Thursday, October 7, 2021

House Hearing On Recreation, Hunting & Fishing During Pandemic Highlights Importance Of Investments In Green Infrastructure, Clean Water

On October 6, the House
Game and Fisheries and Tourism and Recreation Development Committees held a hearing on how to maintain the increase in outdoor recreation that happened during the COVID pandemic.

The Game and Fish and Boat Commissions and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources highlighted the importance of hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation activities and the need to invest in green infrastructure and clean water.

Timothy Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Fish and Boat Commission said, “The Commission has seen a significant increase in fishing and boating activity during the pandemic as more people spent time out on the water, many of whom are venturing out for the very first time. 

“This is evidenced, in part, by a 20 percent increase in fishing license sales in 2020, and a 40 percent increase in the sale of non-powered launch permits during that same year.

“ For added context, 2020 was the largest single year increase in fishing license sales since 1946. 

“Although sales have slowed slightly for 2021, they are still up over 12 percent from 2019. This equates to over more than 100,000 additional licensed anglers.”

“The Commission has examined many of the lessons learned from the pandemic and is creating a strategy based on principles of an industry term known as R3 – recruit, retain, and reactivate.

“One area of feedback that has been received from trout anglers is the preference for a single, statewide opening day of trout season like we have utilized the last two years.

“The response to keeping a single, statewide opening day was very positive, which led the Board of Commissioners to consider a proposed rulemaking in July that would designate the first Saturday in April as the new opening day of trout season. 

“We believe this change can provide greater consistency, not just for anglers and staff, but also the businesses and organizations that rely on the revenue generated in anticipation of opening day.”

“Another area where we are seeing a surge in popularity is unpowered boating using kayaks, canoes, and even paddleboards. To help municipalities and other landowners meet this demand, the Commission is announcing this week a call for proposals for the Boating Facilities Grant (BFG) program.”

“The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (Commission) is a state natural resource agency with a mission to “protect, conserve, and enhance the Commonwealth’s aquatic resources and provide fishing and boating opportunities.”

“While the COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges to the Commission and our operations, our staff and customers have risen to the occasion and found innovative ways to introduce new anglers and boaters into our community, despite the unpredictable nature of the pandemic.”

Click Here for a copy of his written testimony.

Bryan Burhans, Executive Director of the Game Commission, said, “Since March of 2020, if you happened to drive by any of the more than 300 game lands the Commission owns and maintains across 65 counties, chances are you noticed that parking spaces were at a premium, as our game lands experienced increased use not only from the hunters and trappers whose license dollars support the acquisition and maintenance of those properties, but by outdoor recreationalists of all kinds, including hikers, bird watchers, trail runners, and those just looking for some peace and solitude.”

“But of course, the increased use did not come without some negative impacts, and many of our wardens noted an increase in littering and unlawful activities, as well as damage to infrastructure such as signs and gates. 

“By way of comparison, in 2019 wardens issued citations for a total of 1,421 violations involving game lands or a shooting range, and in license year 2020/2021 that number increased over 40 percent for a total of 2,044.”

“As we move forward, we anticipate the connection Pennsylvanians have reforged with wildlife and the outdoors has the potential to continue past the pandemic, as evidenced by initial sales of hunting and furtaker licenses and shooting range permits holding strong in several areas.”

“We know lack of free time is often cited as the number one reason hunters and trappers stop participating. And the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates when people have more free time at their disposal, hunting participation increases.

“Now certainly, as the state wildlife agency, we do not have the ability to create more free time for the residents of Pennsylvania. But what we can do, is provide hunting opportunities that take place when the majority of hunters have free time at their disposal. 

“And that means maximizing the hunting opportunities on weekends, when most individuals receive some reprieve from the work, family, and school commitments that tend to dictate most waking hours from Monday through Friday.”

“The barrier to full Sunday hunting that currently exists within the law is one of, if not the greatest, obstacle the Game Commission faces as we strive to maintain the increase in hunting and trapping participation.”

“It is well documented that hunting and trapping are a multi-billion-dollar industry in the Commonwealth, supporting thousands of jobs and creating millions of dollars in tax revenue for the state as well as local governments, revenue streams that have greatly increased as a result of the additional participation.”

“While other industries have not done well during the pandemic, outdoor recreation, such as hunting, trapping, and wildlife watching has thrived. We continue observe that participation in hunting and trapping is heavily influenced by available time.

Click Here for a copy of his written testimony.

Cindy Adams Dunn, Secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said, “I've always believed that the outdoor recreation opportunities DCNR provides— state parks and forests, as well as local parks and trails funded by DCNR grants—are crucial to helping Pennsylvanians of all ages maintain their mental and physical health.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and corresponding boom in outdoor recreation has shown that to be even truer than I imagined.

“In small towns and big cities, stores have sold out of bikes and kayaks. Trails are humming with activity. With their social lives upended, travel plans cancelled, and futures uncertain, millions of Pennsylvanians have done the same thing: gone outside. 

“From lunch breaks spent at local parks to multiday camping trips, outdoor recreation has provided people much-needed opportunities to get exercise, relieve stress, and be with loved ones while remaining safe. 

“This outdoor recreation boom shows no signs of slowing down, especially with the arrival of Pennsylvania’s fall foliage season—one of the longest and most spectacular in the country.

“State parks in particular have experienced unprecedented attendance levels. In 2020, there were 46.9 million state park visitors, an increase of 26.6 percent compared to 2019. 

