white pine and small islands of red pine for roosting structure and thermal cover. Future management of these aspen stands proposed for regeneration may include cutting smaller portions of these areas every five to 10 years, maintaining aspen stands in various stages of maturity. The creation of small patches of conifer cover within these aspen stands will be reserved and will enhance ruffed grouse survival in the winter.”
Karlheim also said a 75-acre prescribed fire is planned for SGL 174 in Indiana County. “The prescribed burn will be completed with the 75 acres split up into seven smaller blocks that will allow for greater control of the fire,” he said. “The purpose of the prescribed forest burn is to eliminate the striped maple that makes up much of the understory and to promote the present oak seedlings that are unable to proceed past the overtopping striped maple. With using a prescribed fire as a management tool it allows us to eliminate competing undesirable species, promote desired species, enhance wildlife habitat and meet training standards. Such preventative measures have been taken to promote desired outcomes. The prescribed burn also will remove debris – such as leaves, dead tops and logs – from around the bases of high-valued mast producing trees, such as oaks.”
Karlheim reported a 65-acre hawthorn timber promotion project is planned for SGL 279 in Cambria County. “Of these 65 acres, 23 acres have been preferred to have the established hawthorn within the site promoted,” he said. “The hawthorn will be promoted by having the overtopping trees removed from the site. Also a spray contractor will be selectively hand spraying invading hardwood species and patches of multiflora rose that are competing with the present hawthorn. Hawthorn plays a significant role in wildlife habitat such as providing great cover for woodcocks and nesting structures for songbirds. Hawthorn also provides an excellent feed source for other wildlife.”
Lycoming/Union Counties LMGS Thomas M. Smith said his Food and Cover Corps crews recent accomplishments include: pruning 10 fruit trees; border cutting 10 acres; thinning of two acres of invasive species; releasing 140 trees from competing vegetation; building nine rabbit brush piles; cleaning out three waterfowl nests; marked and painted one mile of State Game Lands and five miles of propagation boundaries; posting 14 informational signs; and conducting various maintenance on 17 gates, 15 parking lots, four culvert pipes, four dikes, one building, one shooting range and five miles of roadway.
Centre/Clinton Counties LMGS Michael Ondik said that his Food and Cover Corps crews erected or maintained more than 200 nesting or housing structures for bluebirds and bats. “The cleaning of these boxes every year, removing last year’s nests, is a key to successful use this year,” he said. “Please remember to do maintenance on your box, or erect some if you can.”
Elk/McKean Counties LMGS John P. Dzemyan reported the two-man McKean County Food and Cover Corps installed new out-flow pipes for three duck ponds on the Allegheny National Forest last fall. “The three ponds serve as popular fishing spots in the summer, duck and goose hunting areas in the fall, beaver trapping sites in the winter and wildlife viewing destinations all year long,” he said. “The crews partnered with the local Mt. Jewett Sportsman’s Club and have been implementing fish structures in the pond bottoms when ponds were lowered for repairs. Funding for the work comes through the Fish and Boat Commission as well as the Allegheny National Forest.”
Dzemyan said the McKean County crew also constructed four new acres of clover strips for cottontail rabbits on SGL 62 and maintained food plots by mowing and applying some new seeding, lime and fertilizer. “The crew also maintained more than 40 wood duck boxes on the numerous wetlands,” he said “The crew also is maintaining youth pheasant hunter areas on SGL 61 and the Allegheny National Forest McKean County with special plantings and stockings.”
Dzemyan said that the three-man Elk County Food and Cover Corps crew has been busy creating more seedling sapling habitat all winter with numerous border cuts and fruit and mast producing day lighting efforts. “One location on SGL 25 is a cooperative project with the Wapiti Chapter of NWTF, in which we created about 10 acres of bush piles and sapling stands next to thousands of new seedlings planted for food and cover for turkeys and other wildlife,” he said. “This area has been mostly a pole-stage monoculture forest stand. Through the middle of this NWTF project, the crew has disked up a strip about one-half mile long and will soon plant it with clovers and grains for wildlife this summer. The increased federal Pittman-Robertson funding for habitat work also has enabled the contract spraying to remove unwanted growth from herbaceous openings on 61 acres of SGLs 25 and 44. We now will be contracting to plant those 61 acres with grains and clovers to improve habitat conditions for game and non-game animals.”
