Ricketts Glen in Ice

Ricketts Glen in Ice

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Woody Guthrie - This Land is Your Land - UPDATED after the essay.

While it is clear that there is a desire to manage game lands for all of their intended beneficiaries, it doesn’t seem that the currently proposed permit system for hikers (Amend 58 Pa. Code §§ 135.41 and create Chapter 147, Subchapter AA.) is one that will do what it needs to do.

On one hand, I do understand that game lands cost money. And yes, I do understand that there is a serious feeling of hunters having to face the burden of this payment through their hunting licenses while “freeloading” hikers (and others who I do not speak for or against since I am not one of them) walk through the lands and pay nothing. I understand as well that many hunters feel that people walking through “their” woods with no intention to hunt there will scare the game away, and if possible, I can see where they would want to be able to “fence off” the forests from anyone who might keep them from being able to provide meat to their families.

That said, on the other hand, I understand that these lands belong to all of the Pennsylvania taxpayers who would serve to benefit from them. Who are the hunters to barge their way to the front of the line so that they should have some kind of absolute right to the forest by themselves - even if they are managed by the PA Game Commission? By acting like this, we move away from the common respect that many hikers have for the hunting population to try to avoid these lands if at all possible. As the saying goes, we get more flies with honey. Many hikers will go somewhere else if guns are going to be active in the woods. Wouldn’t you? I would. Thus, these people will avoid the lands, and if they have to use them to get from Point A to B on a long distance backpacking trip in “some of the most scenic times of the year,” they will wear orange while treating the land with respect.

That’s just common decency.

As a member of the Keystone Trails Association, I understand and respect this club’s main ideas that 1) hikers don’t cause as much damage to the trails with their boots as motorized vehicles and horses do, 2) that we too have donated lands (such as the tract around the Thousand Steps in Mount Union, which the trail group I serve as newsletter editor and trail representative – The Standing Stone Trail Club – was more than happy to provide for the public as a whole), 3) that we take care of and maintain these trails with our time and our money (and trust me, I know what my fellow club members do with their time – for many, it’s pretty much a second job), and 4) who are you, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, going to have to monitor every single hiker to have these permits?

It just sounds like an opportunity to create an unenforceable law.

That waste of time and money – especially for a free permit – seems to be money that you can better use in procuring new lands or keeping beer parties, litter bugs, and graffiti artists off of our lands. I realize that this is a feasibility study and that you need data. The purpose of that, I am sure, is to tell us that we have to pay for a permit. Fair enough. If that’s what you want, spend the money to tell me why it needs to happen instead of finding a way to keep bringing this to the table for constant discussion until it happens. In this, I am willing to break bread with many of my fellow hikers and say that I’m not opposed to paying to be able to hike. For the $20.70 cost of the 2014 license (and let’s say that hikers were asked to pay the same as hunters for sake of the argument), I can take my wife to the movies on one night if I don’t buy refreshments. Personally, I’d rather support conservation budgets with my paycheck, but with that, I, like many of my fellow hikers, already do. See, I’m in the KTA and the SSTC. I give them my time and money, and I’ve been thinking long and hard about supporting other groups who work hard to keep these trails open. I have no problem with buying special permits in the national parks when I go to them or a park pass. I have paid for other land use areas, public and private, across this country.

See I’m OK with that.

What I’m not OK with is a system that makes me feel like a second class citizen / freeloader because I choose to do my shooting with a camera instead of a gun. I also don’t like to feel like a potential source of funding revenue either.

In addition, it’s not that I’m anti-gun; I’m not. I grew up the son of a hunter / fisherman, and I like how so many people can have the opportunity to engage in these pursuits as I did in my younger days. I still like to shoot. I like to hear the tales of what hunters got out of their woodland pursuits, so I ask not to see these words as a knee jerk reaction on my behalf.

For what I do want to be seen as is the following:

1) A feeling that hunters and hikers have a lot in common – even if one is a vegetarian and the other spends money to take his or her deer to a taxidermist, we have more in common than we don’t. To this end, I actively promote hikers not being critical of hunters either.

