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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Pennsylvania Conservation History: the Early Years

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, February 25, 2012.)

Did you know squirrels were
classed as predators back in 1759?
The Pennsylvania Game Commission has been up and running since 1895, but for more than 200 years before that, wildlife regulations abounded. Here are a few tidbits of conservation history gleaned from that period, from the PGC’s 233 page centennial book, The Pennsylvania Game Commission, 1895-1995, 100 Years of Wildlife Conservation.

On March 4, 1681 William Penn was granted the charter to establish Penn’s Woods. He arrived at Chester on October 29, 1682. Within a year, a bounty on wolves was established at 10-15 shillings.

Thirty-eight years later, Pennsylvania's first hunting season was enacted. It allowed the hunting of deer from July 1 to January 1. Indians were exempted, and out of season hunting carried a 20 shilling fine. Other laws quickly followed, including a 5 shilling fine for hunting pigeons, doves, partridge “or other fowl in the open streets” of Philadelphia. Maybe it was OK to have a deer stand in downtown Philly.

Apparently, once wolves were brought under control, red and gray squirrels were classed as predators. In 1749, a bounty of 3 pence was placed on their fearsome heads.

Sunday hunting has been an issue since January 27, 1749 when deer hunting was made illegal on Sundays, except in “cases of necessity.” I doubt today’s WCOs would enjoy going to court to enforce that.

In 1797, John Chapman (the legendary Johnny Appleseed) set up his first apple tree nursery along the Brokenstraw Creek in western Warren County. We still have a few Chapmans around these parts. I wonder if any of them can trace back to Mr. Appleseed.

The year 1828 saw the establishment of the United Bowmen of Philadelphia, America’s first archery organization. The current club of that name traces back to that date, and still conducts 3-D, field archery and target competitions.

The 1840s and 1850s brought a spate of laws against killing small, insectivorous birds. And we think our laws are complicated today. What bird doesn’t eat insects at least once in a while?

In 1845 Warren County made it illegal to chase or hunt “unwounded deer” with dogs. Violators were fined $25. Some hunters today long for that law, because it would give permission to use dogs to recover wounded deer.

Here’s another law some hunters today might pine for. In 1851 deer hunting was banned for five years in Cumberland and Franklin counties. At the end of those five years, in 1856 deer hunting was banned for five years in Adams County.

In 1864 it became illegal to shoot ducks between April 1 and September 1 in any counties bordering the Susquehanna River or its tributaries. I assume that was intended to protect ducklings, but the prohibition was only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Maybe that made sense to the folks who made that rule. (I wonder if they had Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays off.)

In 1873, Pennsylvania’s first comprehensive Wildlife Act was passed. That year, all Sunday hunting was banned, a bag limit of two per day was placed on wild turkeys, and it became illegal to kill any fawn “when in its spotted coat.”

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the game laws across the state became a county by county patchwork until an act was passed on June 25, 1895 to create the state Board of Game Commissioners. They had a lot to do, and they were immediately authorized to blanket the state with 10 game protectors. I guess it took eight years to recognize that was a pretty thin blanket, so in 1903 they were authorized to appoint deputy game protectors, 30 of them.

In 1901 the Game Commission decided that animals confiscated for game law violations “shall be forwarded to the nearest hospital.” I can think of two or three jokes there, but I’ll spare my doctor friends the pain of tasteless humor.

Later, any needy institution qualified as a recipient. Apparently there was a time when everyone understood the concept of “needy,” something that’s hard to nail down today.

That takes us only up to the first few years of the Game Commission. Its history is a colorful one. In a few weeks I’ll offer a few more interesting and obscure historical facts.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Waging War Against Lead Ammo

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, February 11, 2012.)

Game harvested with
lead ammunition does not
pose a health risk.
It’s no secret that gun owners in our society battle to keep gun rights. Since I was in sixth grade, I’ve been aware of attempts to prohibit, control, and even confiscate guns.

It took me a while but I finally realized that the Second Amendment to our U.S. Constitution isn’t there to preserve hunting, and that gun prohibitions will damage not just hunters, but non-hunters too, and yes – even wildlife.

Enemies of guns seek to limit or revoke gun rights by various means. Some jurisdictions have tried to ban all firearms from public housing, a ban that would increase gun violence by creating victim disarmament zones. Does anyone really believe criminals inclined toward violence would obey that law?

Some cities have tried to ban firearms, and so far the U. S. Supreme Court has overturned those bans. Unfortunately, the legal system is painfully slow, and losers relentlessly create new restrictions so the issue will have to be litigated again.

Some enemies of guns see the difficulty of banning guns, so they wage war against ammo by attacking traditional lead bullets.

They argue that unrecovered animals killed by lead shotgun pellets are a threat to scavenging animals. Never mind that most lead pellets have a protective coating of copper to harden the surface for better ballistic performance.

They claim that using traditional lead ammunition poses a danger to raptors such as bald eagles, which may feed on entrails and unrecovered game left in the field. But there is a total lack of scientific evidence that lead ammunition impacts the populations of birds of prey. In fact, raptor populations have significantly increased all across North America, despite the use of lead ammunition since Europeans first settled the New World.

One has even created evidence that wild venison contains toxic lead. In his own personal study, a dermatologist from North Dakota claimed to have collected packages of venison from food pantries and his X-rays showed they contained fragments of lead. North Dakota health officials collectively jerked their knees and ordered state food pantries to destroy all donated venison and to stop accepting further donations, even though no test of meat from any animal killed by a lead bullet has shown lead content.

Turns out the dermatologist apparently has a bias. He’s on the board of the Peregrine Fund – a group that’s against the use of traditional lead ammunition for hunting.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did its own tests in North Dakota, establishing that consuming game harvested with traditional ammunition does not pose a human health risk. In fact, the average lead level in hunters tested was lower than that of non-hunting Americans.

The Iowa Department of Public Health agrees. It has done regular studies over the course of many years, and says, “If lead in venison were a serious health risk, it would likely have surfaced within extensive blood lead testing since 1992 with 500,000 youth under 6 and 25,000 adults having been screened.”
There is no evidence that anyone has ever had a case of elevated lead level due to eating harvested game.

Lead ammo bans are misguided because they actually hurt those they profess to help. They target the financial backbone of the North American model of wildlife conservation – the most successful model in the world.

Most people don’t know that many species have been blessed by funding from hunters using traditional lead ammunition. That’s because manufacturers pay an 11% excise tax on the sale of ammunition. Substitutes for lead will raise costs, and reduce hunter participation. Those who demonize lead ammunition propose nothing to replace that funding.

It’s not just game species that benefit from hunters’ dollars. The recovery of the bald eagle is a truly wonderful conservation success story, thanks to hunters’ taxes. Abundant and healthy prey animal populations have contributed to abundant and healthy populations of raptors.

Lead bullets are safe. They don’t disrupt this elementary relationship between prey and predator, nor do they expose anyone to the danger of lead poisoning. Every proposal to ban them is just another attempt to restrict the use of firearms.