New Game Management Units
While the autumn hunting seasons are just beginning, the Pennsylvania Game Commission is busy planning for a new wildlife management system that will greatly affect county antlerless deer hunters in 2003. The new system, in its draft form, was unveiled at the Commission’s October meeting.
County boundaries have always been a problem for some doe hunters. If you hunt near a county border with a county-specific license, exactly how are you supposed to determine the often invisible dividing line between legal and illegal hunting? Since I grew up less than a football field away from a county line and my grandmother’s farm straddled both counties, antlerless deer hunting was always a guessing game even while hunting the family farm.
Aside from the county-based antlerless deer units, the commission currently uses five other management units for different species. Various leaders within the commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management have been talking about new units for several years. The 18 proposed deer management units that had been published for consideration in the “Pennsylvania Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations” since 1997 have been revised. Other units, such as the Turkey Management Areas were due for a review, so the Commission decided to build a new system from the bottom up. This new arrangement would enable the PGC to better manage wildlife and simplify things for hunters.
The new plan considered habitat type, human population, land use, as well as public and private land ownership. Every boundary is easily recognizable on a map and while hunting on the ground. “The final product contains 21 management units grouped and identified according to five larger units,” said Cal DuBrock, director of the agency’s Bureau of Wildlife Management.
Blair County falls into three of the new Wildlife Management Units: 2C, 4A and 4D. Under the new system, the “4,” for example, identifies the northern half of the county as a part of Pennsylvania’s Ridge and Valley physiographic providence. The “A” or “D” simply means the first or fourth unit alphabetically in the providence. The “2” designation identifies the southwestern corner of the county as a part of the Appalachian Plateau providence. Units 2C and 4A a smaller units to our south.
Over 433,000 people live in Unit 4D’s 2,780 square miles. Seventy-one percent of the unit is forested, but only 22 percent is in public ownership. Generally speaking, the ridges are forested and the valleys are farmed or contain densely inhabited areas such as Tyrone, Bellwood, State College, Altoona and Huntingdon. The area includes the northern halves of Blair and Huntingdon counties and all of Centre County south of Interstate 80 as well as parts of eight other southcentral counties.
In contrast, Unit 2G (just north of 4D), Pennsylvania’s so-called “Big Woods Country,” is a much larger 4,156 square miles. Only 272,024 people live in the unit, which is 90 percent forested and has 56 percent of its area owned by the public as State Parks, State Game Lands and State Forest Lands. This unit includes all of Centre and Clearfield counties north of I-80 and all or parts of eight other northcentral counties.
While the PA Game Commission claims that the new boundaries are simpler, the boundary description for WMU 4D takes over 100 words. The description for WMU 2G, the state’s largest unit, is almost as bad. A map simplifies the problem, however, and does, as the PGC claims, provide for clear, easy to recognize boundaries. For example, area 4D is roughly a jagged-edged rectangle with Rte. 220 and I-80 as its northern boundary, Routes 45 and 104 on the east, while Rte. 22 forms the southern border, and Rte. 53 forms the western line.
If all goes according to plan, next year’s doe hunters will apply for a specific management unit instead of a county. All applications will be sent to Harrisburg for initial processing and then a formula based on the county’s percentage of a WMU will be used to assign applications to county treasurers for license distribution. By state law, all antlerless deer licenses must be issued by county treasurers.
If Tyrone and Bellwood hunters hunt near home or to the north, the new WMU concept will greatly expand doe hunting opportunities. One license for 4D would allow you to hunt northern Blair and Huntingdon counties, parts of Clearfield and Cambria (up the Janesville Pike) as well as most of Centre County. Altoona hunters hunting near home will have three tough choices.
It is going to take me awhile to escape the “county mentality” when thinking about hunting in Pennsylvania, but that is exactly what the Game Commission wants us to do. The final draft of the new plan will be considered at the Commission’s January meeting. If approved, next fall’s antlerless deer hunters will need to study their maps before they apply for a permit. Once we get used to the idea, however, the new larger units will provide most hunters with increased opportunities.
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com
New Game Management Units