The Pennsylvania Game Commission recently released for public comment its draft Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program Programmatic Environmental Assessment document. This is the first step in implementing an enhanced Hunter Access Program with the goals of improving wildlife habitat on private land and increasing the number of acres of private land open to hunting and trapping over the next three years.

To view the draft agreement, go to the PGC website at www.pgc.state.pa.us [1] and click on "VPA-HIP Draft PEA" in the "Quick Clicks" box in the right-hand side of the homepage. Comments can be submitted via an e-mail address provided on the page.

"Part of the Game Commission's mission is to protect, conserve and enhance wildlife habitats for current and future generations," PGC executive director Carl Roe said. "This additional funding made possible through the 2008 federal Farm Bill and distributed by the Farm Service Agency will assist in our mission as we seek to enhance our Hunter Access Program. This partnership will open more private land to hunters and trappers, as well as assist private landowners in completing wildlife habitat improvements on their lands."

Since 1936, the PGC has operated a hunter-access program and has continued to provide great hunting and trapping to Pennsylvania hunters and trappers on millions of acres, while rewarding private landowners who allow that access. This public input process, which is required by federal law and regulations, ensures the public is informed about the potential environmental effects of the new funding and that environmental factors are taken into consideration when decisions are made related to expanding the program.

Under the expanded program, private landowners enrolled in the PGC's existing Hunter Access Program would be eligible for a variety of habitat enhancements and conservation incentives. One element includes improving nesting habitat for ring-necked pheasants and other grassland nesting birds in new Wild Pheasant Restoration Areas, an agency priority for grassland habitat.

Also, the PGC has included the return of a complimentary subscription to "Pennsylvania Game News," the agency's monthly publication. Free subscriptions were discontinued in 2005, as part of the agency's cost-cutting initiatives.

"Using federal grant dollars, we are seeking to reinstate the free subscriptions to landowners enrolled in our Hunter Access Program," Roe said. "This has been one of the top requests we've heard from our current access cooperators, and is something we certainly look forward to providing them with in return for their generosity.

"When we are able to begin implementing this grant, we will be able to expand our existing successful hunter access program and provide the public with new opportunities for hunting and trapping."

Because the PGC may only received $1.5 million of the requested $6 million, it may not be able to implement all priorities that are proposed in the PEA.

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Officers were recently elected for 2011 by the Schuylkill County Sportsmen's Association, which also announced the dates for its youth and women's educational programs and annual banquet.

Elected to fill the slate of officers are president Ron Blew; Ken Stine, first vice president; Gary Slutter, second vice president; Les Shoener, third vice president; Charlie Sipple, treasurer and delegate; Dennis Scharadin, recording secretary; and Doyle Dietz, corresponding secretary and alternate delegate.

Youth Field Day is Saturday, May 21, at Friedensburg Fish and Game; Norm Thornburg Youth Conservation Camp is Thursday-Saturday, June 23-25, at Schuylkill County Fairgrounds; Women's Outdoor Day is Saturday, Aug. 20, at Friedensburg; and the SCSA Banquet is Saturday, Sept. 10, at the Community Fire Company, Landingville.

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Hunters who would like the opportunity to take a second spring gobbler have until the opening of the season, Saturday, April 30, to purchase a second tag at any Pennsylvania Automated License System agent or the Pennsylvania Game Commission website. Those purchasing through the website, however, may have a 7-10 wait to receiver their tag.

Fees set by state law for the special license are $21.70 for residents and $41.70 for nonresidents. A spring gobbler tag is part of the general hunting license.

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A "Women in the Outdoors" event sponsored by the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation will be held, Saturday, March 12, at Cabela's Hamburg store. There is a discount for both NWTF members and non-members registering by Monday, March 1, and information is available at the store or by calling Harold Luther at 610-929-7089 or by e-mail at harold.luther@cabelas.com [2].

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Mike Klimkos of Rivers Conservation and Fly Fishing Youth Camp is today's guest of Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association member Doyle Dietz on "Experience The Outdoors," 7:30-8 a.m. on WLSH 1410-AM, Sunday, from 9:30-10 a.m., on WMGH, 105.5-FM and on the Web at www.wmgh.com [3] by clicking the "Experience The Outdoors" link.

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A trap shoot will be held, Thursday, March 3, beginning at 6 p.m., at Orwigsburg Gun Club, Gun Club Road, off Route 443 East, Orwigsburg. For information, e-mail jafone@comcast.net [4].

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Schuylkill Spurs Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation meets, Thursday, March.3, beginning at 7:30 p.m., at West Penn Archery, South Tamaqua. For information, call Kevin Titus at 570-668-5903.

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Lehigh Valley Safari Club International Auction and Banquet will be held Friday and Saturday, March 11 and 12, at the Holiday Inn, Fogelsville. Door opens Friday at 2 p.m. and Saturday at 10 a.m. and the banquet begins at 6:30 p.m. For information, access the LVSCI website at www.lvsci.org [5].

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Schuylkill Spurs Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation Banquet and Non-Perishable Food Drive will be held, Saturday, March 12, with doors opening at 5 p.m., at Community Fire Company, Landingville. For information, call Jeff Post at 570-366-7783 or Kevin Titus at 570-668-5903.

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Friedensburg Fish and Game Spaghetti Supper will be held, Saturday, March 26, from 3-7 p.m. For information, call Ray Koch at 570-385-2169.

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Lehigh Valley QDMA Banquet will be held, Friday, April 8, beginning at 6:30 p.m., at Meadows Banquet Hall, 1170 Meadows Road, Hellertown. For information and reservations, call Jon Felton at 215-529-7280 or Dean Souder at 267-382-0333.