At a recent work meeting of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Commissioners decided to go ahead with a modified version of a user fee for non-hunters and non-trappers who use State Game Lands. Under the proposal people who want to use bicycles, snowmobiles, or horses on State Game Lands would need a permit, either a use permit for 30.00 a year or a hunting permit, which is currently 20.70 a year. Hikers and “birdwatchers” would continue to benefit from what I’ve called the “gentleman’s agreement” in which people can freely use the land when its not being used for hunting. Full details of the proposal are here.
The reason for the distinction is that as far as damage to existing trails and facilities there’s little difference between someone carrying a gun and someone carrying a camera. That’s not so with bikes, horses, and snowmobiles, all of which contribute to erosion and cause heavy wear on both designated and restricted trails.
As I explained in my Open Letter to the Game Commission, I see big problems with implementation of the proposed user fee. It can’t be effectively enforced without spending money on more staff or, as was mentioned at the Game Commission meeting, involving the state police in enforcement. I don’t see that as workable. They have 1.5 million acres to cover, land holdings twice the size of Rhode Island.
There’s no doubt horses, bikes, and snowmobiles cause erosion and damage to trails. According to the discussion in the working meeting one reason the fee is being enacted is as a deterrent to people who go off-trail and cause damage. I don’t see a fee as a deterrent – ATVs are banned from the Great Allegheny Passage, and you can find them every weekend on the trail south of West Newton. Mountain biking is restricted in Valley Forge National Historic Park, and every summer day someone is riding off trail. Unfortunately all a fee will do is make responsible individuals pay for irresponsible people, if you can get them to pay at all.
And there’s still the ‘taxation without representation’ argument to make. Under the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ I’ve mentioned non-hunters and non-trappers have no say in the running of the Game Commission. You start charging a fee, people will start wanting to tell the Game Commission what they should do with that fee. I don’t see this as a win for hunters.
If the Game Commission says they are paying for repairs to property, I have no doubt they are. I’m not sure what the solution to that problem is, but I don’t believe a user fee is it.
The Game Commission will have a public hearing on September 22 regarding the proposed user fee. The meeting is to be held at the Lamplighter Inn, 6566 William Penn Highway, Delmont, Pa. 15626.Doors open at 7:45 a.m. the day of the meeting and public comment begins at 8:30 a.m. Individuals are asked to keep their comments to five minutes or less. The commissioners may vote on the proposal during the meeting’s second day Sept. 23. The Sept. 23 meeting is scheduled for the same location and also will start at 8:30. Comments also may be submitted in writing. The easiest way to submit a comment is by email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments also can be mailed to the Game Commission. Address the envelope ATTN: Game Lands Permit, Pennsylvania Game Commission, 2001 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797. Comments received will be shared with the commissioners.