HARRISBURG – Responding to input from hunters across the state, the Pennsylvania Game Commission board of game commissioners has proposed major changes for black bear hunting during the 2010-11 seasons.
During the business session of the year's first quarterly meeting of the PGC board, Tuesday, Jan. 26, preliminary approval was given to a proposal those dramatic changes for the bear seasons. Another proposed change would effect the firearms deer season in four Wildlife Management Units.
As for the proposals effecting bear hunting, the first would expand the archery season to five days statewide, rather than the current two days held in just nine WMUs. This came as a major surprise, as several commissioners were concerned last fall that the use of crossbows would lead to an over-harvest of bears.
As for the other proposed change, it is even more dramatic as it effects the statewide three-day firearms season. Under the proposal, the season would open Saturday, Nov. 20, and close Tuesday, Nov. 23, rather than the traditional season held from Monday-Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving Day.
"I think the Saturday opener for bear will have an economic impact on the traditional bear-hunting areas second only to the opening of the firearms deer season," newly elected board president Jay Delaney said. "This also figures to have a great social impact as it gives youth the opportunity to participate in the bear season without missing a day of school.
"According to our bear biologist, Mark Ternent, there would be no adverse effect on the population with an expanded archery season, and there is certainly a growing problem with nuisance bears in Northeastern Pennsylvania. And, since there already was a concurrent season in several WMUs for bear during the firearms deer season, it was logical that we made the season statewide."
As for the proposal effecting deer hunting, it would reduce antlerless hunting to seven days during the firearms deer season in Wildlife Management Units 2C, 2E, 4D and 4E. WMUs 2C and 2E are located in western Pennsylvania; 4D contains portions of Lycoming, Mifflin, Snyder and Union counties; 4E contains all of Montour and Northumberland counties and portions of Columbia, Dauphin, Luzerne, Lycoming, Schuylkill, Snyder and Union counties.
If the proposal receives final approval from the board at the quarterly meeting to set 2010-11 seasons and bag limits, Tuesday, April 20, only antlered deer will be legal the first five days of the two-week statewide firearms deer season, Monday, Nov. 29, through Friday, Dec. 3. Concurrent antlered and antlerless hunting would open Saturday, Dec. 4, and continue through Saturday, Dec. 11.
During the last two years, WMUs 2D, 2G, 3C and 4B had such a season as part of a four-year study. When that season was created, the board said it was to be a four-year study and that no other WMUs would be added until the study was complete.
Southeast Region commissioner Greg Isabella, who completed his year-long term as board president, said he supported both proposals because they created additional hunting opportunities. Newly elected board vice president Ron Weaner said he had been concerned that the use of crossbows would have a major impact on the archery season, but that proved not to be a problems as just 19 bears were taken with crossbows.
With the computerized report system now in effect at bear check stations, the firearms season can be extended to Wednesday by the PGC executive director should inclement weather result in low hunter success. If the proposed bear seasons are approved, however, neither the current six-day nor the current four-day concurrent seasons held during the first week of the firearms deer season will be held.
As for the proposed changes to the deer season, the final vote by the board is expected to be effected by the results of the 2009-10 seasons, which is expected to be finalized by the middle of March. If the changes are approved, the two-week antlerless season between the close of the firearms season and Christmas in the Special Regulations WMUs, including 5C, will be eliminated, but concurrent antlered and antlerless archery hunting would be held in those WMUs from Monday, Jan. 17, through Saturday, Jan. 29.
A motion by commissioner Tom Boop of Sunbury, who led the movement to create the new regulations for the firearms season in WMUs 2C, 2E, 4D and 4E, passed that directs the agency staff to prepare a report for the April meeting on the effect of suspending Deer Management Assistance Program antlerless deer permits to public landowners unless they have an approved management plan in place. This action is not directed at private landowners, who have the ability to enroll in DMAP to address deer management objectives on their properties.
"I don't think this necessarily means this will reduce the number of (antlerless) deer killed," Weaner said. "I expect we'll see the same number killed, but I believe hunters will see more deer."
To comment on the proposed changes, e-mail the Pennsylvania Game Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org  or sent comments to the PGC, 2001 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg PA 17110-9797.