From the Field

Connecting YOU with Wildlife – Pennsylvania Game Commission

Why is that state game land on fire?

Why is that state game land on fire?

In most cases, smoke rising from a Pennsylvania state game land is not reason for alarm.

Pennsylvania Game Commission staff conducts prescribed burns on many game lands during the spring.

Why would the Game Commission purposefully set fire to land?
Controlled burns are used by the Game Commission on game lands statewide to improve plant and wildlife habitats, and reduce the chance of wildfire.

Prescribed fires are conducted during the spring to mimic, under strict control, historic fire that once occurred on the landscape. Many ecosystems in Pennsylvania are considered fire dependent, or requiring periodic fire to regenerate. Species like pitch pine and scrub oak, for instance, grow in habitats known as barrens and without fire, important barrens habitats eventually fade from the landscape. Barrens habitats are among the most diverse and ecologically productive. Young, regenerating pitch pine provides excellent escape cover and roosting areas while scrub oak has the ability to produce an annual acorn crop far more consistent than white or red oak species. This in turn provides forage for deer, turkeys, grouse, bears and many more.

Fire is also used in the spring to help foresters control competing vegetation like striped and red maple and birch from oak stands. A prescribed fire conducted when the competing vegetation is starting to leaf is effective in obtaining maple and birch mortality while promoting young oak seedlings that will eventually grow into mast-producing trees.

What happens to wildlife during the burn?

The Game Commission designs the prescribed fire to provide an opening in burn units for animals to escape. Igniters act as drivers to push wildlife towards the opening.

In addition, animals that utilize fire-dependent habitats have evolved to deal with periodic fire and have many reproductive (like the ability to re-nest) and defensive responses should a fire occur within their home range.

How does this affect turkey and grouse broods and spring turkey hunting?

Controlled burns are designed in part to improve turkey habitat. They provide tremendous benefits, especially to young broods. After fire moves through, succulent re-growth provides poults with the food, cover, and protein-rich bugs they need to grow and survive.

Some spring gobblers are attracted to burns. Hunters have sent photos of gobblers harvested in areas recently burned. Additionally, only a small portion of available habitat is burned at one time.

-Bureau of Habitat Management

Photo by Hal Korber


Jack be nimble, Jack be quick…you should be too when checking for ticks.

Jack be nimble, Jack be should be too when checking for ticks.

Did you know that the first case of Lyme disease in the United State was described in 1969 by a Wisconsin grouse hunter?

It’s important for hunters and outdoor enthusiasts to understand Lyme disease and take preventative steps before, during and after being outdoors.

While the Game Commission does not specialize in human health issues, some general information on Lyme disease is provided below.

Lyme disease is a tick-borne disease of humans and some domestic mammals caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. Wild mammals and birds are often asymptomatic reservoirs for the bacteria.

Lyme disease can cause mild to severe illness in humans. It is common in Pennsylvania, particularly in areas where black-legged ticks or deer ticks are abundant. If left untreated, the illness can progress to serious conditions involving the joints, heart and nervous system.

95% of reported cases of Lyme disease in the United States occurred in the following 12 states: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Delaware, Maine and Virginia.

The black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick is the most important vector for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

Clinical Signs
Most mammals and birds do not show clinical signs of Lyme disease. Some domestic animals, especially dogs, may develop clinical signs including fever, stiffness, lameness and arthritis. in 85% of cases, humans with Lyme disease develop a bull’s eye lesion at the location of the tick attachment followed by fever, fatigue and headache.

Lyme disease is diagnosed using laboratory tests.

Humans and domestic animals can be treated with antibiotics. Treatment has a higher efficacy if the infection is addressed early.

Precautions should be taken to reduce the risk of contracting Lyme disease. When spending time outdoors in potential tick habitats:

  • Tuck long pants into socks or boots
  • Wear insect repellant
  • Check yourself and pets thoroughly for ticks after being outside

-Excerpts from the Pennsylvania Game Commission Wildilfe Disease Library

To learn more visit Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Living with Pennsylvania Black Bears

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Living with Pennsylvania Black  Bears

Pennsylvania black bears have emerged from their dens and are searching for food. Adult black bears can eat up to 20,000 calories per day in the fall. Even during the summer months, their caloric intake is large.

Bears are opportunistic feeders. Bears find food mainly by scent. They will often return to an area where food has been located previously.

Approximately 18,000 black bears live in Pennsylvania. Many Pennsylvanians have reported sightings of black bears in their communities. The Game Commission has provided information on how to coexist peacefully with these large animals.

5 Tips for Making Your Home Less Attractive to Bears

1. Keep trash inside until collection day.
2. Remove bird feeders.
3. Wash garbage clans regularly with hot water and chlorine bleach.
4. Clean the grill after every use, and properly dispose of grease.
5. Bring outdoor pet food inside at night.
It is unlawful to place any food for wildlife that causes bears to congregate in an area. Click the link for more information on “Living with Pennsylvania Black Bears”.

Fast Facts about Fawns

It seems that spring is finally here! And you know what that means: Babies!

Babies of all shapes and sizes. Fawns usually cause the most consternation among the public. They are cute, visible, and seemingly abandoned and helpless.

Peak fawning season

The peak of fawning season for adult does (>1 year old) is May 30 with 90% giving birth from May 12th to June 27th. For fawns (those bred when they were 6 months old and giving birth at 1 year old), the peak is June 19 with 90% giving birth from May 22nd to August 4th.

All fawns spend most of their early life alone

During the first few weeks of life, does only associate with their fawns briefly usually at sunrise and sunset with fawns nursing only 2 or 3 times a day. Fawns select their own bedding location away from its mother and move this hiding place frequently (by itself). The doe is usually within about 90 meters of her resting fawn and makes contact only to nurse.

A fawn found alone, is often not abandoned

Because of this limited interaction with its mother the first few weeks of life, people often think fawns are abandoned. Our advice should always be “Don’t touch that baby!” While I’m sure there may be some evidence for rejection by the doe if a human handles her young, it is minimal. Given her investment, once the bond between mother and young is formed, it is unlikely to be broken even by a stinky human.

Please don’t interrupt doe and fawn bonding

But bad things happened when people mess with wildlife – like imprinting. A doe will imprint upon her fawns in a few hours. If this critical period is interrupted, the imprinting process breaks down and may lead to abandonment. But, fawns take several days or longer to imprint on mom. During this interim, fawns risk being attracted to almost any large moving object – even people. That’s why does are secretive and aggressive during fawn rearing.

Risk of predation

There is also the risk of predation. Fawns have little scent due to mom’s meticulous grooming. If we love all over them, our smell is all over them too making it easier for someone other than mom to find that baby.

Please let young wildlife alone

As difficult as it is, people need to let fawns be. If, in fact, the fawn has been abandoned for some reason, nature will “take its course.” Based on research conducted in Pennsylvania, 57 percent of fawns born in north central Pennsylvania (forested areas) and 72 percent of fawns born in central Pennsylvania (agricultural areas) survive through the summer. This means that between 28-43% of fawns will not live to 6 months of age in Pennsylvania. The majority of this mortality occurs before they are 3 months old. Mortality factors include predators, starvation, failure to nurse, infections, and parasites. It is a harsh reality.

The best advice

Leave all fawns alone and give them their space. Mom will come back for it or she won’t but there isn’t anything you can do to change its fate.

-J.T. Fleegle, Game Commission Deer Biologist

-Photo by Jacob Dingel