STATE COLLEGE - Pennsylvania Game Commission officials today announced they plan to begin the second phase of controlled burns on the Scotia Barrens on State Game Land 176 in Patton, Ferguson and Halfmoon townships, Centre County, to improve habitat conditions within this unique ecosystem.
This year, the Game Commission has scheduled using prescribed fire on four different burn units totaling 630 acres when weather conditions are appropriate between March 1 and May 11.
Originally outlined in public meetings and briefings with news media in the area in March of 2009, the Game Commission's use of prescribed fire in 2010 has already reduced the risk of a wildfire to surrounding developed communities and improved habitat for unique Barrens plants and animals. The lack of optimal weather conditions in 2011 prevented any burns from being conducted.
"If weather conditions cooperate this year, we will begin phase two of our habitat improvement project on State Game Land 176 that involves the use of prescribed fire," said Bill Capouillez, Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management director. "In 2010, we used prescribed fire on three parcels totaling about 300 acres near the periphery of the surrounding communities. This reduced the fuel load closest to the nearby homes, and created a large safe area for our interior burns this year."
In reiterating the importance for this controlled burn, Capouillez said that the Scotia Barrens ecosystem, which is a scrub oak/pitch pine barrens, depends on fire to regenerate itself.
"Prescribed burns are a tool used by the Game Commission to improve habitat and, in this case, will help maintain the ecological integrity of this unique habitat, which supports a number of wildlife and plant species of special concern," Capouillez said. "Also, this controlled burn will reduce the fuel load the leaf litter, pine needles, twigs and branches on the forest floor that increases the chance of a catastrophic wildfire being ignited by a lightning strike or by a cigarette carelessly tossed on the ground. Because of decades of fire suppression, fuel loads are unnaturally high. Prescribed fire allows us to control when and where fire occurs rather than react to an emergency situation."
To begin the preparation, agency employees have coordinated with all other jurisdictional agencies on the protection of any known cultural resources, as well as plants and animals designated as having a higher status of special concern. To alert the public, a series of news advisories will be issued closer to the time the burn will be conducted, including a news advisory on the day of the burn.
Capouillez noted that residents may see smoke emerging from the Scotia Barrens during the window of opportunity that the agency has targeted for the controlled burn, which is from March 1 to May 11. This window was specifically selected to avoid peak period for songbird nesting (May 14) and the birth of fawns (June 1).
"While we want to avoid the nesting and birthing cycles, the low-intensity heat from a slow, controlled burn will enable wildlife in the burn areas to escape in advance of the fire," Capouillez said. "We had a woodcock flush from an empty nest on Scotia in 2010 and return to the burned area to lay eggs and successfully hatch a brood. That would not be the result in the case of a wildfire."
Capouillez emphasized that burning will be done when the weather is suitable to allow for a safe burn, including the rapid rising and dispersal of smoke. Also, he noted that the partnerships involved in this burn will ensure safety throughout the process.
"Once again, the Nature Conservancy has agreed to serve as 'burn boss,' and oversee the entire project," Capouillez said. "Since controlled burning requires careful timing and a thorough knowledge of weather and fire behavior, highly trained fire personnel with either state or national certification from the Game Commission, The Nature Conservancy, National Park Service and Department of Military and Veterans Affairs will partner to conduct this burn, as well as to provide equipment, materials and support."
Capouillez said the agency has also notified local elected officials, emergency management agencies, fire companies, local airports and local Pennsylvania Department of Transportation officials.
Optimal weather conditions will be chosen for smoke dispersal, but Capouillez noted that during these controlled burns nearby residents will certainly see and smell smoke. The majority of the smoke disappears by the end of the first day, but a small amount of smoke will be generated by slow burning trees inside the units for up to three days.
"People become upset when there is smoke in the air if they don't know the reason for the fire," Capouillez said. "That's why we're trying to get the word out about prescribed fire. If we carefully plan and conduct a burn when weather conditions favor smoke dispersal, this reduces smoke-related problems. Dealing with a little bit of smoke now is infinitely better than trying to control a raging wildfire later."
"We also would like the public to remain out of the burn areas while there is still smoke being generated, and on any windy days, because of the large number of gypsy moth-killed trees. In 2010, we had mountain bikers back in the area while we were still mopping up the burn, which creates safety issues for both the bikers and the firefighters."
Capouillez noted that the Game Commission has conducted prescribed burns on more than 2,400 acres of State Game Lands over the past five years.
"Added benefits from this prescribed burn will be a temporary reduction in ticks, a reduction in exotic and invasive species, training for those who participate in prescribed burns and informing the public about the benefits of prescribed burns," Capouillez said.
Pennsylvania's Wildlife Action Plan cites fire as an important tool in managing certain habitats, including barrens, forests and grasslands, and for species of greatest conservation need. For more information, visit the Game Commission's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us), put your cursor over "Wildlife" in the menu bar at the top of the homepage and then click on "Pennsylvania Wildlife Action Plan" in the drop-down menu list.
SGL 176 currently contains 6,231 acres in Ferguson, Half Moon and Patton townships.
Hunter-Killed elk test negative for CWD
HARRISBURG Samples taken from the 52 hunter-killed elk during the state's 2011 hunting season have all tested negative for chronic wasting disease (CWD) and tuberculosis, according to Dr. Walt Cottrell, the Pennsylvania Game Commission's wildlife veterinarian.
Cottrell noted that sample collection was greatly facilitated by the cooperation of the elk hunters and taxidermists. He added that the Game Commission still is awaiting the results of CWD testing for the hunter-killed deer samples collected during the 2011 rifle deer season, and will announce those results once received.
"Currently, there are no confirmed or suspected cases of CWD-infected deer or elk in Pennsylvania," Cottrell said. "Conducting these tests on hunter-killed deer and elk is one part of the Game Commission's ongoing efforts to monitor wild deer and elk populations for the presence of CWD.
"We obviously need to keep a watchful eye on our wild and captive deer and elk. Working closely with the state Department of Agriculture and other agency representatives on the state's CWD Task Force, we hope to protect our state's wild cervids from this fatal disease."
CWD tests on the elk samples were conducted by the New Bolton Center, which is the University of Pennsylvania's veterinary diagnostic laboratory. Under a contract with Penn State University, the elk samples also were tested for brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis and found to be free from these diseases. New Bolton Center also is conducting the CWD tests on the deer samples. Results are expected later this spring.
PGC announces deadline for ads in digest
HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe today announced Liberty Press Publications, publisher of the Pennsylvania Digest of Hunting & Trapping Regulations, has set April 1, as the deadline for advertising copy in the 2012-13 Digest.
"To offset costs, the Game Commission went to a magazine-sized Digest and began accepting paid advertising," Roe said. "Ad revenues have saved the agency hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past eight years. In addition to improving Digest content by going to a larger, full-color format, the ad revenues also enabled the agency to begin including in the Digest a 'Wildlife Annual' insert filled with valuable information on wildlife and its management."
Each year, the Game Commission prints more than one million copies of the Digest to distribute to every license buyer and Hunter-Trapper Education course participant. A copy of the current Digest (2011-12) is posted on the agency's website (www.pgc.state.pa.us) in the right-hand column of the homepage. The 2012-13 Digest will be posted on the website prior to July 1.
Liberty Press serves as publisher and handles all advertising accounts for the digest. Ad rates range from more than $10,000 for a full-color page to around $500 for a classified box ad. Promotional advertising does not constitute endorsement by the Game Commission or Liberty Press.
For additional advertising information concerning the Pennsylvania Digest of Hunting & Trapping Regulations, contact Liberty Press Publications. The toll-free telephone number is 1-800-296-6402.