“This year, attendance dipped slightly from those record numbers, but has remained much higher than before the pandemic: the 31.5 million state park visitors through August represents a 14 percent increase compared to that period in 2019.

“Many campgrounds have been fully booked weeks in advance, and some parks have been so popular on summer weekends that they reach capacity early in the day. (DCNR addressed overcrowding issues by adding staff where necessary and encouraging visitors to explore less-busy parks and forests). 

“Anyone can visit a state park for free, and DCNR believes it should stay that way to ensure that every Pennsylvanian can enjoy the benefits of spending time in nature regardless of their financial situation.

“It’s not just state parks seeing huge attendance surges—during the past 18 months, trails have been more popular than ever. 

“A study by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council early in the pandemic found that statewide trail use increased by 52 percent in March 2020 compared to the previous year, with some trails experiencing 100–200 percent increases—and anecdotal reports suggest these increases have largely continued.   [Read more here]

“Many trail managers have also reported seeing a much wider variety of trail users, as many people from all walks of life try hiking or biking on a trail for the first time.

“Increased outdoor recreation is boosting Pennsylvania’s economy and will be crucial to the state’s ongoing financial recovery. 

“Annually, outdoor recreation in Pennsylvania generates $29 billion in consumer spending and $1.9 billion in tax revenue while directly supporting 251,000 jobs. 

“A 2012 Penn State study found that the nearly 40 million annual state park visitors generate more than $1 billion in economic activity each year, directly supporting 9,435 jobs and spending over $628 million directly at local shops, outfitters, restaurants, and other businesses. 

“Overall, every $1 invested in state parks returns $12.41 of value-added income to the Commonwealth.  [Read more here]

“Over the last several years, momentum has been building across the nation around the outdoor recreation industry. Eighteen other states have formed offices of outdoor recreation to showcase and support the value the outdoors brings to their states. 

“For the last two years, DCNR has been participating in a learning network with these states to determine our best path forward.

“Our first step is to hire a Director of Outdoor Recreation within DCNR, whose first task will be to convene the many sectors that support outdoor recreation in Pennsylvania—from businesses to environmental and conservation organizations to the health community and our sister agencies. 

“We know we have something special here, and our goal is to unite the many disparate entities involved in this important work so our people, places, and economy can equally benefit.

“Investments in our conservation and recreation resources are essential to meet the growing demand. 

“DCNR faces a documented need of more than $1 billion in state parks and forests to fix and maintain the roads, bridges, dams, sewer systems, and other crucial infrastructure that allows visitors to enjoy our parks and forests safely; more visitors are putting an even greater strain on this infrastructure. [Read more here]

“And throughout the Commonwealth, local governments and volunteer groups are working to create parks, playgrounds, green spaces, and trails that provide opportunities for escape close to home while lifting real estate values and attracting residents and businesses. 

“These projects are made possible by the Keystone Fund and Environmental Stewardship Fund and the local funds they leverage; unfortunately, DCNR has to deny many eligible grant requests due to lack of funding.

“Considering these challenges, a major investment is needed to sustain the public lands that are the backbone of Pennsylvania’s thriving outdoor recreation economy, inject money directly into local economies through small businesses like construction and landscaping companies, and help ensure that current and future generations can enjoy the outdoor spaces that make our Commonwealth special.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made it abundantly clear that outdoor recreation is vital to Pennsylvania’s economy and the wellbeing of millions of its citizens. 

“During an incredibly challenging time of their lives, people have turned to parks, forests, trails, and neighborhood green spaces. It has never been more important to invest in these resources and ensure they exist for future generations to turn to in their own times of need.”

Click Here for a copy of her written testimony.

To watch a video of the hearing, visit the House Game and Fisheries Committee video webpage.

Rep. Keith Gillespie (R-York) serves as Majority Chair of the House Game and Fisheries Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-705-7167 or send email to:  Rep. Ed Neilson (D-Philadelphia) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-772-4032 or send email to:  

Rep. David Millard (R-Columbia) serves as Majority Chair of the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-783-1102 or send email to: Rep. Mary Jo Daley (D-Montgomery) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-0861 or send email to:

Related Articles This Week:

-- DCNR’s: 2nd Fall Foliage Report: North Of I-80 Has Best Colors So Far

-- DCNR: Seeking New Members For 2022 Trails Advisory Committee

Related Articles:

-- DCNR Secretary: American Rescue Fund Dollars One Option To Address $1 Billion State Parks, Forests Maintenance Project Backlog, Paying Back Oil & Gas Fund

-- Senate Committee Reports Out Bipartisan Bill Allocating $500 Million In American Rescue Fund Monies For Local Environmental Improvement, Recreation Projects

-- WPCAMR: Federal Mine Reclamation Fee Expired Sept. 30 - Congress Considers The Future Of Mine Reclamation Program [PA’s #1 Water Pollution Problem]

-- Senate/House Return Sept. 20 - Will They Fund Local Flood Prevention, Watershed Restoration, Recreation Projects With Part Of The $5 Billion That’s Laying Around?

-- After More Than A Decade Of Warnings Significant Funding Was Needed, Floods Are Again Devastating Pennsylvania

-- Gov. Wolf Calls On U.S. Dept. Of Agriculture To Implement $737 Million Chesapeake Bay Resilient Farms Initiative

[Posted: October 7, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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