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Naturally Speaking

Penns Creek Stocked
With Fingerlings
The famous and very popular Catch-and-Release section of Penns Creek was stocked with 17,000 three-inch brown trout fingerlings on May 30. Depending upon whom you talk with, this could be considered either a bold new step by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission or a fisheries management folly.
The result could be negative, with hatchery genes mixing into the specifically adapted wild trout gene pool and hurting the wild population. It could be positive, with a higher density trout population to fish over, such as in the Little Juniata River.
Penns Creek flows through the extreme eastern point of Centre County, through Spring Mills, Coburn and Ingleby. It is considered by most anglers to be one of the top five trout streams in Pennsylvania because of its pristine setting and colorful naturally-reproduced brown trout population. It has a well-known green drake hatch and is a top year-round destination for many Blair and Centre County fly anglers.
The Catch-and-Release area lies downstream from the Poe Paddy Camping Area and is located as the stream flows eastward out of Centre County into Mifflin and Union counties. This remote 3.9-mile section of stream has been under artificial lures and flies, catch-and-release-only-regulations. For more than 20 years it has been managed as a wild trout water and not stocked, that is up until late last month. This switch from purely wild trout (all natural reproduction) to stocked trout fingerlings is what has many anglers upset.
Dwight Landis, who authored “Trout Streams of Pennsylvania – An Angler’s Guide,” is one of those upset anglers. “I’m against it,” he said. “One of the things that makes Penns Creek a special fishery is that the trout are wild.”
Ever since late April, popular fly fishing message boards such as www.paflyfish.com and www.flyfishersparadise.com have included a good bit of discussion about the fingerling stocking proposal. Anglers have weighed in both for and against the stocking. Opinions have reflected angler perception of how good — or bad — the fishing has been and the poster’s preference for wild trout. A sampling of the comments on the board managed by Flyfishers Paradise included these four:
“Considering how low the trout population is on Penns Creek right now, fingerling stocking would be a HUGE benefit.”
“Who says the population needs jumpstarted? As far as I know the PFBC is basing its proposal on one set of stream surveys.”
“If the fingerling program on Penns is half as effective as on the Little J, it would be a great boost to the trout population.”
“It would make more sense to me to take steps to rejuvenate the wild population … simply throwing more fish in the water doesn’t constitute a viable solution.”
The Trout Population
Just how is the wild trout population in the C&R section of Penns Creek? According to PFBC Chief of Fisheries Management Richard Snyder, during four of the past seven surveys that have occurred since 1989, the fish population was below what is necessary to be considered a Class A Wild Trout Water. Snyder pointed out that, overall, the average trout biomass during that period has been just under 39 pounds per acre – slightly over the minimum for Class A consideration.
Penns Creek was surveyed again on June 17 by Northcentral Area Fisheries Manager Bruce Hollender and his crew. This year’s biennial electro-fishing survey was done from a small boat because of the stream level. Although high water hindered collection, hundreds of trout were captured, including several large browns. Snyder said that the double-pass survey method factors in the mathematics of the lower catch rate resulting from the higher water. It will be some time before the population estimates are finished.
The Stocking
According to Snyder, the number of young-of-the-year trout has been low in the Catch-and-Release section of Penns Creek. “Fingerlings are stocked to supplement the limited amount of natural reproduction and recruitment that is already occurring,” he explained.
Rainbow trout fingerlings were originally to have been stocked in Penns Creek, as stated in the April PFBC announcement, but Snyder clarified that the species was changed to brown trout based on angler comments.
“It is staff’s intent to use fingerling trout to increase the number of trout there and to have a more consistent density – especially during years without adequate recruitment from tributaries,” Snyder added. He believes that this section of stream has enough fertility and suitable habitat to support more adult trout than it currently does.
According to Snyder, fingerlings were stocked at five or six sites in the section. All 17,000 were fin-clipped so that they can be identified by fisheries biologists during future surveys. Similar stockings are planned for the next two years.
Measure of Success
Some Penns Creek regulars think that it is high water temperatures, such as those seen during the past several drought summers, rather than poor recruitment of younger trout that limits the number of trout in Penns Creek. Snyder agreed that thermal stress might just be a “population bottleneck” that fingerling stocking won’t solve. Only research can verify that.
“Fisheries management is a dynamic process, where numbers may bounce around,” Snyder said. “More fingerling stocking, but not specifically in Penns Creek, was a recommendation to come out of Trout Summit 2002. Staff decided that Penns Creek would be a good place for fingerlings to work.”
Fin clipping will allow for the success of this trial to be evaluated. The next survey is planned for June, 2005,” according to Snyder.
Whether you were for or against this “experiment,” it’s too late to call back the hatchery fingerlings. I only hope that this stocking venture proves to be successful. To wild trout enthusiasts like Landis, however, even a successful experiment will detract from the wild trout fishing experience.
Mark can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com

