During the time of medieval kings hunting was a privilege reserved for royalties and their guests. This was not because the common man could not own the weapons necessary to hunt; nearly everyone owned a bow, sword or spear so they could answer their lord’s call to arms. What they did not own was the land necessary to hunt. You see, all the land was owned by the crown. Even the lord’s did not own their land, they were simply granted title to it in the king’s name.
In modern day Pennsylvania much of the prime hunting ground is still owned by the government. The Pennsylvania Game Commission currently owns over 300 separate tracts totaling over 1.4 million acres. This land, however, is not owned for the purpose of excluding sportsmen but to insure sportsmen across the Commonwealth have ready access to fee free public hunting.
During the 2014 House Game and Fisheries Committee annual address by PGC staff Rep. Martin Causer (R- 67th District) criticized what he sees as aggressive acquisitions of additional land holding – including over 18,000 acres in the last year. Rep. Causer claimed that the Commission was somehow cheating the rural communities by removing these properties from private ownership and the local tax rolls.
What he failed to address is that the Commission does pay fees in lieu of taxes (1.20/acres) and further contributes to the local economy by drawing sportsmen to the area. These sportsmen spend vast sums of money on food, lodging and supplies on trips to the area that would be impossible without the access to the State Game Land System.
These property holdings also generate income for the Commission by way of timber sales and Marcellus Shale royalties. This income allows the Commission to not only reduce the need for an increase in license fees, which have not increased in almost a decade, but to also operate without any contributions from the General Fund.
While critics may see the Pennsylvania Game Commission as the big, bad land baron in reality they are much like the lords of ancient times, except instead of holding the land for a king they hold them in the name of every sportsman of the Commonwealth. This program has been vital in not only providing free hunting access across the Commonwealth, but many of the properties also offer target ranges important to insuring a successful season and also provide local wildlife valuable habitat managed to meet their species specific needs. Even if you do not hunt you benefit from these holdings either by way of the increased tourism, and its associated revenue, they bring to the local economy or simply by the resources they preserve.
So, next time someone rants on about how the Game Commission is a greedy land baron who does not pay their fair share in taxes or local fees remember they are not a landlord but rather a land management agency. You, the citizens of Pennsylvania, are the land owners and the land you own is far more valuable than the taxes local officials hope to collect.