HARRISBURG — Sometimes even the best intentions and what are believed to be the soundest of plans simply seem to have been doomed to fail from the outset.
A prime example of such situations can be had by simply searching the name George Armstrong Custer on Google.
So it was when the Pennsylvania Game Commission board of game commissioners took on the ambitious project of establishing pockets of land that were to be stocked with reproducing trap-and-transfer wild pheasants from the Mid-West. First up was the Central Susquehanna Wild Pheasant Recovery Area located in Columbia, Montour and Northumberland counties, established in 2007, with the partnership of the Central Susquehanna Chapter of Pheasants Forever.
Today, the Central Susquehanna WPRA is the shining star of everything the program was intended and hoped to be. It has been so successful in establishing a population of reproducing birds that a permit-based pheasant hunt has been held the last two years for youth hunters and there are plans for another hunt to be held this year.
Next was the Somerset WPRA in 2009, which was established along with the Somerset County Chapter of Pheasants Forever. Unfortunately, a reproducing population of birds was not achieved, and the PGC followed its ring-necked pheasant management plan that calls for dissolving unsuccessful WPRAs so those areas can be reopened to pheasant releases and pheasant hunting.
In 2010, the Hegins-Gratz Valley WPRA, located in Dauphin and Schuylkill counties, was established with the assistance of the Schuylkill County Chapter of Pheasants Forever. In 2011, the Franklin County WPRA was established with the assistance of the Cumberland Valley Chapter of Pheasants Forever.
While the Franklin WPRA will continue to remain in operation because of indications that a reproducing population of wild pheasants is being established, the Hegins-Gratz WPRA was seemingly doomed from the start as several stockings had to be canceled because of severe winter storms in the Mid-West preventing the trapping and transfer of pheasants.
Indications that the WPRA would close have been circulating for the past year, and at the April quarterly meeting of the PGC BOC it was officially proposed to end the project. Two weeks ago at its quarterly meeting, the BOC gave final approval to dissolve the Hegins-Gratz WPRA and reopen the area for the stocking of farm-raised birds by the agency, sportsmen’s organizations and private individuals.
Located in Wildlife Management Area 4E, the Hegins-Gratz Valley WPRA received its first stocking of 300 wild pheasants that had been trapped in the Mid-West and were released there in hopes they would take hold and grow into a huntable population. Each of the past flushing surveys, however, showed that the population was decreasing and that rather than dispersing throughout the area were holding in pockets.
While some of the wild birds have formed scattered flocks, the PGC had to accept the fact that the goal of a reproducing population would not be achieved. Still, Southeast Region game commissioner Brian Hoover is holding out hope that some of the farms in the project will continue to post the land to protect the wild birds that are breeding.
With the closing of Hegins-Gratz, the prohibition on dog training within the boundaries of the WPRA has been lifted. Previously, dog training from March 1 through July 31 was prohibited in order to protect nesting hens.
“I only wish we could have done more for Hegins-Gratz and taken a little more time,” Hoover said. “I’m hoping we can continue to work with some of the farmers who have a population of wild birds on their land and in even a small way have wild pheasants on the ground.
“There will, however, be pheasant hunting once again in that area because we will be stocking birds on public land. Also, we have been told by several sportsmen’s groups they will once again begin stocking pheasants.”
In a further measure, the Central Susquehanna and Franklin WPRAs’ boundaries will be adjusted. Reducing the size of both WPRAs will serve to better protect the existing populations of wild pheasants.
Establishing the Hegins-Gratz WPRA was an ambitious undertaking, but establishing a huntable population of wild pheasants literally never got off the ground.