2) A partnership between hiking groups and the Game Commission to “outsource” trail maintenance, as is done so well in many cases, to trail groups (with permission) to keep trails that would benefit hikers and hunters maintained (not an easy or cheap endeavor).

3) An explanation and request to understand why the money for hiking licenses is necessary. As an English professor, I teach my students the art of persuasive writing. With this, we have to approach our audience in a way that speaks to them. These ideas may be out there, but by coming together, we can smooth out financial concerns. This would go far to letting people know that they’re paying for parts of a forest and not throwing money away to urban problems. And on that note, take your ideas to those who might hike through our trails from other states. People travel here for these purposes, so by spreading the message to forums such as Backpacker Magazine, you’ll be eliminating frustrations caused to hikers from say Tennessee who hike up through Pennsylvania on the Great Eastern Trail.

4) How about making the cost of a license zero if we have membership in a specific Pennsylvania trail club or the Keystone Trail Association? Thus, you will see that we are truly “paying our share.”

I realize there are elements within the hiking community who oppose paying any more money to the state’s coffers since they believe they pay enough taxes already, but I don’t advocate this for them. I also realize that many hikers will hike “illegally”if there are licenses, and with that, I think about the time and resources to go out and stop people to make them get a free permit during this proposed period. As we in the persuasive business know, they are unconvertible, so let’s just stick with the people like me who want to hear why you are doing this to us.

Thus, let us all think about how we can “sell” this necessity, if it is indeed a necessity and not just a knee jerk reaction to get funds from an untapped resource.
PS - If you would like volunteer assistance with bridging the gap between groups, I am more than willing to provide my talents and time for this. Thank you for all that you do for Pennsylvania as a whole. I do appreciate it.


If I were to redo this, I would change taxpayers to citizens who the state manages its land for.

Funding for the Game Commission

Funded primarily by hunting and furtaker license sales; State Game Lands timber, mineral and oil/gas revenues; and a federal excise tax on sporting arms and ammunition; the Commission is almost entirely supported by hunters and trappers, or assets that have been procured with license dollars. The Commission does not receive state General Fund appropriations. More than half its annual revenue comes from license sales, a relatively fixed income source. License fees cannot be increased without approval of the General Assembly, and fee increases have historically come only about every 10 years.

It is also important to say that the Pittman-Robertson law protects hunting license monies.

A fair question to this would be whether Pittman Robertson would protect hiking license monies.

Interestingly, the state wanted to charge more to hike than hunt when this deal was shelved in summer with a guarantee that hikers wouldn't have to pay. Well, we don't have to with the new proposal, but it seems to be around the bend. Would hikers pay the cheaper fee to get a hunter's license? I would since I have purchased one before, and I still have it AND my hunter saftey card from over 30 years ago.

The big issue is this (as reprinted from page 37 of one of their PDFs supplied by the KTA and others who have read their missives.:

(not being able to) Hike on foot or ride a nonmotorized vehicle, conveyance or animal from the last Saturday in September until the third Saturday in January, and [before 1p.m.] from the second Saturday in April through [the last Saturday in May] Memorial Day inclusive, except on Sundays or while lawfully engaged in hunting, trapping or fishing.

In this letter, it is stated (by KTA) that these problems came from hikers not wearing orange during hunting season though they also say no instances were cited. Fair enough.

To me, if they want to knee jerk reaction like this and advocate for hunters, that is their right. hunters DO PAY THE MAJORITY OF THE MONEY for licenses. That's a fact. HOWEVER, when hikers pay, too, we will get a voice to their dealings.

Sadly, many people already line up to give these hardworking men and women who do so many good things for the state (my hat is really off to them for that). Do they want to upset multiple groups at once? Can't we just find a common sense place in the middle?

That is my goal for all of us. Harmony and happiness and protecting our natural resources for future generations of hikers, hunters, snowmobiles, horseback riders, birders, artists, poets, ramblers (everything except litter bugs, graffiti artists, and weed / beer partiers)... they're all good things.

In addition, while my words ring out in a certain way (the booming voice for the back of the room), I am not anti-hunter. If not for having a father who hunted, I would never love nature (see this article). Besides, I've had a serious hankering for venison, and I'm smart enough to know that this doesn't come from a supermarket...