Reflections in Nature: Bounties

Recently, Jack and Dottie Kuyper, who reside just outside of Troy, told me a gray fox had visited their property.

Jack went on to say that, several years ago, a female had given birth to pups in a den that had to be close to their home. The male and female would come to the Kuypers’ yard in search of food to take to their pups and, when old enough, the pups also visited the yard.

The Kuypers were quite excited about the gray fox’s visit, for it had been over a year since the last sighting.

Earlier in the week, Bob Craig, of Ridgebury Township, called to tell me he and his wife were sitting in their living room when they heard a loud crash. Bob found a dead sharp-shinned hawk and a dove lying side by side. It appeared as if the dove was being pursued by the hawk when both birds collided with the Craigs’ sliding glass doors.

These two events, along with a recent article about the dad and daughter from East Troy, who trapped an ermine, led me to write this week’s article about the bounty system.

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the payment of bounties for the destruction of certain species of predatory birds and mammals dated back to 1683, with the payment made in English currency.

The commonwealth assumed the obligation after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Payments, in American money, were made as early as 1802.

In 1724, rewards first were paid on wolves, followed by red foxes; in 1749, squirrels were classified to be predators and added to the list, with a bounty of three pence; in 1807, panthers; in 1819, wildcats (bobcats) and, in 1841, minks followed by skunks and grey foxes were added to the list.

The infamous Scalp Act was instituted and provided for a payment of 50 cents on all species of hawks and owls (except for the screech and barn varieties). In that same year, weasels appeared on the list, with a bounty of 50 cents.

The Scalp Act was repealed in 1887 because of the frauds perpetrated under it.

At the time, the state Game Commission had been successful in having a Resident License Law passed, which stipulated that all fees collected from the sale of this license go to the Game Commission. It also was decreed that one-half of the money should be set aside for the payment of bounties.

The 1913 law fixed a 50-cent reward on all hawks and owls, with higher payments on certain mammals. After the treasurer of the county paid the bounties, which were based on claims passed by the justice of the peace, the Game Commission then reimbursed the county.

Here again, widespread fraud soon brought the repeal of the 1913 Bounty Law. It was replaced in 1915 by a new system, under which only representatives of the Game Commission would be responsible for the payment of bounties.

With the 1915 Act, the following rates were increased to: wildcat, $6; red and grey fox, $2; and $1 each for mink and weasel.

The bounties paid changed often throughout the years. The bounties on hawks and owls only were paid at certain times of the year.

From 1930 until 1940, a bounty was paid on the gray fox; however, the bounty on the red fox was removed for this 10-year period and then again in the years 1943 and 1944.

Are you wondering why the commission continued to pay a bounty on the gray fox and not the red fox during these years?

The bounties ended in the year noted for the following:

  • Mink, 1923;
  • Wildcats (bobcats), 1939;
  • Weasels, 1956;

Goshawks, 1952;

  • Great horned owls, 1965; and
  • Gray and red fox, 1966.

The bounty system in Pennsylvania ended on June 30, 1966.

From 1915 through 1966, the commission paid $5,332,944 in bounties, while bounty claims paid under the 1913 Bounty Act totaled $287,465.

Now, for the answer to the question of why the commission did not pay bounty on the red fox but continued to pay a bounty on the gray fox. A red fox pelt brought more than $45, while the gray fox pelt was much lower.

The commission felt monies could be saved by not paying a bounty on the red fox because trappers would continue trapping them for the high price of pelts.

Bower retired after 34 years as a wildlife conservation officer for the state Game Commission. He has published several books about his experiences. Questions and comments may be sent to him at 153 Redington Ave., Troy PA 16947.