Changes to hunting grounds comes as a shock to some outdoorspeople

Don’t be surprised if you walk to your favorite hunting spot on a state game land this fall and discover that the tree where you sat for many years is gone or all of the nearby groundcover of thick shrubbery is missing.

State game lands refers to public land that is owned and operated by the state Game Commission. The agency is responsible for maintaining every acre of ground.

Seeing what commission staff do on an everyday basis can be shocking for people who have come to expect the same sight at “their” hunting spot.

“Habitat management is really vegetation management,” said Ben Jones, chief of habitat planning and development with the commission. “Habitats and vegetation are always changing.”

The commission’s management plan may involve one or more types of natural disturbances, Jones said, such as prescribed burns, timber harvests and cutting or spraying invasive plants.

Its goal is to change an older forest to a much younger one to encourage new growth.

But, the public often sees it as the agency ruining everything.

“Sometimes we run into someone who has been hunting a particular area for many years and they go there and it looks vastly different say, if it’s been part of a timber harvest … that can be shocking to people at times,” Jones said.

Changing the landscape can change the habitat.

“People have said, ‘I have been going to the same place for over 40 years and haven’t killed a deer there for the last 10.’ It might mean it’s not a good habitat for them anymore,” he said.

A timber harvest often is viewed as a way for the commission to just reap the benefits of bringing in money, but it’s not the case.

“We are actually improving deer, bear or grouse habitat,” Jones said. “If we needed the money, if that was the case, we would have not cut anything since 2008 because the timber market is rock bottom.”

A prescribed burn also can shock people who aren’t expecting to see blackened land and a desolate leaves the land is a shock to some people. The land is blackened and looks desolate but underneath the soil, it’s more alive.

“In two weeks, you will see a rejuvenation and a ‘green-up.’ None of these changes are permanent,” Jones said.

The best way to handle a Pennsylvanian who isn’t happy with what practices are going on, Jones said, is to thoroughly explain the habitat management process.

“(We try to) explain to them what the practice was meant for and how we are attempting to improve habitat and what species we are focusing on,” Jones said.

Anyone who has questions need only contact the commission, and staff will walk them through what a prescribed burn does and its goals.

“Change is drastic and can be shocking, especially just after the activity,” Jones said. “But habitats are not static – they are constantly changing and going through succession.”