Categories
Sports

Naturally Speaking

Colangelo Retires as Head of Fish & Boat Commission
The legislative standoff might be over. Peter Colangelo, at age 66, has announced his retirement. As of June 9, Colangelo is no longer the executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
Formerly with the Army Corps of Engineers, Colangelo headed the PFBC for the past eight years. This period has not been all happy times.
During his tenure, the agency has been plagued with problems. They’ve included declining license sales that have contributed to a funding shortage; periodic PCB contamination of hatchery-raised trout, still an unsolved mystery; a falling out with the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited; and effluent problems that caused the Big Spring Fish Culture Station to be closed and the trout production at several other hatcheries to be reduced.
The total trout stocking for 2002 was about 25% below that of 2001, and our area’s streams were hit particularly hard, with many removed from the stocking list.
Given all of the PFBC’s problems, the stocking decrease was necessary, but it seemed to have been carried out in a manner that irritated the maximum number of anglers. This included entire streams, such as Vanscoyoc Run, being removed from the stocking list and repeated news releases by the PFBC reminding us of the decrease. Was this a ploy to stimulate anglers into contacting their elected officials to ask for a license increase? If so, I didn’t like the smell of that maneuver, and the ploy only backfired.
While Colangelo has always had the support of the majority of the appointed commissioners, at times that support has only been by a slim margin. These internal conflicts limited Colangelo’s effectiveness.
For over a year, Colangelo and his Deputy Executive Director Dennis Guise had also been at the center of a political contest of sorts. Early in 2002, Sen. Edward Helfrick (R-Northumberland) and Rep. Bruce Smith (R-York), who respectively chair the Game and Fisheries committees in the Senate and House, met with Colangelo and Guise and asked them to resign. This occurred while the PFBC was beginning to mount a campaign for fishing license and trout stamp increases.
In a March, 2002, phone interview, Rep. Smith commented, “I have no plan to sponsor or support a fishing license increase at this time. It’s time for a change within the agency.” While some claimed legislative interference, others, including me, hoped that there would be a needed change at the top of the Fish Commission.
Right or wrong, Smith and Helfrick have been true to their words. No license increase legislation has left either committee during the past 18 months. Smith also introduced a resolution to study the idea of merging the Fish and Boat Commission with the Game Commission, or including both agencies under the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
As some termed it, the agency has been “held hostage” while Smith and Helfrick waited for a change at the top of the PFBC. That change, or at least half of it (Colangelo, but not Guise) has now occurred with Colangelo’s retirement. The commissioners decided not to appoint an interim leader and the agency is currently running with deputy Guise at the helm.
Smith has recently been quoted as saying that he now would support a license increase. The House committee merger study will announce its results in November. The PFBC has begun a nationwide search for a replacement for Colangelo, with plans to have the position filled before the year’s end.
While I hope for a successful search, I also fear that the cloud of uncertainty caused by the ongoing merger talk and studies could prevent good candidates from applying for the $89,000 per year position. Why take on a new position when that position just might be eliminated?
It’s no secret that I haven’t been happy with the leadership of the Fish and Boat Commission. In fairness to Colangelo, some good things have happened during his term. The agency moved from its cramped and, quite frankly, embarrassing headquarters into a new facility. Angler-commission workgroups were formed to study bass and trout management, and shad restoration has progressed. More recently, Trout Summit 2002 brought trout anglers together from all across the state.
Upon announcing his retirement, Colangelo said, “It has been a great honor to serve as Executive Director of this outstanding agency for nearly nine years.
“The Fish and Boat Commission needs better funding. In particular, there is a critical, unmet need for a stable, long-term source of funding for infrastructure that supports fishing and boating. Raising awareness of that issue has been one of my highest priorities the last several years. In parting, then,” Colangelo added, “it is my strong hope that the General Assembly and the administration take action sooner rather than later to ensure the future of fishing, boating and outdoor recreation in Pennsylvania.”
The commission, whose motto is “Resource First,” needs new and dynamic leadership that can see it past the license-trout stamp increase impasse. That same leadership, with the help of the governor and state legislature, should find and institute a funding source aside from license sales. Above all, the PFBC requires a leader who recognizes that protection and enhancement of the resource is the most important aspect of the agency’s charge. Hatcheries are important, but the commission needs to promote the “resource” as much more than buckets of hatchery trout.
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com

