The August 26 editorial in the Times Observer titled "A poorly considered plan" failed to tell the whole story.
The proposed fee for non-foot traffic on State Game Lands is not merely a way of generating revenue. And the comparison to paying extra for a pillow in a hotel room is flawed. More apt would be the idea of paying for a room at a Holiday Inn and expecting pillows from the Hampton Inn to be provided gratis.
The fact is that State Game Land is built on different foundations than places such as the Allegheny National Forest. The State Game Lands have one primary purpose-to offer hunters and trappers places to pursue their interests. The Game Lands were purchased by funds from hunters and trappers, not by tax dollars, so the general public has made no investment in the properties. The public has, however, been using the land (sometimes in conflict with its stated purpose) since the first Game Land was created. Hunters have been gracious enough not to protest that.
The idea of selling permits to use Game Lands for recreation other than hunting comes from a policy created several years ago when the Pennsylvania Game Commission created shooting ranges on certain SGLs to provide a safe place for hunters to sight in their rifles. The PGC realized licensed hunters are not the only shooters and that many non-hunters enjoy recreational shooting, so shooting ranges were opened to non-hunters who do not purchase a hunting license, but who are willing purchase a Shooting Range Permit. The policy works because people using a shooting range have the same purpose, and are doing the same thing at the same time. Not so with horseback riders and hunters.
The more people we have shooting, the better, so I like the idea of an SGL Shooting Range Permit for non-hunters. But having more people on State Game Lands for purposes other than hunting is a bad idea.
In other words, shooting at a designated shooting range is shooting. Everyone is doing the same thing at the same time in a safe and orderly way in a limited space. Shooters mix together, enjoy the camaraderie, and every shooter wins. But hunting is at cross purposes with non-hunting horseback, ATV, snow machine, and bicycle riding. How many riding clubs that own wooded land will permit hunters to use it? They'll cite safety issues every time.
I agree that the revenue generated by user permits is small, and the proposal is not without challenges. But the principle is great. I am not convinced that non-hunting use of the SGLs should be permitted at all, unless it's foot traffic, because the primary purpose of the land is for hunting and trapping. And when others use it for a fee, the risk is that sooner or later they will argue that their fee entitles them to have a say in land management issues. That will violate the founding principles of State Game Lands.
If you'd like to have input into this, you can do so at the Board of Game Commissioners meeting on Monday, September 22 in Westmoreland County. The meeting will be at the Lamplighter Inn, 6566 William Penn Highway, Delmont, PA. Doors open at 7:45 a.m. and public comment begins at 8:30 a.m. The Commissioners are likely to vote on the proposal the next day at the same location. That meeting will also begin at 8:30.
Comments may also be submitted in writing. The easiest way to submit a comment is by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments can also be mailed to the Game Commission, ATTN: Game Lands Permit, Pennsylvania Game Commission, 2001 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797. Make your voice heard.