HARRISBURG – With recent approval from the federal government, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has released for public comment its final Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) Programmatic Environmental Assessment document, including the Findings of No Significant Impact (FONSI).
This is the final step toward implementing an enhanced Hunter Access Program with the goals of improving wildlife habitat on private land and increasing the number of acres of private land open to hunting and trapping over the next three years.
To view the final agreement, go to the Game Commission Web site, and click on “VPA-HIP Final PEA” in the “Quick Clicks” box on the right-hand side of the homepage. Comments can be submitted for 30 days via an e-mail address provided on the page.
The draft document was released and posted on the agency’s Web site in February. With the recent approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Farm Service Agency, the Game Commission must solicit public comment for an additional 30 days. In addition to posting the document online, official notification will be included in the June 4 edition of the Pennsylvania Bulletin, the Commonwealth’s official gazette for information and rulemaking.
“Part of the Game Commission’s mission is to protect, conserve and enhance wildlife habitats for current and future generations,” said Carl G. Roe, agency executive director.
“This additional funding – made possible through the 2008 federal Farm Bill and distributed by the Farm Service Agency – will assist in our mission as we seek to enhance our Hunter Access Program. This partnership will open more private land to hunters and trappers, as well as assist private landowners in completing wildlife habitat improvements on their lands.”
The Game Commission operates a hunter access program that began back in 1936, and has continued to provide great hunting and trapping to Pennsylvania hunters and trappers on millions of acres, while rewarding private landowners who allow that access.
Under the expanded program, private landowners enrolled in the Game Commission’s existing Hunter Access Program would be eligible for a variety of habitat enhancements and conservation incentives. One element includes improving nesting habitat for ring-necked pheasants and other grassland nesting birds in new Wild Pheasant Restoration Areas, an agency priority for grassland habitat.
The Game Commission also has included the return of a complimentary subscription to Pennsylvania Game News, the agency’s monthly publication. Free subscriptions were discontinued in 2005, as part of the agency’s cost-cutting initiatives.
“Using federal grant dollars, we are seeking to reinstate the free subscriptions to landowners enrolled in our Hunter Access Program,” Roe said. “This has been one of the top requests we’ve heard from our current access cooperators, and is something we certainly look forward to providing them with in return for their generosity.”
Because the Game Commission may only receive $3 million of the requested $6 million, it may not be able to implement all priorities that are proposed in the PEA.
“When we are able to begin implementing this grant, we will be able to expand our existing successful hunter access program and provide the public with new opportunities for hunting and trapping,” Roe said.