From the Field

Connecting YOU with Wildlife – Pennsylvania Game Commission

Be a Conservation Hero!

Poachers are thieves. Help us catch them.

Have you witnessed a wildlife crime against big game (deer, turkey, bear and elk) or a species that is protected, endangered or threatened?

Call Operation Game Thief’s toll-free hotline, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to report wildlife violations: 1-888-PGC-8001 or fill out an Operation Game Thief Reporting Form online.

Calls to the Operation Game Thief telephone number are always answered by a secure recording device. Although it is beneficial to provide your contact information in case officers have follow-up questions, callers may remain confidential, however, those who wish to claim any monetary reward, must provide contact information.

What crimes should you report?

Wildlife crimes affect us all, whether we are hunters, trappers, bird watchers or others who enjoy walking in the woods. The illegal shooting or taking of big game or protected, endangered or threatened species, or any crime against those species should be reported through Operation Game Thief. Other violations should be reported to the region office serving the county in which the violation is taking place as quickly as possible.

What information should you provide?

Please provide as many details as possible:

  • Description of WHAT YOU SAW and the SPECIES involved
  • DATE and TIME of occurrence
  • Description of PERSON(S): height, weight, hair color, eye color, approximate age, tattoo or other distinguishing feature, clothing, firearm
  • VEHICLE Description: color, make, model, dents, decals, bumper stickers; license number and state; road/route; direction of travel
  • Your name and phone number (required to claim any monetary reward) and whether or not you choose to remain confidential

Monetary Reward

If the suspected violation involves the killing of big game animals, or threatened or endangered species, an additional $500 penalty may be added to those convicted of committing the crime. This additional penalty may be added to fines levied upon those found guilty of Game and Wildlife Code violations. The $500 enhanced penalty goes into a special fund from which half the amount ($250) may be paid to the individual who provided the information that led to the conviction. The remainder will be used to offset the costs of Operation Game Thief.

Cabela’s Hamburg branch of the nationwide retailer of hunting, fishing and outdoor gear, has stepped up to provide $50 gift cards the Game Commission will use as rewards for tip-driven convictions when the additional penalty is not assessed.


Cavity Nesting Birds are Losing Habitat

About half of Pennsylvania is forested, and slightly more than half of that forestland is dominated by large trees. Only a small percentage of these large trees are dead, deteriorating or harboring cavities that birds and mammals use for dens or nest sites. To help offset this disparity, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has been manufacturing nest boxes for everything from bluebirds to wood ducks for years at its Howard Nursery in Centre County.

bbbox.dingelHoward Nursery

In recent years, Howard Nursery has produced in excess of 2,000 bluebird boxes, 5,000 bluebird box kits, hundreds of wood duck, kestrel, barn owl and bat boxes for placement on State Game Lands and other lands enrolled in the Game Commission’s cooperative public access programs. These wildlife homes are also available for sale to the public for placement on private land.


Nest Boxeswd.dingel

Bluebirds and wood ducks, in particular, have benefited greatly from nest boxes. Both species – reeling from insufficient nesting sites for years – have rebounded to respectable numbers in Pennsylvania and elsewhere as a result of thousands of nesting boxes being placed afield by wildlife managers, hunters and boy scouts, to name a few. Other beneficiaries of these wildlife boxes include house wrens, tree swallows, flying squirrels, screech owls and woodpeckers.

The Value of Dead Trees

Nest boxes are invaluable to wildlife, but they won’t replace a squirrel’s need for dead trees and snags. It has been estimated that dead trees and trees that contain decaying wood provide important habitat for about 25 percent of the forest wildlife species in the northeastern United States. Considering that, it quickly becomes obvious that nesting boxes only can help ease the demand. Moreover, nest boxes just don’t provide the insulating qualities that tree cavities offer in winter. They are mostly a warm-weather solution to the plight of cavity-nesters, not a panacea.