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Sports

Naturally Speaking

New State Forest Plan
A new plan to direct the future management of our 2.1 million acres of state forest land is in its final draft form and now available for public review. On the surface, it looks like a sound environmental package that places protection and recreation on an even plane with timber harvest. A meeting to unveil details of the new Resource Management Plan, one of 28 to be held across the state, was held Wednesday in State College. Another meeting in the second round will probably be held in Huntingdon later this summer.
Local state forest lands available for hunting, fishing, hiking and other recreational activities include Rothrock State Forest (over 94,000 acres between Huntingdon & State College), Bald Eagle State Forest (nearly 196,000 acres to the north east), Sproul State Forest (280,000 acres to the north), and Moshannon State Forest (184,000 acres surrounding Black Moshannon State Park).
Our state forests are priceless gems — a large reason why Pennsylvania is such a wonderful place to live. A few readers of this column sadly view the state forest system as part of some eco-government plot to remove all land from private ownership. A quick look at the green and brown areas (national and state forests and state game lands) on a Pennsylvania map will tell you how well that “plot” is progressing. State forests need protection.
The state forest system began in 1898 out of the ashes of private ownership’s care (or non-care) of our resources during the 1800s and early 1900s. Timber barons and the charcoal industry stripped the land of most trees. What greenery they didn’t get was finished off by the uncontrolled forest fires that followed in their wake. Sediment and ashes poured into our waterways, smothering their life-sustaining capacities. Tanneries, the oil industry, and the biggest culprit of them all – king coal – poisoned thousands of miles of once-clean streams.
The state forest system was initiated in order to repair the damage, protect watersheds, provide outdoor recreation opportunities, and make available a continuous supply of wood products. The early lands were purchased for next to nothing — often just for back taxes.
In many ways, the state forest system was the savior of a wild and natural Pennsylvania preserved for all to enjoy. Fortunately, the dark period is behind us, but state forests still provide many benefits to our citizens, even for those who don’t appreciate the outdoors in the way that most readers of this column do. Much has changed since 1898, but the benefits continue.
According to State Forester Dr. James R. Grace, “The harvest of quality hardwood timber helps support the state’s $5 billion forest products industry that employs almost 100,000 people. These same forests provide habitat for a wide array of flora and fauna, including many rare, threatened, and endangered species. They also protect watersheds, which provide some of the cleanest water found in the Commonwealth for drinking and recreational opportunities. Our forests provide all this while facing dramatic increases in recreational activities that have become vital to Pennsylvania’s tourism industry.”
Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Michael DiBerardinis explained, “In the more than 15 years since the last plan, the resources, values and uses of our state forest have changed dramatically. And we have reflected that change with a flexible, dynamic guidance document that will continue to evolve in order to protect the long-term sustainability of our forests.”
DiBerardinis noted that while the first resource management plan almost 50 years ago focused on timber management, the new plan takes an ecosystem approach, with a goal of forest sustainability, in order to provide an array of resources, uses, and values for current and future generations.
After five years of work and 42 public meetings, the new comprehensive plan, a 12-chapter, 450-page document is ready for public review and comment. Referring to the development of the new plan, Secretary DiBerardinis added, “We have listened to the public like never before.”
The revised plan includes a number of significant changes. These include:
* the expansion of the state’s wild and natural areas by more than 20,000 acres;
* the commitment to ecosystem management, which is based on ecological units such as ecoregions, landscapes, and a newly developed plant community classification system;
* a revised and expanded forest inventory to include additional ecological parameters, an annualized five-year inventory cycle, and permanent crews to conduct the inventory;
* maintaining the present ATV trail system while developing an environmentally sensitive strategy to address the concerns of users, including improved trailhead facilities;
* a new computer-based timber harvest planning system, which calls for the average harvest levels calculated for the years 1985 to 1999, developed in collaboration with Penn State University;
* the establishment of the regeneration fund, which designates a portion of the receipts from state timber sales to be used to implement management practices addressing over-browsing by deer in order to obtain successful forest regeneration;
* improvement of existing scenic vistas and the development of new viewing areas;
* construction of parking areas for elk viewing; developing food plots; patrolling public highways to assist visitors, promote safety, and reduce resident/visitor conflicts; continuing to purchase key habitats in the range; and promoting other nature-viewing opportunities in the area along with elk viewing.
* mapping of proposed bio-reserve and old-growth management
areas; and
* the addition of several new sections to the plan, including Communications, Ecological Considerations, Soil Resources, Non-timber Forest Products, and Infrastructure.
The preceding list only scratches the surface of the plan and, as with any such plan, the real meaning of lofty phrases will be visible when the application of the plan occurs in individual state forests. The Forest Coalition, the Sierra Club, ATV users, and others will not be totally happy with the plan. Could any plan satisfy everyone?
David Bonta of Tyrone, who attended Wednesday’s meeting, commented that it seemed to be a good plan, but he declined to elaborate because he hasn’t had time to read all 450 pages yet. Fair enough.
Comment on the final draft plan is desired. The public is encouraged to attend the meeting, consider the information presented, and make suggestions. The complete plan is available at www.dcnr.state.pa.us — click on “State Forests” in the left margin.
Individual meetings will also be scheduled to discuss each specific state forest management plan. At least three of those should be within easy driving distance from the Tyrone-Bellwood area.
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com

