Ron Fuhrman estimates he spends more than $800 a year to provide pheasant habitat on his Wyoming County farm.
Now, he wants the Pennsylvania Game Commission to continue to do its part.
Fuhrman’s farm is enrolled in the Game Commission’s hunter-access program, where landowners open their properties to public hunting for the seasons of their choosing.
There are more than 13,000 landowners enrolled in the program statewide. Fuhrman’s farm has been in the access program for decades since his grandfather signed it up, he said. Fuhrman said the farm has 55 acres of prime small game habitat, and as a result the PGC stocked pheasants there several times each year.
But that will end.
Beginning this hunting season, the PGC will not stock pheasants on hunter-access properties. The agency cut its pheasant-stocking allocation from 200,000 to 170,000 and they will all be released on publicly owned properties, such as game lands.
The move was made, according to the agency, to take advantage of the places where pheasants are more likely to be harvested.
Studies have shown the lowest pheasant harvest rates come from these properties. And in 2016, 14 percent of the Game Commission’s pheasants were released on Hunter Access farms.
These birds now will be stocked on game lands and other public lands, which have the best hunter access and pheasant habitat, and highest harvest rates.
That doesn’t sit well with landowners like Fuhrman, who took pride in maintaining pheasant habitat and allowing hunters access to his farm to hunt the birds.
“I spend hundreds of dollars every year on fuel and seed, not to mention my time, to create habitat. I planted switchgrass and was planning to put more in,” Fuhrman said. “Last year the guys that stock pheasants for the Game Commission told me I have some of the best habitat around.”
Now, if the PGC continues not to stock pheasants on the hunter-access properties, Fuhrman said he’ll have to make a choice.
“I’d probably think seriously about taking my farm out of the hunter-access program,” Fuhrman said.
Others question if they’ll even continue to buy a hunting license, such as Wilkes-Barre resident John Ostrum.
While most hunters look forward to deer season, Ostrum sets his sights on pheasants. He heads afield with his bird dogs as much as five days a week to hunt pheasants and said he invests a lot of money in the sport. Ostrum has seen the pheasant allocation decrease over the years and he accepted a move by the PGC when they implemented a $25 pheasant hunting permit this year.
Ostrum has even watched some areas that were stocked with birds disappear, but his interest in the sport didn’t waver.
But now, he said, the move to cut pheasant stockings from all hunter-access properties could be the death knell for the sport.
“First, it’s a dangerous move because you’re congregating all these pheasant hunters into smaller areas by stocking fewer places,” Ostrum said. “It’s going to make the sport less enjoyable. You’ll be dodging hunters and worried about safety all day. It’s like having everyone fish on the first day of trout season in one little lake.”
Ostrum pointed to Wyoming County as an example where hunters pursuing pheasants will be congregated.
With the closure of the hunter-access properties, only one place — State Game Lands 57 — will be stocked with pheasants in Wyoming County.
“I don’t know how they can justify stocking a few places like this,” Ostrum said. “Fewer pheasants we can live with, but not few places to hunt them. That’s just wrong.”
Dupont resident Stanley Knick Jr., who was nominated by Gov. Tom Wolf to fill the vacant Northeast Region seat on the Game Commission board, said he has heard “a little bit” from hunters about the pheasant stockings but hasn’t yet formed an opinion.
“I’ve only been there for a couple months. I don’t know the whole story,” Knick said.
Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau said most of the hunter-access areas that were previously stocked received one or two crates of birds and many of the places didn’t have a lot of hunting pressure.
Because of the lack of hunting pressure on hunter-access properties, Lau said the agency doesn’t believe there won’t be a resulting significant congregation of hunters on the game lands that are stocked with pheasants.
“There wasn’t a lot of birds on these properties and there wasn’t a lot of hunters on most of them,” Lau said. “Most of the pheasant hunting on a lot of these properties was done by the landowner and family.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky