Outdoors with Tom Venesky: Pennsylvania’s wildlife loses an ally

By Tom Venesky - [email protected]
Tom Hardisky, right, with PGC Northeast Region Biologist Supervisor Kevin Wenner with a bear that was trapped and tagged on game lands. -

When it comes to wildlife management, everyone has an opinion.

Sometimes it doesn’t take a college degree to figure things out, yet there are other issues where it does take a trained biologist to make sense of a complex situation.

That was Tom Hardisky’s strength.

Hardisky was an aquatic furbearer biologist with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. He passed away unexpectedly on April 28.

Chances are if you hunt, trap or just have a general interest in wildlife, you met Hardisky or were impacted by the work he did. While he worked out of the region for the last few years, Hardisky was a familiar face in the northeast for a long time. Most recently, he returned to the area two years ago to present a program on river otters at the PGC’s region office in Dallas. The room was packed and Hardisky, in his easy-going yet expert manner, educated us all.

While his last official title was aquatic furbearer biologist, it certainly doesn’t reflect his scope of knowledge.

As an outdoor writer, it’s impossible to know every facet of wildlife management or each habit of the more than 400 species of wildlife that inhabit the state. After writing about the outdoors for several years, I began to develop a list of “experts” that I could turn to for questions about different species.

But sometimes it’s easier to call someone who truly knows it all. Hardisky was one of the first wildlife experts I developed a connection with, and he always had an answer or a logical explanation for anything I threw at him.

The last story I did with Hardisky was in September 2017 and I believe he was really on to something. I asked him about the declining muskrat population in the state and what was behind it.

As an avid trapper, Hardisky was concerned about the drop in muskrats but he ruled out more apparent causes such as predators and disease.

Instead, Hardisky felt that cleaner water was to blame.

I was shocked. I never thought I would hear a wildlife biologist admit that the steps we’ve taken as a society to clean up our water might be a bad thing for a species like muskrats. Yet Hardisky wasn’t afraid to go there and he backed it up, reasoning that muskrats live in aquatic environments lush with plant growth that they use for food and cover. Decades ago, before strict regulations, more nutrients entered the water and that allowed aquatic plants — and muskrats — to flourish.

It made perfect sense.

Hardisky wasn’t advocating to lessen clean water protocols to help muskrats. He was simply finding a cause.

It’s unfortunate that Hardisky ran out of time to find a solution as well, and I’m sure he would have.

Over the years, I worked on stories with Hardisky regarding a multitude of species. Squirrels, beavers, bears, fishers, deer, turkeys, bald eagles, rabbits, pheasants and coyotes. I would call Hardisky to get his opinion about unique wildlife encounters I had — everything from turkey vultures to red fox. Sometimes, when I tackled a controversial issue in a column, I would run it by Hardisky and he would tell me if I was on the right track.

But this isn’t about the expert wildlife source I lost as a writer.

It’s about the loss for every hunter, trapper and wildlife enthusiast.

And bigger than that, Hardisky’s passing is a loss for wildlife as well.

Tom Hardisky, right, with PGC Northeast Region Biologist Supervisor Kevin Wenner with a bear that was trapped and tagged on game lands.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/web1_Hardisky.jpgTom Hardisky, right, with PGC Northeast Region Biologist Supervisor Kevin Wenner with a bear that was trapped and tagged on game lands.

By Tom Venesky

[email protected]

Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky

Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky