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Reminder:This info maybe forwarded as long as PA Legislative Services and the PFSC are given credit for providing this info.

Joint Legislative Budget and Finance Committee
1:00 p.m., 02/16/10, Hearing Room 3 North Office Building
By Joe McGarrity, PLS Intern

The committee held a public hearing to discuss two issues: Examination of current and future costs and revenues from forest products and oil, gas and mineral extraction on PA game lands; and the Deer Management Program of the PA Game Commission.

The Senators in attendance included Chairman John Pippy (R-Allegheny), Jay Costa Jr. (D-Allegheny), Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), and Robert Mensch (R-Montgomery), along with Representatives Robert Godshall (R-Montgomery), David Levdansky (D-Allegheny), Stephen Barrar (R-Delaware), and Scott Conklin (D-Centre).

Dr. Marc McDill, Associate Professor for the School of Forest Resource at Penn State University, presented the committee with the findings regarding the "Examination of Current and Future Costs and Revenues from the Forest Products, Oils, Gas and Mineral Extraction on Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) Lands" report. McDill was joined by Dr. Terry Engelder, and Dr. Bruce Lord. McDill opened by stating the purpose of the study was to "evaluate the PGC's administration and use of their timber and other oil, gas and mineral (OGM) resources, and to assess whether the PGC could and should increase revenues from these resources in order to offset declines in other revenues and rising management costs." McDill revealed that timber accounts for about 20% of PGC revenues or roughly $12.5 million annually on average for the past five years. McDill also stated the OGM revenue has "increased substantially in FY 2008-09 due to leases from Marcellus shale." McDill stated the PGC lacks sufficient information about the timber resources to increase harvesting while also "assuring the public that higher harvest levels can be sustained in the long run." McDill acknowledged the although PGC has made advancements in management planning they still lack the data for determining the amount of timber the PGC can and should harvest. According to McDill the new Comprehensive Management plans have "significant shortcomings." McDill recommended additional planning before increasing timber harvests, make planning a higher priority, consolidating comprehensive plans and developing better regional plans, improving monitoring and evaluation, and encouraging more public involvement. McDill also recommended the PGC promote its foresters to "stay up-to-date with developments in their profession."

According to Engelder, PA hosts one of the largest gas shale reservoirs in the world. Engelder continued that 900,000 acres of the Marcellus shale is on the PGC game lands. Engelder revealed that four specific PGC game land parcels could yield about $3.21 billion due to the Marcellus shale. Engelder did warn, however, that the "market for natural gas shows extreme price volatility."

Senator Mensch asked what effect taxation of the farmer who leases the land or taxation on the actual operators has on drillers coming to PA. Engelder responded they were not tasked with answering that question in there study.

Rep. Godshall asked why the process of timber harvesting is so "laborious." McDill agreed that it is laborious and stated that they required by state and federal laws and are in place for accountability and are consistent with private land management institutions.

Rep. Levdansky asked how PGC only having a limited amount of data in regards to timber inventories and Comprehensive Management plans compare to Department of Conservation and Natural resources (DCNR). McDill responded that DCNR has better data than the PGC, but PGC has made improvements and continues to acquire more data. Rep. Levdansky questioned why PGC does not have better inventory of the timber if it is 20% of revenue. McDill responded that the PGC is starting to take better inventory of the timber and is making improvements. Rep. Levdansky asked if there should be a moratorium on timber harvests until an accurate inventory is gathered. McDill disagreed with a moratorium and suggested PGC focus on developing a more accurate plan rather than just timber removal. Rep. Levdansky asked what process PGC uses to action off bids and lease off lands compared to a public bid and what process does DCNR use when they action off bids and lease off land. Engelder responded that PGC trades parcels of lands to organize its boundaries and the stated that "it makes sense" for PGC to deal with companies that own land around the gaming lands and it does not makes sense to open these lands to public bids. Engelder continued that DCNR allows for royalties and signing bonuses and that the PGC has put more emphasis on royalties and focuses on the long term benefit of the revenue.

Carl Roe, Executive Director of the PA Game Commission, stated that PGC "manages habitat and not forests." Roe emphasized that the role of the PGC is to maximize game for hunters and trappers and they take a "different approach" towards conservation. Roe revealed that instances occur where certain trees are not harvested, even though they are primed to yield lumber, because they provide a habitat for wildlife. Roe stated that revenue is a "byproduct" and the PGC approach differs from DCNR. Roe mentioned that the PGC would "love to have revenue" from the OGM resources but is many cases they do not know who owns the mining rights.

