Commission considers forcing certain state game land users to buy a permit

DELMONT – There’s been a lot of talk lately about the possibility a permit soon might be required to use state game lands.

At its next meeting, the state Game Commission formally will consider adopting such a permit, which would not be required for anyone who holds a valid hunting or furtaker’s license.

The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 22 and 23 at the Lamplighter Restaurant, 6566 William Penn Highway, in this Westmoreland County town.

Public comment will be accepted at the meeting.

If a vote is taken, it would occur on Sept. 23.

The permit being proposed would be required only for those riding bicycles, horses or snowmobiles on designated trails on game lands.

Others, such as hikers or birdwatchers without a hunting or furtaker’s license, would continue to be able to use game lands in the same manner they do now.

A study into the need for a game-lands use permit concluded that low-impact users such as hikers and birdwatchers typically don’t cause the types of damage to game lands – and associated repair costs – that the permit fee would help offset.

That’s why the recommendation from the Game Commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management was narrowed to apply only to specific uses on designated trails.

The permit would be considered a range permit and would cost $30.

Range permits are effective from June 30 to July 1, mirroring the timetable for hunting and furtakers’ licenses.

People who hold a valid hunting or furtaker’s license will not be required to obtain a permit to ride horses, bicycles or snowmobiles on designated game lands trails.

The permits would be required for those 16 years of age or older.

Maintenance costs

Many uses of game lands take a toll that requires upkeep.

Driving on game lands roads, parking in lots there and using designated trails results in wear and tear.

Historically, the state’s hunters and trappers have shouldered maintenance costs, as well as other costs associated with game lands.

Unlike state or county parks, the state game lands system was created and is maintained almost entirely with sportsmen’s dollars, derived in large part from the sale of hunting and furtakers’ licenses.

Game lands are managed to improve wildlife habitat and create hunting and trapping opportunities.

The use of game lands by other outdoor enthusiasts long has been permitted, though activities not related to hunting and trapping are restricted during hunting and trapping seasons, and certain uses might be prohibited on some sections of game lands.

Recreational horseback riding, bicycling and snowmobiling are permitted only on designated trails on game lands.

However, there often are other trails on game lands that, even though they are not designated, are used frequently for recreational riding. In some cases, it might be difficult for a rider to distinguish a designated from a non-designated trail. Signs posting trails as being off limits often are torn down or ignored.

A privilege, not a right

There are more than 1,328 miles of designated trails on game lands to accommodate horseback riding, bicycling and snowmobiles.

In reviewing recent spending records, the Game Commission identified about $230,000 in known costs over the past three years associated with trail maintenance and signage.

Other projects to build or maintain game lands roads, parking lots or other infrastructure – all of which benefit trail users – topped $4 million in less than three years.

Trails also serve as rights of way, meaning they create areas that must be excluded from revenue generators such as timber sales, accounting for the potential loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars each year.

Damage to trails due to horses, bicycles and snowmobiles can be considerable.

When the ground is saturated, horses can leave hoofprints 6 inches deep. And in areas with heavy traffic, or that stay wet most of the time, the damage is even worse.

It’s no different with bicycles and snowmobiles, which can damage habitat and infrastructure and create the same type of erosion and sedimentation concerns, at ford crossings and elsewhere.

In the worst cases, damage associated with trails threatens the very purpose of the game lands, and conflicts with the concept that recreational opportunities on game lands should come at no compromise to wildlife habitat or hunting or trapping opportunities.

The permit being considered would seek to better regulate riding on designated trails, thereby mitigating that impact as well as raising revenue for associated maintenance costs.

Send written comments

For those who cannot attend the Sept. 22-23 meeting, the Game Commission will accept written comments.

The easiest way to submit a comment is by email sent to

Comments also may be mailed to the Game Commission at the following address:

ATTN: Game Lands Permit, Pennsylvania Game Commission, 2001 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797.