Harrisburg, PA – The Pennsylvania Game Commission in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) announces the closure of all rock-climbing activities on State Game Lands 51 and State Game Lands 138 in Fayette County.
These game lands, known among other things for their rugged sandstone formations, long have been popular with rock-climbers, and climbing there recently has increased noticeably.
However, those same formations climbers target serve as critical habitat for several rare, threatened or endangered plant and wildlife species.
Increased climbing has worn away lichens and moss on rock faces, and has cleared vegetation and naturally occurring woody debris and leaf litter from the bases of climbing rocks. These changes have degraded habitat, impacting the reptile, amphibian, and mammal species that use it.
“While state game lands importantly provide the public with places to hunt, trap and otherwise lawfully enjoy the outdoors, maintaining habitat that supports wildlife species, and protecting those species, is integral to the game lands system and the mission of the Pennsylvania Game Commission,” said Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans. “The daily carrying out of that mission is a big reason why we have the wildlife we do in Pennsylvania and places to enjoy it.”
Chris Urban, PFBC Nongame, Threatened and Endangered Species Coordinator, said the rocky habitats in this part of the state are unique and important features that are basic to survival for several nongame species.
“The rocks provide protection from predators, overwintering habitat, and grounds to hunt for food,” Urban said. “This habitat should be preserved in its natural condition if these species are to thrive there.”
State game lands are different from other public properties in that their primary purpose is to provide wildlife habitat and hunting and trapping opportunities for license buyers. Other recreation on game lands often is permitted, though some activities are prohibited or limited during hunting or trapping seasons.
Most game lands that offer rock-climbing opportunities allow climbing. But on those game lands where climbing continues, negative impacts to habitat have not resulted, as they have on State Game Lands 51 and 138.
Game Commission Southwest Region Director Jason Farabaugh noted the rock-climbers and rock-climbing groups the Game Commission interacts with typically are respectful of wildlife and habitat and support conservation.
The mission of the Pennsylvania Game Commission is to “manage and protect wildlife and their habitats while promoting hunting and trapping for current and future generations.” Within the agency’s strategic plan, the first guiding principle is to “Place Wildlife and Habitat First.”
Similarly, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, which is charged with optimizing the protection, conservation, and enhancement of fish, reptiles, amphibians, other aquatic resources, and their habitats, relies on a guiding principle of “Resource First.”
The Pennsylvania Game Commission and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission do not identify threatened or endangered species associated with particular sites.