Senator Fontana asked if PGC is confident they own the mining rights. Roe responded that he is confident PGC does not own the mining rights and stated that each parcel of game land has different contracts. Senator Fontana inquired about what the cost would be to figure out who owns the mining rights. Roe answered that to discover all the mining rights it would cost about $1.25 million in research to gather all the information.

Rep. Godshall asked, in regards to not knowing who owns the mining rights to the PGC land, if someone has the title five records. Roe informed the committee that the titles are out there but are waiting to be discovered.

Rep. Levdansky asked if PGC has a problem with the recommendations for regeneration and standardization of bids across the industry provided in the report. Roe answered that they do actively regenerate the forest for habitat reasons and stated they do have standard open bid process across the board even though it fluctuates. Rep. Levdansky asked why there is not a standard for amount for timber for a company putting in a culvert. Roe responded that the price is different depending on region. Rep. Levdansky asked if the PGC plans on hiring more foresters to take better inventory of the timber. Roe responded that they have 98 vacancies due to budgetary reasons. Rep. Levdansky asked how PGC was going advance its management programs without more foresters. Roe responded that it was a continuous process and that it will just take more time. Rep. Levdansky pressed that PGC should hire more foresters in order to have accurate accounting of the timber in the PA game lands.

Scot Williamson, VP of Wildlife Management Institute (WMI), addressed the committee in regards to the "Deer Management Program if the PA Game Commission." Williamson stated the goal of the report was to review the "scientific basis of the PGC's deer management program including the scientific foundation of deer management goals, deer population and habitat measurements, and citizen input procedures. According to Williamson the state's deer population was reduced by 25% between 2005 and 2007. Williamson continued that PGC has attempted to stabilize the deer population. According to Williamson the PGC uses the Sex-Age-Kill (SAK) model to monitor deer population trends. Williamson concluded by issuing a number for recommendation ranging from improving the accuracy of the SAK model to "enhancing communication with stakeholders to explain the deer management program."

Senator Mensch asked how the point-of-sale licensing system would improve reporting rates among hunters. Williamson answered that it provides a point of contact with the license buyer that can be used to survey or motivate hunters to report deer kills. Senator Mensch asked how the PGC addresses the strained relationship with the population. Williamson acknowledged that a majority of the population does not hunts but out forth that they do support hunting as a harvesting management tool. Williamson continued that the citizenry needs to understand the essential services provided by hunters in controlling deer populations.

Rep. Godshall stated that the goal of the deer management plan was not defined and asked for the definition. Williamson responded that the current goal was a health forest and deer population and the desires of the public to be incorporated with the plan. Rep. Godshall persisted by asking for a definition of a health forest or deer population. Williamson answered that the PGC looks at percentage of data to find levels of adequate regeneration. Rep. Godshall, referring to the report, stated that more "poor areas" of deer herds are present than 45-50 years ago. Williamson agreed and stated there is a need to balance herd reduction with the effects of regeneration. Rep. Godshall persisted about the discrepancies in two different models in the report and the measuring of the deer population. Williamson attempted to explain numerous factors that influenced the models and acknowledged that there is a variation in the deer population numbers.

Chairman Pippy asked if PGC chooses which sound practice they use to measure deer population. Williamson answered that PGC has a history of changing what practice they use when more up to date methods are provided. Williamson clarified that it is not the number of deer that matter but "the impact, both negative and positive, the herd has on the habitat." Williamson stated that it is beneficial to keep the deer "in favor with their food supply."

Rep. Levdansky asked what impact the present timber management process has on regeneration. Williamson answered that where the deer numbers are low there is not a significant problem and the regeneration is better where deer population is in balance with the food supply. Rep. Levdansky asked if it the deer density was low enough for regeneration. Williamson responded that 25% might not be low enough. Rep. Levdansky continued to question Williamson about the methodology used to calculate the deer population and asked why they changed the model for estimating the deer population. Williamson answered that the PGC is constantly looking for a more accurate model to estimate the population of the deer herd.

Rep. Levdansky concluded the hearing by stating the report should be the basis for "constructive change."
 
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