Farms are magnets for game species such as deer, bears, wild turkeys, cotton-tailed rabbits and ring-necked pheasants, as well as muskrats, beavers, raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes, because these species seek out good agricultural lands with adjacent cover. But as farmers well know, you can have too much of a good thing when it comes to game animals and furbearers. That's where the Cooperative Farm-Game Program can lend you a hand.
FEATURES OF THE COOPERATIVE FARM-GAME PROGRAM
More than 21,000 landowners and tenants currently are taking advantage of the mutual benefits provided by the agency's Cooperative Farm-Game Program. The farms, located in most the state's 67 counties, cover more than 2.5 million acres. Since this program's creation more about 70 years ago, the number of farm-game cooperators has gradually increased, a solid signal that participating landowners are finding relief from the damage game animals and furbearers can cause and protection from careless or slob hunters. Those positive aspects of the program help make it appealing to countless farmers and other property owners.
The Farm-Game Program requires a landowner, or group of landowners, to place under lease a project area comprising at least 1,000 acres for five or more years. Cooperators must be in legal control of farm or property being enrolled. Leases can be cancelled if the cooperator becomes dissatisfied with the project and files a written request, or upon 60 days' written notice by the Game Commission if use of the property is no longer needed or desired.
Created in 1936 as an experimental cooperative farm-game and public hunting grounds program, the Cooperative Farm-Game Program was launched to provide methods through which game conditions in farming regions could be improved materially. It also was expected to lead to more open hunting territory near large population centers, better protection to landowners from unprincipled hunters, and provide an incentive for farmers to cooperate actively with the Commission and conservation organizations to increase the annual small game crop and improve farmland habitat for all wildlife. The program became an overnight sensation for the Game Commission; hunters saw it as a plan to augment lands where public hunting was allowed, and farmers saw it as a means to better manage their property's game populations through hunting, trapping and habitat enhancements. Each year, the program gained more favorable reviews and endorsements. Its continually expansion eventually consumed the entire state.
The Cooperative Farm-Game Program, which is governed by a term-lease agreement, creates a partnership between the Game Commission and landowner whereby they will work in concert to improve public hunting opportunities and wildlife habitat on property enrolled. Hunters and trappers help to manage game and furbearer populations through lawful hunting and trapping. The Game Commission will provide a variety of benefits to the cooperating landowner including: law enforcement patrols to deter visitors from hunting unlawfully, illegal all-terrain vehicle use, and littering or dumping; free food and cover seedlings; and advice on soil conservation and habitat improvements.
The Game Commission tries to work closely with Farm-Game Cooperators to ensure their participation in the program is beneficial to them and wildlife. We strive to create friendly relations between hunters and landowners, because we readily recognize that the future of small game hunting on agricultural lands largely rests in a cooperative coexistence between farmers and hunters. The Farm-Game Program promotes landowner peace of mind through enhanced law enforcement protection and management partnerships. It's a pleasing combination of services that truly appeals to landowners.
Some of the common terms used in and benefits associated with Cooperative Farm-Game Program, are summarized as follows:
Project Area: A contiguous group of farms and their accompanying woodlots, suitable for the protection and propagation of wildlife, make up a project area. Each such area must contain at least 1,000 acres, with each individual farm having suitable hunting opportunities.
Safety Zones: Hunting for or disturbing game, or discharging firearms, within 150 yards of occupied dwellings or other used farm buildings is illegal except by specific permission of the occupant. The Commission may post notices to this effect around such buildings within the prescribed distance, or furnishes signs for this purpose to Cooperators.
Food and Cover Seedlings: If suitable planting sites compatible with a good farm conservation plan are available, the Commission may furnish food and cover seedlings beneficial to wildlife.
Game Stocking: With approval of landowners, Farm-Game Projects with suitable habitat (10-15 acres of good cover) are given preference in the Game Commission's pheasant stocking program.
Benefits to Farmers: Cooperators have found that there are many advantages for property owners enrolled in the Farm-Game Program. In addition to receiving help from sportsmen who harvest surplus game, listed below are just a few of the many benefits that are available through the Pennsylvania Game Commission:
Protection through patrolling and enforcement of law by Wildlife Conservation Officers, especially when project areas are being hunted.
Signs are posted to mark the perimeter of Safety Zones. Other signs are provided warning hunters not to commit any unlawful acts.
Cooperators are provided advice on soil conservation and other profitable farm practices. Since this involves proper use and care of the land, it is important to keep in mind that the following conservation farming measures aid in controlling erosion, conserving moisture, and increasing crop and wildlife yields: Diversion terraces; crop rotation; cover crops; sod waterways; pasture improvement and development; green manuring; perennial hay production; field and gully planting; wildlife hedge planting; wildlife woodland border planting; contour strip cropping; windbreak planting; woodland harvesting; woodland improvement cuttings; and management of odd areas for wildlife.
The Commission aids in the utilization of irregular shaped areas by furnishing various species of young vines, shrubs, and trees that provide food and cover for wildlife, including insect-devouring birds that are beneficial to farmers. A wildlife seed mix consisting of various grain species also is available.
The Commission may cut woodland borders and hedgerows to remove shade from the farmer's cropland, prevent tree roots from competing with field crops for the available moisture and plant nutrients, and provide immediate cover for wildlife.
The Pennsylvania Landowner Liability Act encourages landowners to make their property available to the public for recreational purposes such as hunting by limiting their liability toward persons entering thereon for such purposes.
Present Commission planning provides for establishment of new projects in suitable areas and that agreements will be accepted from landowners or tenants in or adjacent to existing projects. Further information on the program may be obtained from your local Wildlife Conservation Officer or by writing: Pennsylvania Game Commission, Bureau of Land Management, 2001 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17110-9797.