Dzemyan said the Elk County crew also worked with Ruffed Grouse Society to erect fencing to protect about 4,000 fruit and mast producing shrubs in herbaceous openings.
Dzemyan said the Elk County crew also is busy on SGL 311 with maintaining hundreds of new acres of herbaceous openings for elk and other wildlife from the massive mine reclamation program there. “With more than 170 elk being seen on SGL 311, elk numbers are at all-time highs,” he said. “Turkeys and deer also have made heavy use of these new habitat improvements.”
Dzemyan said, on SGL 44, the Elk County crew partnered with the Elk County Chapter of Pheasants Forever on the new 6,000-plus acres of State Game Lands between Brockway and Ridgway to improve pheasant stocking areas and small game rabbit areas. “New herbaceous openings have been created for grains and clovers, and more than 275 acres of new warm-season grasses are starting their second year’s growth from the cooperative WHIP project with NRCS on those lands,” he said.
Dzemyan said partnerships with the Department of Environmental Protection to maintain and improve water quality in both the Tobey Creek branch of the Clarion River and Dents Run and Bennett’s branches of the Susquehanna River are a daily occurrence. “Fish now are in places of both watersheds that just two and three years ago were too polluted with mine acid to support trout and or bass fishing,” he said. “Major projects continue with the DEP and the Bennett’s Branch Watershed Association and the Toby Creek Watershed Association to protect and improve what coal mining has done to both those waterways over the past 100 years.”
Dzemyan said work continues to clean up dump sites on State Game Lands in his two counties. “The McKean County Conservation District worked to clean up old junk yards along the Allegheny River on SGL 301, and McKean County Cleanways helped stop erosion along a stream on SGL 61,” he said. “The Elk County Conservation District and Cleanways have removed a couple hundred tons of dump site garbage form SGL 44 and 293, as well as on Forest-Game Cooperative lands over the past five years and continue to monitor and keep those sites clean. The Allegheny National Forest WIN’s program is preventing silt from public dirt roads from impairing streams on State Game Lands. The Allegheny National Forest funded a project to remove seven abandoned camps that had fallen apart on State Game Lands along the Clarion River. They also helped to improve and old road and to reclaim two old roads that were mud and silt problems for the Clarion River.”
Adams/Cumberland/Franklin Counties LMGS Barry Leonard said his Food and Cover Corps crews have been busy planting trees and shrubs on several State Game Lands. “The intent is to provide additional food and cover for wildlife in the future,” he said. “In addition to that, they have released and pruned numerous existing fruit trees in order to enhance production this year. The crews have been busy making food plot and habitat improvements on SGLs 76 and 170 thanks to money made available through local NWTF chapters.”
Leonard also said local prisoners in Cumberland County assisted with releasing and trimming about 40 apple trees on SGL 169.
Leonard reported an area of switch grass fields on SGL 235 have been prepped for a burn later in the year. This will clear out some overgrowth and allow for regeneration of desirable vegetation.
Leonard said a timber sale is being conducted on SGL 170. It will result in about 1.5 million board feet of lumber being removed. In return, the sportsmen will gain additional access to the interior of the State Game Land via an extended access road and parking area. The removed timber will allow better regeneration of food and cover for wildlife.
Bedford/Fulton Counties LMGS Jonathan S. Zuck reported during the winter months his Food and Cover Corps crews pruned or fenced 286 fruit trees and day-lighted nearly 9,000 mast-producing trees and shrubs, and created 25 acres of edge habitat and 34 wildlife brush piles. “This hard-working group of dedicated individuals also improved 70 acres of forested habitat through clear-cutting and by thinning and releasing food-producing trees and shrubs,” he said. “We now are top-dressing clover food plots and preparing to plant tree seedlings and turn soils in State Game Land wildlife openings.”
Zuck also reported the New Enterprise Food and Cover Crew planted 20 fruit trees on an old orchard site on SGL 261 near Hopewell with the assistance of a local NWTF chapter, businesses and volunteers. “We received funding through the Tussey Mt. Strutters Chapter of the NWTF to plant, fertilize, and fence 15 apple and five pear trees,” he said. “The trees, fertilizer, and fencing were purchased from local businesses. Art Rexinger, a local volunteer, donated his time and equipment to dig the holes and Beegle’s Log and Lumber of Everett donated eight cubic yards for mulch for use in planting. Later this spring the orchard site will be seeded with beneficial wildlife foods such as oats, clover, brassica and buckwheat.”
