State game lands are more than just deer habitats

game lands sign
Courtesy Dave Coleman

By Dave Bonta

State Game Lands are invaluable for the preservation of biological diversity in Pennsylvania. According to many conservation professionals, 15,000 acres is about the minimum size needed to fully protect biodiversity in an eastern deciduous forest. Thus, the extensive tracts of state forestland might at first blush seem more valuable than the Game Lands, which average only a few hundred acres apiece. But in many places, Game Lands and other smaller protected areas provide wildlife with essential travel and dispersal corridors between larger reserve areas. And because Game Lands are distributed fairly evenly across the Commonwealth, they capture a much greater diversity of species and natural communities than state forests do.

Unfortunately, many of the Game Lands are managed for the benefit of just a few game species, most of which are already quite abundant, such as deer, grouse, and turkeys. Since all three species thrive in brushy habitat, some PGC land managers favor frequent logging, which also raises revenue for the agency. This results in less interior forest habitat, which some of our most vulnerable classes of organisms, such as migrant songbirds and perennial wildflowers, depend upon for their survival. The Game Commission also allows strip mining and quarrying as part of land swap deals. And although land swaps almost always result in more land for wildlife and for public hunting, treating land as a tradable commodity often results in unique and valuable places being degraded or destroyed.

Each of the 300 State Game Lands has its own management plan, written by one of thirty land managers and implemented by the agency's Food and Cover Corps. None of these plans are available to the public, though according to the PGC website, they are "designed to improve wildlife habitat and provide recreational opportunities." Each fall, public tours are conducted through selected areas to explain some aspects of Game Lands management. Outdoors enthusiasts should keep an eye out for notices of these and other opportunities to get to know their local Game Lands and the people charged with their oversight.

In addition, environmentalists should consider putting their money where their mouth is and supporting the Game Commission's wildlife conservation and land acquisition efforts through the purchase of hunting licenses, subscriptions to Pennsylvania Game News or other items available through the Online Shop at And be sure to let your state representatives know that wildlife conservation is a very high priority and should be fully funded through regular license increases, and possibly support from the General Fund as well.

Dave Bonta is an writer and prolific blogger, and has served as co-chair of the Chapter's public lands committee.

Published August 2005