Thursday, June 30, 2011

It Isn't Always "The Warden" Land Management In Pennsylvania Elk Country

It Isn't Always "A Warden": Photo by W.Hill
Most people automatically think of lawn enforcement when they see a truck with Pennsylvania Game Commission Decals and assume that this is "the  game warden" whose primary mission as they perceive it is to "catch people".  It is also quite common for many to not be able to differentiate between  Pennsylvania Game Commission and DCNR personnel and operations.  Both misconceptions are very understandable--especially the last one, as in many if not most states one agency oversees outdoor/nature related matters, while here in Pennsylvania three agencies fulfill this mission.

The Fish and Boat Commission enforces laws  pertaining to waterways, boating, and fishing, and  the taking of reptiles and amphibians., DCNR maintains State Forests and Parks and has both a maintenance and enforcement branch, while the Game Commission is responsible for  the maintenance of State Game Lands, and the enforcement of wildlife laws throughout the Commonwealth.  To compound the confusion officers from any of these agencies may in most cases enforce laws and regulations pertaining to the other agencies and all of the agencies have maintenance crews that may drive vehicles with door decals.  For many years most PGC vehicles were green, as were most DCNR vehicles.  This helped differentiate them from Fish and Boat Commission personnel,who usually drove  white vehicles, but this distinction has blurred in recent years as  it is common to see other colors in the PGC--especially in the land management division--I am not quite sure about the other agencies.

The upshot is that in many cases the person you thought is the "game warden" is not a law enforcement officers at all, or at least law-enforcement is not the primary focus of their duties. They may be a biologist, forester, maintenance worker, or land management officer.  The land management officer does in most if not all cases have law-enforcement powers, but the others do not--unless they are deputy wildlife conservation officers. Actually there is officially no such thing as a game warden anymore, Wildlife Conservation Officer is the correct term, but to many they are still "the wardens".

To understand this better, let's start in Harrisburg where PGC operations is divided into several bureaus, each covering a particular group of activities.  The names have changed since my days with the PGC, when I performed duties for the Bureau of Land Management, and the Bureau of Law Enforcement.  Today they are known as the Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management and the Bureau of Wildlife Protection.  The state is divided into six regions, with each region having a regional office and chiefs of each of the respective areas of operations who are known as Supervisors.  From this point of we will confine our discussion to wildlife habitat management or "land management" as I still think of it.  The regional Land Management Supervisor directs a group of Land Management Officers also known as Game Lands Maintenance Group Supervisors. Commonly called Land Management Officers (LMOs). They are responsible for game lands maintenance and habitat development in two or more counties.  LMOs supervise  Game Lands Maintenance Groups, which are usually comprised of two to three crews of Game Lands Maintenance Workers, who in turn are supervised by a Game Lands Maintenance Supervisor, also commonly known as a Labor Foreman.

Game Commission maintenance crews are called "The Food and Cover Corps", a name which is not commonly known to many outside the agency.  It is these people that you see mowing and planting the food plots on Winslow Hill.  John Dzemyan is Land Management Officer for portions of Elk and McKean Counties and oversees the PGC lands on Winslow Hill, while Land Management officer Colleen Shannon is assigned to portions of Cameron, Clearfield, Clinton,  Elk, and McKean Counties, much of which is prime elk habitat.

Land Management Officer John Dzemyan Addresses Wild About Elk Workshop 2010: photo by W.Hill
In the last few years, quite a bit of planting has been done in conjunction with the reclamation work that has transformed Winslow Hill.  To the best of my knowledge this was not done by the PGC, but any future work that is done will likely be performed by the Food and Cover Corps.  The summer mowing is done by them, as is the yearly planting of the food plot at the main Gilbert viewing area, the plot by the cabin on the hill. and the food plot at the Dent's Run Viewing Area.

Game Lands Maintenance Worker, PGC Food and Cover Corp, prepares plot at Gilbert for planting: photo W.Hill

PGC Food Plot To Right Of Cabin on Winslow Hill: Photo by W.Hill
As a result of the reclamation work and food plots maintained by the PGC, there are now more good grasses on the hill than at any time in recent memory. This attracts elk from other areas and helps keep the animals there. While a certain amount would be there even through no work were done, animals naturally search out the best food available. But after a few years, the most attractive grasses such as, clovers, and trefoil  die out in the meadows and they lose much of their appeal to elk. At that point a certain amount of elk would likely disperse from Winslow Hill if they could find better food in another area.  As a result, the PGC conducts an aggressive planting and mowing program to maintain the quality of wildlife habitat on Game Commission lands, while DCNR workers perform the same function on State Forest Lands.

Game Lands Maintenance Worker, Roger Beck, Mows SGL 311 near Winslow Hill Parking Lot: Photo by W.Hill
Many may ask why that areas should be mowed and in many cases the PGC does not mow an entire plot, but does leaves strips of grasses standing..  The problem is that if no maintenance is done, the opening eventually reverts to forest, which results in the loss of grassy, open habitat that elk and other species need for ideal living conditions.  From the standpoint of wildlife photography, had the area in the photo below not been mowed, only the top of the cow's back would have been visible, while  the mowing benefits the welfare of the elk, by removing the mature, coarse grass stem and stimulating the growth of the low lying base of the plant offering improved grazing.

Mowing May Enhance Photographic Opportunities:  Photo by W.Hill
LMO Dzemyan gave a very informative presentation on land management in the elk range at the Wild about Elk Workshop that I attended in 2010. In the future I hope to periodically delve into this a bit more by covering more of the material that he dealt with that day and also take us into the current Management Plan For Elk In Pennsylvania.  I hope to use photos I have taken to illustrate some of the management principles, that LMO Dzemyan discussed, and the plan sets forth, to give readers a better understanding of the overall strategy and methods which the PGC implements to maintain habitat in the elk range.

Originally posted at Pennsylvania Wildlife Photographer by Willard Hill.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Nice to be able to stop by today and spend a while catching up on your work Willard.
Have a good 4th of July.