Huntingdon/Blair Counties LMGS Bert Einodshofer reported that additional conifer plantings on SGL 99 will continue. “Over the past five years, Food and Cover Corps crews, foresters and Pennsylvania Conservation Corps members have created conifer stands of three to five acres where all existing deciduous trees have been removed and then re-planted with conifers,” he said. “In all, more than 10,000 conifers have been planted in these areas. Volunteers also have enabled us to rehab this area where past gypsy moth infestations devastated the oaks on this State Game Land. Since these projects began, volunteers have provided a key component to allowing us to complete as much as we have. For several years, Bill Mattern, Bill Mattern Jr., Mitch Hiddenman and Joe Myers volunteered and planted more than 6,000 conifers, oak seedlings and other beneficial deciduous trees surrounding the project areas. Without their help, this phase of the project would not have been possible.”
Einodshofer said the Food and Cover Corps crews in his two counties have been training and preparing to conduct several prescribed burns to improve habitat conditions. “Weather conditions permitting, there are three burns planned for SGL 67 in Huntingdon County,” he said. “These burns are being conducted to improve site conditions for scrub oak as well as expand the area in which it currently is found. One burn is planned for late spring and two sites are planned for late summer into early fall. In all, these three areas comprise of almost 150 acres.”
Blair County Stephen T. Hanczar said The Nature Conservancy recently enrolled a 640-acre tract of woodlands within Logan and Frankstown townships into the agency’s Hunter Access Program. “On a brisk, sunny Saturday morning in March, ten volunteers assisted Molly Anderson, Nature Conservancy representative, mark the boundary with the Nature Conservancy’s placards,” he said. “These dedicated members travelled rugged terrain like ‘mountain goats’ to mark the lines.”
Southcentral Region Field Forester Roy Bucher and Juniata/Mifflin/Perry/Snyder Counties LMGS Steve Bernardi discovered a nice stand of aspen on SGL 256 in Perry County last year. “Currently, I am laying out a timber sale to regenerate the aspen that we found,” he said. “While flagging in the sale area, I flushed a grouse from her nest and heard a male drumming in the same area. Looks like the grouse are already in the area and will benefit from the early successional habitat that the regenerated aspen will provide.”
Bucher noted that the wet and rainy spring hampered opportunities to use prescribed fire within the region. “Fortunately, we did get several rain free days and completed a planned prescribed burn on SGL 107 in Juniata and Mifflin counties,” he said. “The area burned was a four-year-old shelter wood cut that did not have acceptable amounts of oak regeneration and significant numbers of other less desirable tree species. We believe we met our objective of reducing the number birch and maple saplings and have made conditions more favorable to release the oak that was present and may gain more from acorn germination.”
Bucher and Bernardi also completed a prescribed burn on SGL 212 in Snyder County. “The burns were for two small forested tracts and had two different objectives,” Bucher said. “The larger unit will be managed for red-headed woodpeckers. We would like to eliminate the brushy understory with the use of the prescribed fire and then remove, by felling, some of the smaller diameter trees. The objective is to create a park like habitat. This objective may require subsequent use of prescribed fire to control brush within the stand. The objective in the smaller unit is to eliminate invasive species and create the conditions to regenerate hard pine. There has been some mortality of the hard pine, creating gaps that have been filled in by invasive species. With the use of fire we hope to eliminate the invasive species and provide the right conditions to regenerate some hard pine.”
Carbon/Luzerne/Lackawanna/Monroe Counties LMGS Michael Beahm said his Food and Cover Corps crews have been working to complete NWTF-sponsored habitat projects. “Each year, local NWTF chapters fund habitat projects on State Game Lands across Pennsylvania,” he said. “This year, we planted 42 mature crabapple trees that were about 10- to 12-feet tall on SGLs 135, 186 and 187. They will provide a valuable soft-mass crop in during the fall and winter months. Additionally, the NWTF funded three acres of clover plantings on SGL 187 in Luzerne County. The funding for the projects was made possible from the money raised at local NWTF Hunting Heritage banquets.”
