Sunday, March 22, 2015

Middle Creek Waterfowl Migration 2015

The late winter--early spring waterfowl migration is now underway and and large numbers of Snow Geese were at  Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area near Lancaster, PA.when I arrived on Wednesday afternoon. Activity was exceptional on both Wednesday and Thursday and it was easy to see large numbers of geese along the tour road at the north end of the lake.

Snow Geese Feed Along Tour Road: Canon 70D-Canon 18-135mm STM@50mm-ISO 200-1/1600sec. f8.0
The lake and potholes are still mostly ice covered and the birds are roosting on the ice at night.  I captured a mixed flock of Tundra Swans, Snow Geese and Canada Geese roosting on the ice at dawn on Thursday, in the area where Hopeland Road passes by the edge of the lake.

Ice Roosting: Canon 70D-Canon 18-135mm STM@27mm-ISO 400-1/400sec. f8.0
Canada Geese-Snow Geese Ice Roosting: Panasonic GH4-Still capture from video-Canon 100-400mm lens

The Pennsylvania Game Commission reported that approximately 1,800 tundra swans were present on March 19th and they provided excellent photo opportunities as well.  It is challenging to capture exceptional images of birds in flight, but I mostly concentrated on video and did not get a lot of good stills.

Tundra Swans: Canon 7DMKII-Canon 100-400mm L IS II @ 400mm-ISO 200-1/2500sec. f 5.6

It is a tremendous spectacle when an entire flock takes flight. As is often the case, I was shooting video when the most dramatic moments occurred, but I did capture a few stills.

 Snow Geese Erupt: Canon 70D-Canon 18-135mm STM@135mm-ISO 200-1/2500sec. f8.0
I also worked a bit on getting some close-up shots of geese in flight or as they were landing.

Snow Goose In Flight: Canon 7DMKII-Canon 100-400mm L IS II @ 371mm-ISO 200-1/2500sec. f 5.6

Snow Goose Landing: Canon 7DMKII-Canon 100-400mm L IS II @ 400mm-ISO 200-1/2500sec. f 5.6
Wednesday and Thursday were beautiful late winter days, but snow was in the forecast for Friday and I was not certain I would travel to the lake if snow was falling on Friday morning.  As it turned out it was just starting to snow at dawn so I did go, but that story is for another day.

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Special Elk License Auctions And Raffle Further Explained

Much Of Raffle And Auction Proceeds Are Used For Elk Management And Habitat Enhancement

Since it seems likely that many readers do not return to a post to check the comments on subsequent visits to the blog,  I am basing today's post on two comments that were made on the last post.

Woody Meristem has worked over forty years in managing natural and  human-modified ecosystems and also photographs wildlife and wildflowers. He is the author of the " In Forest and Field" Blog

Woody commented, " It's hard (impossible?) to defend auctioning a public resource to the highest bidder when so many folks of ordinary means will never get a chance to obtain a permit -- not to mention that the raffle raised more money."

Extensive Funding Is Required To Maintain Food Plots
 Jack Manack of Elk County Outfitters responded as follows,

Willard and readers,

Recently on a hunting website the talk of "Governors Tags" came up and many voiced similar opinions as Woody above did. In stead of retyping or rewording my response I cut and pasted it here. I apologize if it repeats some of the stats that Willard covered in his post.

I have had the opportunity to share a camp and spend time with the last four out of the total six hunters that have had the PA Conservation tag, plus the KECA raffle tag winner. I admit when the tag was first introduced in 2009 I had mixed feelings and didn't know what to think. I soon realized that any hesitations I had to these types of tags were my own problems and nothing more.

This past year the Keystone Elk Country Alliance got their own tag and decided to raffle it off. I agree that this is a great way to have this type of tag, and as was proven, it is also a great way to raise funds for a great cause. The fact that almost $160,000.00 was raised in four weeks is unbelievable. Everybody at Elk County Outfitters enjoys chasing the elk around every fall, enjoys all the people that we have met and gotten to be friends with, but most of all we enjoy the elk range and the area surrounding it. We don't just hunt elk there. We hunt deer, turkeys, bears, coyotes, and so on. The list is almost as long as the species of animals that benefit from the money raised to improve the habitat. That is why we donated the guiding, meals, lodging, etc to go along with that tag. We felt like that was a small way to give back for all of the enjoyment we get out of the area year round.

