With the early arrival of warm weather in April producing full foliage weeks ahead of schedule, spring gobbler hunters have been able to observe the results of recent habitat-improvement projects on State Game Lands throughout eastern Pennsylvania.

This spring, Pennsylvania Game Commission land managers, foresters and Food and Cover Corps crews are focusing their efforts and PGC resources continuing habitat-improvement projects on the more than 1.4 million acres of SGLs. Included are projects in Carbon, Luzerne, Monroe, Northampton and Schuylkill counties.

"Wildlife habitats are changing across the landscape as farming practices evolve and urban/suburban expansion convert former wildlife habitats into various types of developments, from homes to shopping malls," PGC executive director Carl Roe said. "According to Pennsylvania's Wildlife Action Plan, 300 acres of wildlife habitat are being lost every day, primarily to sprawl. Some counties have seen an increase in housing units exceeding 20 percent in recent decades.

"For this reason, the Game Commission's network of State Game Lands is critical to ensuring that wildlife will always have access to the three habitat components it needs to survive: food, shelter and water. Through our habitat improvement efforts, we strive to ensure habitat diversity for all wildlife."

PGC Southeast Region Land Management Supervisor Dave Mitchell reported that on SGL 168 in Northampton, Carbon and Monroe counties his crews have cleared almost 40 acres of invasive barberry from some old fields. As a result, 20 acres will be planted in corn, soybeans and clover, and the remaining acreage will be allowed to revert to native plants.

"This should provide more food for wildlife than the area had in the past," Mitchell said. "In addition, the crew recently "daylighted" around 1,500 spruce trees on SGL 217, in Lehigh, Carbon and Schuylkill counties.

"These trees were planted in clear-cuts over the past 10 years, and by "daylighting" them, the lower branches will continue to grow, providing good cover all the way to the ground. This is important thermal cover for many types of wildlife, including grouse."

Mitchell said his crew will be planting a 33-acre field of native grasses and wildflowers on SGL 205. Workers also removed three hedgerows so the field will be large enough to attract grassland-nesting birds that are not currently using the area and allow stocked pheasants, deer and rabbits to use the field.

Roe noted that the PGC is mandated, by state law, to spend a specific amount of money on habitat improvement each year based on an established rate of $4.25 for each resident and nonresident adult general hunting license and $2 for each antlerless deer license. During the 2008-09 license year, the Game Commission sold 831,968 resident and nonresident adult general hunting licenses and 858,512 antlerless deer licenses, for a total minimum of $5,312,612.

"In reality, we spent $6,169,952 on habitat improvement projects, which was $857,340 more that the legislatively-mandated minimum," Roe said. "This was not a one-time aberration, however, as we have routinely exceed the minimum threshold set by the Legislature because we recognize how important habitat improvement is for all wildlife.

"When you combine our stable license sales with the increasing costs of conducting habitat work from gas prices to repairs of heavy equipment we are seeing the amount of work we are able to accomplish stagnate or decline. Fortunately, with organizations such as the National Wild Turkey Federation and Pheasants Forever, we are able to do more than what our license dollars allow."

Southeast Region Land Management Supervisor Matt Belding has been working for the last several years with the Schuylkill Spurs Chapter of the NWTF upgrading food plots on SGLs 326 and 257 in Schuylkill County. More than $1,500 will be spent by the NWTF for lime, clover seed and fertilizer to improve the growing conditions for the food plots.

Belding said that for the last several years the Charles Betchel Chapter of the Ruffed Grouse Society has been holding a field day on SGL 110. This year the group of volunteers planted 1,000 white spruce seedlings inside an oak regeneration site.

Northeast Region Land Management Supervisor Mike Beahm said that crews from the northeast completed six acres of prescribed fire on grasslands at Beltzville Wildlife Management Area. Many of the fields were more than 15 years old and had large growths of thatch and woody vegetation encroaching in them.

For more information on habitat work being conducted on State Game Lands, visit the PGC Web site at www.pg.state.pa.us http://www.pg.state.pa.us/ and click on "Habitat Happenings" in the center of the homepage.