Beahm said, on SGL 127, the Food and Cover Corps crew worked hard to open up a road on Artillery Ridge this past winter. “The road had slowly grown shut over the years along with severe ice damage,” he said. “This spring, the crews will be planting the road with a clover mix, which will greatly improve the brooding habitat in this area for grouse and turkey, and provide excellent browse for the deer and rabbits.”
Beahm said the Food and Cover Corps crews will be establishing a new food plot on SGL 129. “For the last few years, we have been planning a new food plot along Schoch Mill Road,” he said. “After inspecting several food plots, with the Game Lands Maintenance Supervisor Tony Colecio, and seeing how heavily they are used by the deer and turkeys, we knew this was the year to get it done. Once the food plot is opened up, it will be planted with buckwheat for the first couple years to improve the soil. These projects are always exciting; it’s like building the field of dreams, knowing their full potential impact.”
Sullivan/Luzerne/Wyoming Counties LMGS William Williams said the SGL 57 Food and Cover Corps crew initiated work on a new four-acre linear food plot near Upper Bean Pond. “The plot will be planted in a brassica mix this spring,” he said.
Columbia/Montour/Northumberland Counties LMGS Keith Sanford said personnel from The Nature Conservancy and the Game Commission combined forces in March to conduct a controlled burn of native warm-season grasses on SGL 58 in Columbia County. “Six out of a planned 16 acres were treated,” he said. “The remaining 10 acres will be burned in April if weather conditions permit. The burns will help rejuvenate the grasses by reducing accumulated thatch, eliminating invasive woody plants, and by adding nutrients to the soil. Warm-season grasses are utilized by deer, cottontail rabbits, pheasants, and a variety of songbirds.”
Sanford said, in spite of heavy rains and the opening day of trout season, seven volunteers from the Col-Mont Gobbler Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation and Woodcock Limited of PA teamed up with the Game Commission on April 16 for some habitat work. “The group managed to plant 1,800 aspen seedlings on SGL 58 in Columbia County,” he said. “The site where the project took place is being managed to create nesting, brood rearing, feeding and roosting cover for ruffed grouse and woodcock but will also provide important habitat for many wildlife species that thrive in early succession forests.”
Bradford/Susquehanna Counties LMGS Richard J. Lupinsky Sr. said that the Food and Cover Corps crews have been busy with browse cutting to day-light certain areas to let the sun impact the snow and ice and to get the nutritious buds close to the ground for winter wildlife survival.
Lupinsky and his Food and Cover Corps crews will be doing follow up work on 110 acres of reclaimed strip mines that was a prescribed burn and herbicide treatment on SGL 36. “This will include filling sink holes and planting warm-season grasses for habitat that will be used by small game and nongame species,” he said.
In another project, Lupinsky said 40 acres of warm-season grass will be planted along with prior herbicide treatment on SGL 219. “One site will be about 10 acres, with a clover buffer around the outside and through the middle to allow prescribed burning on alternate years,” he said. “The other will be about 30 acres in three parcels and be burned in the same way. This will allow habitat to be in varying stages of growth to create more diversity for the wildlife that uses it.”
Lupinsky said a 54-acre prescribed fire is planned for the spring in the Rose Hollow area of SGL 35. “The goal is to reduce laurel thickets a buildup of forest duff and previous logging slash for optimum regeneration from red oak present in the over story,” he said.
Chester County WCO Scott Frederick and Chester/Lancaster/York Counties LMGS Linda Swank have partnered with the local Boy Scout troop to conduct some clean-up operations on SGL 43 in Chester County. “Bud Burdy, who is a volunteer HTE instructor and a Boy Scout leader, contacted me recently about coordinating efforts to help clean up portions of SGL 43,” WCO Frederick said. “He already lined up a local refuse company to donate a dumpster so that one of the parking lots can be cleaned up of the items that have been dumped there in recent times. Anyone who uses and enjoys the SGLs needs to provide a big round of applause to Mr. Burdy and the Scouts under his charge in initiating this wonderful endeavor.”
Swank said it is a very busy time for the Food and Cover Corps crews. “It is a time of planning for spring planting and getting equipment ready as well,” she said. “The crews really have been affected by the weather coming out of winter and into almost summer like conditions. Both the York and Lancaster crews worked together to sort seedlings from the agency’s Howard Nursery, to get the seedling ready for distribution to cooperators
Dauphin/Lebanon Counties LMGS Scott Bills and his Food and Cover Corps have been mowing native forbs and grasses in lieu of burning the fields this spring. “Of course, in the midst of all this, the crews still have to get into the many fields and prepare them for planting as the rainfall slows,” he said. “After that they will be seeded with various grains, legumes and wildflower mixes for the fall season.”