The elk hunt is constantly under scrutiny and attack, not all of it comes from non-hunters either. The other side of the hunting debate has an extremely loud voice and like it or not extremely deep pockets. When an organization like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation gets awarded a tag like this, before you complain remember that just in Pennsylvania alone they have completed 351 conservation projects with a combined value of over 22 million dollars. So if they want to take that tag and auction it off to the highest bidder, don't get upset about it. Try to remember who the real winner is. It's the sportsman of PA. But maybe that is why some are upset, because they don't fall into that group.

I for one want to thank the organizations that help conserve, improve, and keep the great tradition that is hunting going forward. Whether someone buys a general hunting license, a single raffle tag, or a conservation tag for a couple hundred thousand dollars they are contributing toward the betterment of hunting and they should be thanked not insulted.

Jack Manack
Elk County Outfitters

My Response

First off, I would like to say I thank both gentlemen for their comments and to try to clarify who is responsible for the way licenses are issued and who decides if a raffle or an auction will be used to award special licenses.

Personally I do not like the idea of auctioning tags, but I do not consider that this auction  reflects negatively on The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation nor does the fact that KECA tag is raffled off reflect bring either credit or discredit to that organization as the method is proscribed by State Law.

 In this case  HB 2169 amended Section 2706.2 of Title 34(Game Law)  of The Consolidated Pennsylvania Statutes to re-authorize the original special conservation tag and establish the raffle.

First it establishes how the normal licenses issued each year shall be awarded and it plainly states,  "The commission shall hold a random drawing of applications for the issuance of elk licenses under this subsection at the Elk Country Visitor Center in the Township of Benezette."
 The Special Conservation Tags
The Auction
Next it establishes that the PGC is authorized to auction off a special license to hunters interested in the opportunity to hunt one elk subject to the following:
(1) One license shall be auctioned annually.
(2) The auction shall be open to residents and
nonresidents of this Commonwealth.
(3) The commission may, under 62 Pa.C.S. Pt. I (relating
to Commonwealth Procurement Code), contract with a wildlife
conservation organization to implement and conduct the
auction. The commission shall promulgate regulations for the
use of the license, remitting funds to the commission and
conduct of the auction.
(4) [The contracted organization shall retain no more
than 20% of the proceeds from the auction.
The Raffle

Special-license fundraiser.--In addition to any other elk license provided for under this section, the commission may hold a special-license fundraiser for hunters interested in the opportunity to hunt one elk, subject to the following:
(1) The commission may enter into a contract with a
Pennsylvania-based nonprofit organization whose primary
mission is the advancement of education, stewardship and
habitat for the elk population in this Commonwealth and that
is a participant in a public-private partnership for the
management and operation of the Elk Country Visitor's Center
in Benezette Township, Elk County, to auction or raffle one
elk license annually.
(2) The entity which contracts with the commission under
paragraph (1) may conduct a fundraiser for the opportunity
for interested hunters to purchase the elk license. The
fundraiser shall be open to all residents and nonresidents of
this Commonwealth who wish to obtain the license. The
subsequent use of the license must meet Federal and State
hunting regulations.
 (3) The entity which contracts with the commission under
paragraph (1) may retain administrative costs associated with
the auction.
(4) The proceeds remaining after retention of
administrative costs under paragraph (3) shall be returned to
the commission and shall be used pursuant to the contract
under paragraph (1) in a manner consistent with the
commission's elk management plan. 
The Bottom Line
In the interest of brevity I have left out some parts that are not really of interest to our discussion here so I suggest that you read the actual law if you so desire.  The main points I take away are:

  • The Organization auctioning the tag may retain up to 20% of what the tag brings for their own use and may also retain administrative costs, which are agreed on in advance to the tag being awarded to the organization. 
  •  In the instance of the raffle- KECA retains only the administrative costs which again are agreed upon in advance of the raffle.
  • RMEF returned all moneys earned from the 2014 auction to the PGC for use in elk management and habitat development.
 Originally Published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Special Conservation Elk License-2015 Pennsylvania Elk Tag Brings $52,500

Special Conservation Licenses Target Mature Bulls
Pennsylvania offers two special conservation elk licenses, which are issued each year in addition to the normal allocation of  tags. One is auctioned off by a conservation organization, while the other is raffled-off by The Keystone Elk Country Alliance. Both enable the holder to hunt for elk in any elk management unit open to elk hunting for approximately 60 days beginning in early September.

