Good news, bad news for game, fish agencies

The number of hunting-related shooting incidents sharply dropped following the PA Game Commissions 1992 requirement for all fall turkey hunters to wear hunter orange. Stock image.

The good news: Hunting here in the Keystone State is safe and getting safer. In fact, hunting-related shooting incidents have declined by nearly 80 percent in Pennsylvania since hunter-education training began in 1959. But this year, for the first time since the Pennsylvania Game Commission began tracking such incidents in 1915, there was not a single human fatality related to gun handling in hunting and trapping, according to the agencys newly released report on hunting-related shooting incidents (HRSIs) in 2012. An HRSI is defined as any occurrence in which a person is injured as the result of a discharge from a firearm or bow during actual hunting or furtaking activities.

And while there were still 33 non-fatal incidents, that number also represents a decrease from the previous year and extends a continuing trend of increased hunter safety statewide. Game Commission Executive Director Carl G. Roe said the numbers are encouraging.

While one accident is too many, we are pleased to see that these types of shooting incidents continue to drop in Pennsylvania, and we look forward to continuing this impressive trend in safer hunting, Roe said.

Aside from the absence of fatalities, the report for 2012 contains what could be another first for Pennsylvania: Statewide, there was not a single hunting-related shooting incident during the fall turkey-hunting season in 2012.

While the number of such incidents sharply dropped following the Game Commissions 1992 requirement for all fall turkey hunters to wear hunter orange, there is no other year on record without at least one incident during fall turkey season.

In its annual reports on HRSIs, the Game Commission establishes an incident rate by computing the number of accidents per 100,000 participants. The 3.52 incident rate reported for 2012 is slightly lower than the 2011 rate of 3.88.

An analysis of offender ages revealed individuals ages 16 and younger had an incident rate of 5.86 per 100,000 participants. A total of 14 incidents 42 percent of all 2012 incidents with an identified offender were caused by individuals with 10 or fewer years of hunting experience.

However, no incidents in 2012 resulted from youth participating in the Mentored Youth Hunting Program a program whereby hunters under the age of 12 are permitted to harvest certain wildlife species, if they are accompanied by a licensed adult. More than 33,400 mentored youth permits were issued during 2012.

The leading causes of hunter-related shooting incidents in 2012 were a sporting arm carried in a dangerous position and a victim being in the line of fire, each accounting for 24 percent of the total.

The Game Commission attributes the trend of declining hunter-related shooting incidents, in part, to mandatory hunter-education training and requirements for hunters to wear fluorescent orange during certain firearms seasons. The Game Commission also has partnered with the National Wild Turkey Federation for the past 20 years to increase safety among turkey hunters.

Nearly 38,000 students statewide were certified in 2012 through one of the commissions Basic Hunter-Trapper education courses an effort made possible by fewer than 2,300 volunteer instructors.

Roe applauded the commitment of instructors, and congratulated graduates of the course and the hunting public on a safe year of hunting in 2012.

For our hunters and ourselves, we are committed to many more years like this one, declared Roe.

The bad news: While the HRSI report was great news for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the news for PGCs sister agency, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, was rather bleak, stemming from the recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agencys (EPA) approval of Pennsylvanias 2012 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report as submitted by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The EPAs endorsement of the DEP report is extremely disappointing since it delays action on beginning to develop a cleanup plan for the Susquehanna River for at least another two years, lamented John Arway, the Fish Commissions Executive Director. We continue to believe that ample scientific evidence exists to demonstrate that the river is sick and needs help sooner than later. Smallmouth bass are dying and it is imperative that we begin to take steps to clean up the river. This delay will result in another two years of inaction and will result in more bass dying, leading to less recreational fishing and a continued economic impact to those who benefit from a healthy river.

The recently published EPA National Rivers and Streams Assessment Survey found that over 55% of our nations streams and rivers do not support healthy populations of aquatic life. A total of 40% of our waters have been identified to have high levels of phosphorus and 27% have high levels of nitrogen. Four sampling sites of the national survey were located on the Susquehanna River and the two Pennsylvania sites rated poor for fish, periphyton, water quality and total phosphorus. Since EPAs own data corroborated the PFBCs findings that the river is of poor quality, we are surprised that EPA did not conclude that we need to list the river as impaired and develop a plan to fix it.

Despite this setback, we will continue to work collaboratively with DEP and others to collect the necessary data to prove by whatever measurement necessary that the river is impaired. Our anglers and the smallmouth bass that remain in the river deserve our full attention while we continue to debate their fate, concluded a clearly disappointed Arway.

Join the Conversation