Keep Dead Trees

The Game Commission’s ongoing nest box program and the efforts of caring conservationists have helped many native cavity-nesters exceed the limitations imposed by insufficient natural nesting sites. But nesting boxes are only part of the answer to Pennsylvania’s shortage of dead trees and snags. Private landowners can play an important role in maintaining the scarce and valuable resource of dead and dying trees by conserving as many as possible.

Dead Trees are Important to Wildlife

Prior to European colonization, much of the state was covered by a dense forestland that had a substantial number of dead and dying trees. It was a great time for cavity-nesting birds and squirrels. The state’s settlement, of course, would change that eventually. And to this day, development continues to swallow more wild lands and often forestland or woodlots.Flicker.DingelCROP

Dead Trees are in High Demand for Wildlife

Dead and dying trees typically are some of the first to be cleared.  But landowners should know that the benefits dead trees or snags provide wildlife are immense. In fact, in Pennsylvania today, dead trees are in higher demand for certain wildlife species than living ones, mostly because there are so few of them.

Managing Dead Trees

The main problems developers and some property owners have with dead trees and snags are their unattractiveness and the usual threats associated with their deterioration. But wildlife managers familiar with the important habitat dead and dying trees provide forest ecosystems believe these trees deserve more respect than they’re getting. They can – and should – be managed with the same considerations live trees receive.

Dead Trees Benefits

Dozens of wild birds and mammals use tree cavities for shelter, resting or nesting. Some excavate their own cavities in the decaying wood of dead and dying trees. Others wait for a woodpecker to do the work and then occupy and enlarge the cavity.

These cavities in dead and dying trees – as well as some living trees – are invaluable to bluebirds, American kestrels, wood ducks, flickers, pileated woodpeckers, chickadees and many other species. Their limited availability makes each one a precious commodity in any forest, woodlot or backyard.

Beyond the Trunk

The natural benefits provided by dead and dying trees extend beyond cavities in the trunk. The separating or peeling bark can shelter resting bats during daylight hours, or provide habitat for insects that many wild birds consume. The bare, weather-worn branches are favored hunting perches for hawks and owls. After the tree falls, it provides shelter for amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and insects. The tree’s decaying debris also returns nutrients to the soil, ultimately strengthening the forest’s ability to support life.

It doesn’t matter whether a dead tree is standing and serving as an insect smorgasbord for woodpeckers, or laying on the forest floor and providing a silent passageway through the noisy leaf litter for hunting red foxes and habitat for amphibians, every woodland needs and benefits from them. They not only provide unique habitat and habitat diversity, they also are part of the natural order that all successful forest stewardship programs strive to promote.

State Game Land Tree Management

The Game Commission has a State Game Lands tree policy in place that requires snags and den trees to be retained on timber harvest areas. This retention policy allows for these valuable wildlife havens to be retained and incorporated into future plans for the stand. The agency’s management philosophy is guided by creating a balance of habitat types on State Game Lands, providing the immediate habitat of the dead trees while providing the essential elements of early successional type habitats necessary for species such as ruffed grouse and American woodcock, along with the highly sensitive species such as golden-winged warblers. Bluebirds and many other bird songbirds depend on dead trees. In fact, about 25 of Pennsylvania’s forest wildlife species depend on dead trees and snags for habitat.

YOU Can Helpbb.DingelCROP

A dead tree can stand for decades, providing critical shelter and food to myriad species. If a dead or dying tree isn’t threatening your residence, picnic pavilion or roadway, the Game Commission recommends leaving it to nature and the benefit of wildlife. It won’t be long before you’ll see its worthiness to wildlife and begin to appreciate the additional character it affords your backyard or woodlot. If you appreciate wildlife, you should appreciate dead trees.

Remember, as a rule, dead trees don’t come down in a hurry, particularly hardwoods. So as long as safety isn’t a concern, let nature take its course. The tree will become a wildlife magnet and will be worth is weight in gold to the creatures using it. Let that dead tree stay on. Rest assured, it will make wild friends fast.

Photos by Jake Dingel

Excerpts from “Why Dead Trees are Important to Wildlife.”