Originally there was one of these licenses which was called a "Governor's Conservation Tag", "Special Conservation Tag" or some combination or variation of these phrasings. Leading up to the first modern day elk season in 2001, the  Game Commission Elk Hunt Advisory Committee Report recommended one special elk license for wildlife conservation organizations to auction as a concept for promoting the hunting of Pennsylvania elk, but it was not implemented at that time as it was determined that this needed prior approval from the legislature.

Rep. Marc J. Gergely (D-Allegheny) introduced House Bill 747 to grant the Game Commission authority to provide one antlered elk license to a wildlife conservation organization to auction. Of the auction proceeds, up to 20 percent were to be retained by the wildlife conservation organization and the rest turned over to the Game Commission for elk management. This was signed into law on Oct. 9, Act 101 of 2008 (Source PGC News Release #017-09).

The first tag was auctioned off in 2009 by the National Wild Turkey Federation and sold for $28,000 at its' national convention in Nashville, Tennessee, in February of 2009. The successful bidder was Jim Nyce, of Green Lane, Montgomery County, who took a 6x6 bull on Oct. 14, in Benezette Township, Elk County. The decision to award the tag to the NWTF caused a great deal of controversy at the time as many thought that The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation would be a more appropriate organization to auction an elk tag and many were disappointed as they expected the tag to sell for much more.

The tag was awarded to the RMEF in 2010, 2013, 2014 and 2015. This year's auction yielded a record high of $52,500 for a Pennsylvania bull elk.

 Below is a list of the years the auction has been held  and the  amounts of the successful bids.

          2009                           National  Wild  Turkey Federation          $28,000.00
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
$ 35,000.00
Safari club International
$ 29,000.00
Eastern Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation
$ 37,500.00
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
$ 40,000.00
             2014                 Rocky Mountain                $41,000.00
                                        Elk  Foundation  

Source: 2009--2013-PGC PROJECT ANNUAL JOB REPORT-Elk Research/Management-
Elk Population Survey/Elk Harvest Management-PERIOD COVERED: 1 July 2013 to 30 June 2014-
Auctioning organization and wining bid for the Pennsylvania elk special conservation tag, 2009-2013 Prepared by Jeremy Banfield, Eric Perlock, and Christopher Rosenberry-Date: 27 June 2014.
The 2014 Data is from a 08/13/2014  RMEF Press Release-RMEF Elk Tag Raises Record $41,000 for

There  almost was no auction in 2014 as it is usually held early in the year, but the law authorizing the special conservation tag expired and it was not until July 9, 2014 that  HB 2169, which reauthorizes the Special Elk License, was signed into law.  This left only a short time to hold the auction so It was conducted online from July 31, to August 5th. . HB 2169 also expanded the special license concept to provide an additional tag for auction or raffle by the Keystone Elk Country Alliance (KECA), the organization that manages the Elk Country Visitors’ Center in Benezette, Elk County.

This year the tag was sold for $52,500 on Jan. 31, at the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation's  Hunters Rendezvous Auction, at which several special elk licenses were auctioned off to raise money for conservation. To learn  more about this read PGC News Release #009-15.

While the auctioning of tags has won wide acclaim as a fundraising method, it has also attracted criticism as favoring the wealthy over the average hunter.

According to the Census Bureau, the median household income for Pennsylvania is $ $52,548, and $45,767 for Elk County. Per capita income is listed as $28,502 for Pennsylvania  and  $23,738 for Elk County. All figures are in 2013 dollars. Source: United States Census Bureau Quick Facts .  When one considers this, it is not hard to figure that very few working class people can compete for these tags as a tag is likely to go for more than what one can earn in a year.

The second license as raffled off by the Keystone Elk Country Alliance avoids much of this stigma as almost anyone can afford to participate with chances costing $25 each, or six chances for $100 in the 2014 drawing.  Those who are successful in either the auction or the raffle are also required to buy the either a $25.00 resident ($25.00) or non-resident ( $250.00) elk hunting license in addition to a general hunting license, which was $20.70 for a resident adult or $101.70 for an adult non-resident license in 2014.

It is especially noteworthy that the raffle raised almost $160,000, which is about three times as much as the auctioned tag brought.

While most of the News Release is devoted to the auction, Executive Director Matt Hough is quoted near the end as saying,  “The opportunity to hunt Pennsylvania’s elk only tells part of the story,” Hough said. “Every year, thousands visit the elk range to learn about elk and to see these majestic animals up close."

“Pennsylvania’s elk certainly are something to get excited about, and tens of thousands of people are showing they understand that,” Hough said.

