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With a variety of hunting and trapping seasons underway, Pennsylvania Game Commission Executive Director Vern Ross encouraged hunters and trappers to consider taking a non-hunter or non-trapper along with them as a way to spark their interest in joining the ranks of conservation-minded sportsmen and sportswomen. "For more than 100 years, hunters and trappers have been the lead proponents of wildlife protection, wildlife habitat enhancement and passing along our state's rich outdoor heritage," Ross said. "Now more than ever, we need to work together to ensure that hunting and trapping are a part of our Commonwealth's future."

Ross noted that, according to a 1998 study by the Center for Rural PA, hunting and trapping have a $4.8 billion economic impact on the state and are responsible for supporting more than 45,000 jobs statewide. "To ensure that our heritage is passed along to the next generation, recently enacted legislation, as well as legislative proposals currently before the state Legislature, are designed to help with recruitment and retention of new hunters and trappers," Ross said. Last year, legislation was enacted to allow one unlicensed individual accompanying a licensed hunter to participate in the hunt by means of calling or driving; however, the unlicensed individual could not carry a sporting arm or actually kill game. The licensed hunter mentoring the unlicensed individual must be over 18 and can be accompanied by only one unlicensed person. The unlicensed participant must meet all safety orange requirements, and remain in visual and vocal contact with the licensed person at all times. Rep. Ed Staback, who authored the new law, said "it is hoped that after this exposure, potential hunters will make the next steps of taking the needed hunter education course, purchasing a license, and beginning to build their own outdoor experiences."

In related action, the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee today unanimously approved and sent to the Senate floor, a measure to create the Mentored Youth Hunting Program, which is designed to allow new and younger hunters to gain experience in hunting. Under House Bill 1690, which was amended by Sen. Robert Robbins, the mentor will need to meet certain requirements and the young hunter must be considered "ready" by the parent or legal guardian. The hunt will consist of one adult at least 21 years old and one youth, and they may have only one hunting device with them that is carried by the mentor while in transit. The youth hunter must be within arm's length of the mentor at all times.

"This program would provide a one-on-one, hands-on experience for youngsters ready and willing to learn about hunting," Sen. Robbins said. "This program also would empower parents to make the decision about whether their son or daughter is ready to hunt in a mentor-controlled situation, rather than an arbitrary age limit that bars them from participating in a hunt." Ross said that Robbins' proposal would provide "quality time between a youth and a mentor that would be immeasurable. There simply is no better way to introduce a young person to safe, ethical and responsible aspects of hunting than with the close supervision of an adult mentor that this program creates.

"Today, we all seem to have less and less time, and we never seem to place the proper value on the truly important things. There can be no greater way to instill values, provide the ideal time and place to teach conservation, respect, ethics and the responsibilities that we all have as caretakers of our streams and forests, than by adopting a Youth Mentored Hunting Program in Pennsylvania."

The committee of organizations promoting the Mentored Youth Hunting Program are: the National Wild Turkey Federation; the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs; the United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania; the National Rifle Association; the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association; Big Brothers/Big Sisters Pass It On Program; the Quality Deer Management Association; the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation; and the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance.

Also, at its October meeting, the Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution supporting the program. Ross noted that youth hunting licenses sales have increased from 100,845 in 1998, to 109,644 in 2004.

"Much of this increase in youth license sales can be attributed to the expanded youth hunting opportunities we have been offering," Ross said. "Specifically, the Board created a youth spring gobbler season in 2004; a youth pheasant hunt in 2002, which was expanded in 2005; a youth waterfowl hunt in 1996, which was expanded in 2005; special antlerless deer harvesting opportunities in 1998, which were expanded in 2001; and a youth squirrel hunt in 1996, which was expanded in 2004."

In the early 1990s, the agency and several sportsmen's clubs established the first youth field day event, which offers young participants the opportunity to learn wildlife identification, how to handle a firearm and other outdoor-related skills. The events, now offered throughout the state, also give young people a chance to use a bow and arrow, muzzleloader, shotgun and rifle in a supervised setting.

Also, as part of the license fee increase approved in 1998, the General Assembly created a junior combination license that packages regular license privileges with archery, flintlock and furtaking opportunities for $9, compared to the regular junior license price of $6.

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