Last updated: September 29. 2013 2:45AM - 1874 Views
By - tvenesky@timesleader.com

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The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners is considering a proposal to remove the bald eagle from the state’s list of threatened species, and there’s an opportunity for the public to weigh in on the matter.

The board voted Tuesday to open a period of public review for a proposal to upgrade the bald eagle’s status from “threatened” to “protected” in Pennsylvania. The board still would need to vote once more before a change in status would occur, and the commissioners will take public comments into consideration before making their decision.

Tuesday’s vote puts the proposal on a timeline to be approved as early as January.

Criteria for removing the bald eagle from the state’s threatened species list are laid out in the Game Commission’s bald eagle management plan. The plan calls for delisting eagles as threatened if four criteria are met for five consecutive years. There must be at least 150 active nests statewide; successful pairs in at least 40 counties; at least a 60 percent success rate of known nests; and productivity of at least 1.2 eaglets fledged per successful nest.

Three of those criteria already have been met for a five-year span, and eagles in 2013 will exceed for a fifth-straight year the requirement of nesting successfully in at least 40 counties.

If the bald eagle is delisted, the bird will continue to be protected under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (the Eagle Act), the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Lacey Act. Under the Eagle Act, those who harm or disturb eagles are subject to a civil penalty of up to one year in jail or a $5,000 fine for their first offense, and criminal convictions can result in fines as high as $250,000.

Additionally, state penalties for disturbing protected wildlife include fines of up to $1,500 and bolster protection for Pennsylvania eagles.

Those wishing to submit comments on the proposal to remove the bald eagle from the state’s threatened species list may send them by email to BaldEagleComments@pa.gov, or via U.S. mail to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Attn. Bald Eagle Comments, 2001 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797.

Energy leases approved

Also Tuesday, the board approved a number of leases with energy companies that will result in more than $9 million in initial revenue, and a yet unknown amount of royalties.

Most of the lease agreements result from requests by companies that have strong leaseholds in the surrounding areas, and already are in possession of the energy rights on Game Commission properties. The agreements ensure the fuels are extracted with little to no surface impacts on game lands.

Bat declines to be considered

The board said Tuesday it will be looking closely at what the Game Commission might do to help bat populations, which have been in decline due to White-Nose Syndrome (WNS).

White-Nose Syndrome is caused by a fungus and affects hibernating bats. The fungus, which is white in color, accumulates on the bats’ noses and wings, and causes the bats to arouse often during hibernation, leading them to burn up crucial energy reserves. Most of the bats afflicted with White-Nose Syndrome end up dying, and the decline among bat populations has been sharp.

The commissioners said any actions they might take to help bats need to be taken soon, or the impact of WNS on bats might be too severe.

“I don’t want to sit here in two or three years and say it’s too bad we didn’t do anything,” Commissioner David Putnam said.

The board said it would be discussing the matter further at its December working group meeting.

PGC to get moving on quail management

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners hope to jumpstart the state’s quail management efforts, and it took action toward that end.

The board formed a committee to oversee implementation of the Game Commission’s quail-management plan, which includes an initial survey to identify quail habitat and determine how many wild quail live in Pennsylvania.

Additionally, the board amended a nearly $3.9 million lease agreement for oil and gas rights to route $250,000 to wildlife management resources, specifically for the management of the northern bobwhite quail.

Commissioner Jay Delaney of Wilkes-Barre made the motion to amend the lease, and it was seconded by Commissioner Brian Hoover, then approved by a 5-2 vote. Commissioners Ralph Martone and Charles Fox voted against the measure, and Commissioner Ronald Weaner was absent.

Delaney said the Game Commission should place priority on efforts to manage bobwhite quail, since most reports indicate the species is in decline, and perhaps could be considered endangered.

The commissioners said the additional funding would help in providing resources for quail management.

Bobcat, river otter plans to be released

The board voted to release to the public newly-drafted management plans for bobcats and river otters in Pennsylvania.

The plans will be available on the Game Commission’s website, www.pgc.state.pa.us, within the next week, and there will be a 60-day period for the public to review the plans and submit comments to the Game Commission.

The Board of Game Commissioners will take all comments into consideration when casting future votes on the plans.

The Game Commission will issue a news release when the plans are available online.

Campfires on Game Lands limited

The Pennsylvania Game Commission doesn’t have a problem with many of the small, open campfires set and maintained on state game lands.

Historically, hunters, trappers, anglers and Appalachian Trail through-hikers using state game lands have been permitted to use open fires for cooking or warming purposes.

Recently, however, there’s been an increase of open fires at game lands that have nothing to do with the intended uses of game lands. And to address that problem, the Game Commission is putting limits in place to regulate who can set and maintain fires at game lands.

Under the change, persons setting campfires on game lands must possess a valid hunting, furtaking or fishing license, or be through-hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Precautions must be taken to prevent the spread of the fire, and the fires must be attended at all times and extinguished completely before the site is vacated.

Fires will not be permitted at times when the fire index rating used by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is high, very high, or extreme in that area.

A person causing a wildfire, in addition to facing possible criminal penalties, is liable for damages and the cost of extinguishing the fire.

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