The release goes on to point out that," the Rocky Mountain Elk (RMEF), which has about 11,000 members who are Pennsylvanians, has been an important partner to the Pennsylvania Game Commission for many years. Since 1991, the foundation and its partners have completed 351 conservation and hunting-heritage outreach projects in Pennsylvania, with a combined value of more than $22.6 million."

"RMEF has made 10 land acquisitions that have opened or secured public access to 8,546 acres on Pennsylvania’s elk range, and has been involved with land-enhancement projects on the elk range that total another 7,064 acres."

From my perspective this brings us back to the controversy that raged recently about banning access to State Game Lands "SGLS" during significant portions of the year to all but those actively engaged in hunting or trapping. To their credit it seems that many PGC officials do not want this to happen, but some seem to be determined that some version of this will be passed in the future..  At this point the Agency should be reaching out to both their core constituency of hunters and trappers and to the non-consumptive users of public lands as well,  with a view toward managing the wildlife and wild-lands of The Commonwealth for the benefit and use of all who enjoy our wonderful wildlife heritage..

Originally published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Production Company Films In Elk Country

Photo by Paul Staniszewski-Used by Permission All Rights Reserved
 On January 7th I was contacted by an Associate Producer of Steve Rotfeld Productions who produces the long running animal television series "Wild About Animals" hosted by Mariette Hartley, which is an Emmy award winning, nationally syndicated program that focuses on the well being of animals. I had captured their attention with my blogging about wildlife and they wished to have a crew accompany me for a day as I photographed and documented Pennsylvania wildlife.

For a variety of reasons I did not wish to participate in the project, but it was an excellent opportunity so I referred  the company to Paul Staniszewski of Troutville, PA. Paul who is very familiar to regular readers of this blog, has been very active in Pennsylvania elk photography for several years. His work may be seen and purchased at Elk Country Visitor Center as well as other venues.

Rothfield Productions selected Paul for the project and he put them in touch with The Pennsylvania Game Commission and the management at Elk Country Visitor Center.  As a result a cooperative effort all came together on February 11, 2015 when Rotfield Productions spent a day in Pennsylvania Elk Country filming footage for the episode.

Below is a Press Release:

Production Company Films Elk in PA Wilds

On February 11, 2015 the Steve Rotfeld Production Company (SRP) was in Benezette to film an episode of the adventure series "Wild About Animals". The subject of this program was the Pennsylvania elk herd. The morning began with a report of a bull elk located in Scattertown with a swing entangled in his antlers. Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) personnel tranquilized the elk and removed the entangled swing and attached a radio collar around his neck. The purpose of the collar is to allow the PGC to monitor the movements and behavior of the elk herd. The activities were recorded and can be seen on "Wild About Animals"

The filming schedule included interviews with Colleen Shanon, PGC Land and Elk Habitat Manager, and Jeremy Banfield, PGC Elk Biologist. The backdrop for the interviews was the Elk Country Visitor Center managed by the Keystone Country Elk Alliance. CEO Rawley Cogan was interviewed as part of the program at the Visitor Center. The crew then interviewed Paul Staniszewski, a local elk photographer and Pennsylvania Wilds Artisan. He mentioned that in the years that he has been roaming the hills around Benezette photographing elk the thing that impressed him most was the accomplishments of several state agencies. The PA Game Commission, Fish & Boat Commission, Environment Protection Agency, and the Department of Conservation Natural Resources all collaborated to take this land decimated by strip mining and transformed it into a viable habitat for elk. The result is that Benezette is now a popular tourist destination with hundreds of thousands visitors to the area every year.. Additionally he is most appreciative of the hospitality of local residents that give him an opportunity to photograph these majestic animals and share their beauty with others.

"Wild About Animals", hosted by Emmy Award winning actress Mariette Hartley, travels the globe to bring viewers fascinating stories about a variety of animals in their natural environment. SRP is an Emmy Award winning production and national broadcast syndication company. Since its inception in 1985, its programs have appeared on TLC, ESPN, ESPN Classic, Animal Planet, Travel Channel, and other national and international venues.

 Bill Watts, Associate Producer for SRP, noted that he was impressed with the level of cooperation,
accommodation and hospitably exhibited by everyone involved and that this assured the success of this project. Individuals interested in learning about the elk are invited to refer to their cable television scheduling guide and view the upcoming program.

This program will bring national and international attention to the value of our elk herd, introducing viewers to this state treasure and the beauty of this wild and scenic part of Pennsylvania.

Paul Staniszewski

I commend  Paul for his efforts in helping bring this project to fruition and look forward to seeing the broadcast.

Originally Published at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.