Why a pheasant permit, and why so much?

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PheasantBob Frye photo
It will cost hunters more to chase stocked pheasants this fall, sure. But the alternative, Game Commission officials say, was no birds at all.

It’s likely to soon cost more to hunt pheasants than in the past. That’s close to a given.

There was some surprising debate on how much more, though.

Pennsylvania Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval to creating a pheasant permit at their most recent meeting. If the measure gains final approval in March – something that’s very likely — adult hunters will have to buy a $25 pheasant permit to chase stocked birds starting this fall.

Junior hunters would be exempt from having to buy a permit.

The reasoning behind the permit, commissioners say, is purely financial.

It cost the commission more than $4 million to raise and stock 220,000 pheasants last season. It says it can no longer afford that expense, not without an increase in the cost of hunting licenses.

Those prices haven’t changed since 1999.

The commission closed two of its four game farms to cut expenses. The permit – expected to raise about $1.5 million – is the next step in offsetting costs, commissioners said.

That money won’t pay for the program in its entirety, noted board president Brian Hoover of Delaware County. The commission will still need to supplement that with $1 million from its general operating budget.

It won’t allow the commission to continue stocking birds at current levels either.

Bob Boyd, the biologist who heads up the commission’s propagation program, said the goal is to produce 170,000 birds for this year.

But without the permit, none of that would be possible, commissioners agreed.

Where there was some debate was in how much the permit should cost.

A couple of board members would have preferred a different price. Dave Putnam of Centre County said he suggested $20. Commissioner Bob Schlemmer of Westmoreland County agreed. That price might keep more people hunting, he said.

“If you’re buying something, it’s a little easier to lay out a $20 bill than a $20 bill and $5 bill,” Schlemmer said.

“I don’t think that has anything to do with it,” Hoover countered.

There might be something to that.

A handful of people testified in person at the commission meeting in regards to the pheasant permit. There’s one caveat – most represented organized hunters, rather than the more typical unaffiliated one – but all said they’d be willing to pay the $25.

Bob Schmid of the North Central PA Chapter of Pheasants Forever said that group has a “strong preference” for lawmakers simply raising the cost of general hunting licenses as a way to find the stocking program. Without that, though, members are willing to buy a permit, he added.

The president of the Palmyra Sportsmen’s Association in Annville, Skip Klinger, made similar comments. An increase in general fees is what’s really needed, he noted, but a pheasant permit to keep the stocking program alive is OK in the short term.

Denny Dusza, a retired director of the agency’s northcentral region office – who’s been promoting the idea of a pheasant permit for more than a year – likewise hailed its likely creation as a positive step.

And a necessary one, he added.

No one likes to pay more for anything, he said. But nothing – not even prices – stay the same forever.

“Life just doesn’t work that way,” Dsuza said.

In the end, it’s come to this, Putnam said: hunters either have to pay more to chase pheasants or they have to give up the sport.

Bobwite quail have disappeared from the landscape as a wild species, as have – for the most part – pheasants, he said. Ruffed grouse are the latest upland bird to be growing “increasingly insignificant,” he said.

Stocked pheasants are close to the only game in town, he said. They remain popular, too, he added, enough so that commissioners think a pheasant permit will be received at least well enough to keep the program alive.

“It generates quite a few hunter days, I know that,” he said.

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