Bills said, at this time of the year, some part of the Food and Cover Corps crew tasks includes planting seedlings grown at the agency’s Howard Nursery. “Conifer blocks with soft mast shrubs on the periphery are being planted in some of the long herbaceous openings of SGL 210 to provide escape cover for those species that utilize the open areas, such as wild turkey,” he said. “The Crew will be installing a small orchard of 20 crabapple trees on SGL 210, too. These crabapples were purchased from a local fruit nursery and should yield crabapples in several years. After the planting, the area will then be immediately fenced to prevent damage from rutting bucks and rampaging bears. Once the trees reach a size that almost no amount of damage can kill them, the fence will be taken down.”
Bills also said a new bridge on the abandoned railroad bed in Stony Valley at Yellow Springs was finished.
Bucks/Lehigh/Montgomery/Northampton Counties LMGS Dave Mitchell said contractor recently started working on creating almost five miles of firebreaks on SGL 217. “The firebreaks are constructed using a bulldozer,” he said. “By installing them, we will be able to use prescribed fire to manage the forest and increase the oak component in that area of the SGL, as well as the overall habitat health. Quality habitat should lead to healthy populations of deer, turkey, and grouse. Watch for the first burn to take place next year.”
Mitchell said the Food and Cover Corps crews recently planted more than 1,000 aspen trees on SGL 168 with the hopes of improving grouse and woodcock habitat. “The Walking Purchase Chapter and the Pocono Chapter of the NWTF donated more than $3,000 for the purchase of lime and fertilizer to assist with the planting of 20 acres of food plots on SGL 168,” he said. “The Walking Purchase Chapter held a habitat work day, and planted crabapple trees in memory of a member who had passed away.”
Mitchell also said the Jerry Zimmerman Memorial Chapter of the NWTF donated $1,500 for the purchase of fertilizer to assist in planting of food plots in the Trexler Nature Preserve. “We plant around 15 acres of corn, soybeans and clover in the TNP,” he said. “The property is open for archery hunting of deer and turkey through a cooperative agreement with Lehigh County.”
Southeast Assistant Regional Forester Randy Bauman reported that, as invasive species become more of a problem, foresters are forced to spend more of their time trying to prevent their spread. “Mile-a-minute weed is one of these plants that invade a forest wherever sunlight is introduced to the forest floor,” he said. “We currently are working with the USDA on a project to introduce weevils that eat mile-a-minute leaves and buds. In 2010, we placed 1,750 weevils on six sites on four SGLs and this summer we plan to introduce 1,000 additional weevils. As part of this project, we will be monitoring these sites and documenting the results. We have high hopes that these natural predators will alleviate the threat that mile-a-minute weed poses to the environment.”
Southeast Regional Field Forester Frank Vinitski reported that a timber stand improvement project and a regeneration cut will be conducted along Sharp Mountain just to the east of Gold Mine Road. “This project, totaling around 50 to 75 acres, will improve mast opportunities for the Allegheny woodrat and create desired seedling regeneration to benefit ruffed grouse,” he said. “Wildlife habitat also will be improved by constructing log landings which will be converted into herbaceous openings. These openings will offer food opportunities for the many birds and mammals that utilize this area.”
Southeast Regional Field Forester Jonathan Weaver reported that a prescribed burn has been planned for SGL 156 in northern Lancaster County. “This is a new process for us here in the Southeast Region, and we have learned many lessons,” he said. “Just when we thought everything was ready, we were met with multiple rainy weeks. This is a good example of some of the issues we face as natural resource managers. We can plan things well in advance, but are still at the mercy of weather patterns and other natural processes.”
Facts from the Pennsylvania Game Commission: Landowners interested in developing “backyard habitats” beneficial to wildlife are encouraged to check out the “Landscaping for Wildlife in Pennsylvania,” available from the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The 160-page book, which costs $9.43 (plus state sales tax and shipping and handling), can be purchased through the “The Outdoor Shop” on the agency’s website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), in the “General Store” section in the menu bar at the top of the homepage. Orders also are being accepted at 1-888-888-3459.