Categories
Sports

Naturally Speaking

Elk Problems
Elk are beautiful and majestic animals, but their presence in Pennsylvania and, in particular, the elk hunting season, has created a lot of controversy and headaches for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The agency is in the process of changing regulations and the number of permits in an attempt to better manage the elk herd and address some of the problems.
Applications for elk licenses are now available for the 2003 season. This will be the commission’s third attempt at a modern-day elk hunt. One hundred licenses (80 antlerless, 20 antlered) will be available this year, as compared to 70 last year and 30 for the first hunt in 2001.
When the topic turns to elk, people line up in one or more of many opinion camps. The anti-hunters are opposed to an elk season of any kind, others fear that reducing the herd will hurt tourism, and still another group criticizes the hunt for biological reasons. The herd and its gene pool is just too small for hunting without hurting the health of the population, they claim. This camp particularly fears the targeting of the best breeding bulls by hunters.
On the other side of the fence there are hunters who are thrilled at the opportunity to hunt elk in Pennsylvania. They love watching elk, but also view the herd as a resource that can support hunting. These hunters are willing to do their part to help the commission manage the growing herd and limit property damage.
Yet another group views the presence of elk as an unwanted intrusion on their property rights. Some of these individuals, to the dismay of most hunters, have shot multiple elk for “crop damage.” A few in this camp would be happy if all of the non-native elk were exterminated.
It should be said that most property and camp owners love watching the elk and put up with intrusions by tourists and hunters, as well as the damage caused by the elk themselves.
On top of all of this, the behavior and alleged behavior of a small number hunters and their guides during the 2002 season brought an avalanche of criticism down on hunters and the commission and really fed the rumor mills. Among those things alleged were hunters shooting elk within safety zones; hunters or guides driving elk from safety zones; elk being shot along highways, in people’s yards and in streams; and, of course, that allegation that the game commission did nothing about it.
During the past six months, I’ve attempted to track down some of these allegations and I’ve questioned commission personnel about their role in the entire affair. Here’s what I learned.
Upon PGC investigation, an elk was confiscated and three individuals were charged with illegally driving a large bull elk from a park. A guide was found guilty by the local magistrate. Much to the dismay of the commission and the officers involved in the prosecution, the second guide and the hunter who shot the elk were found not guilty and the elk was returned to the hunter. Don’t ask me to explain that decision.
It was documented that at least one other elk was driven from a safety zone and shot. This was done legally, however, with the permission of the owner of the safety zone.
All of my other hot leads turned into dead ends. For example, the “I know a guy who saw a hunter shoot an elk in First Fork,” actually turned into “Well, the elk was wet when it was brought into the check station.” This went on and on.
How did the commission handle this? According to PGC Northcentral Director of Law Enforcement Quigg Stump, “We investigated every reported violation and I gave instructions to our officers to follow up on all specific rumors.”
Several commission officers confided that they were unhappy with some activities of hunters and guides, but these actions fell into the realm of ethics rather than the law.
With the entire elk hunt under a public microscope, poor ethical decisions made by a few make all hunters look bad. Hunters, guides and the commission should keep this in mind, and the commission should move to quantify ethics as law where necessary.
The first step in this direction occurred at the commission’s April meeting when they voted to make the herding (pushing or driving) of elk illegal. This regulation will be voted on again for final rule-making at their June 23-24 meeting.
According to the commission, as it stands now, their elk management goals are designed to stabilize the elk population on the entire range and allow hunting in all management areas. They continue to target human-elk conflicts by issuing more permits in those areas, while not allowing hunting near the better elk viewing areas. By making the vast majority of the 2003 permits for antlerless elk, they address some of the biological concerns and better target the limiting of the elk population’s growth.
The commission continues to pledge money from the first 10,000 applications ($100,000) toward habitat improvement within the elk range. The Sinnemahoning Sportsmen, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and other groups are aiding with habitat acquisition and improvement. It is hoped that this effort will also help to keep elk away from problem areas and provide a more natural hunting experience.
This year’s elk season will be held November 10-15, one week earlier than last year, but in the same time slot as the 2001 hunt. The non-refundable application fee is again $10. Applications can be made on-line through the commission’s website www.pgc.state.pa.us or mailed in with the form found in the 2003-2004 regulations booklet.
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com