Pennsylvania Shelves Controversial Plan to Restrict Hiking in State Game Lands

   01.26.15

The Pennsylvania Game Commission announced last week that it has shelved a proposal that would restrict non-hunters from using state game lands during hunting seasons in fall and spring. According to the Game Commission, the proposal would have have restricted hiking to only Sundays while hunters were in the field, as well as required non-hunters to acquire a free permit before using state lands. In a press release, Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners President Robert Schlemmer reported that “the board received hundreds of public comments about the proposal and wants to allow more time to properly consult with hunters, conservation partners and elected officials about it.”

Critics of the new rules, including hiking and conservation organizations, said there was little public notice of the proposed changes and that it would be unfair to hikers. The state already restricts activities such as snowmobiling, horse riding, and bicycling in state game lands, which are only allowed on Sundays. Mark Zakutansky, Mid-Atlantic Policy Manager for the Appalachian Mountain Club, said that restricting hikers from state lands for roughly a third of the year—130 days—was unjustified.

“Fall foliage is such a draw,” Zakutansky told the Associated Press. “Hikers have always been respectful in wearing orange and staying on trails—it seems a little knee-jerk.”

Spokespeople for the Game Commission said that state game land was mostly purchased through hunting permit sales and taxes on equipment for the express purpose of maintaining a space where hunters could harvest game. Hiking and other recreational activities on state game land are considered “secondary uses” by the Game Commission. Some hunters say that it can be frustrating and even dangerous when hikers unknowingly walk into hunting areas, and that allowing other recreational uses for game land can only lead to conflict. Some have highlighted that there are many more state parks, forests, and lands where hunting is prohibited, but hiking and other outdoor activities are not.

The Game Commission stated that it has not scrapped the idea of a ban on hiking altogether, and that restrictions may still be needed to protect game lands.

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