Pennsylvania’s elk is one of the great resources of the state. The elk herd’s range is currently believed to extend into parts of Elk, Cameron, McKean, Potter, Clinton, Centre & Clearfield counties with the central point of the herd being located in Elk and more specifically Benezette. All of these counties are in the Marcellus Shale region
Nearly seven years into Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale drilling boom, wildlife officials say the state’s elk population continues to flourish despite concerns about industrial footprints, wildlife displacement and habitat degradation.
“It hasn’t disturbed any habitat, in fact, it probably creates more than there was to begin with,” said Pennsylvania Game Commission elk biologist Jeremy Banfield, referencing companies who cover defunct well pads with grass, prime elk habitat.
The elk population has nearly doubled since 2008, when the state’s Marcellus Shale drilling boom began, rising from 500 to more than 880 and increasing every year. The number is expected to reach 1,000 this year.
As more well pads and pipeline areas are covered with grass all forms of wildlife will probably benefit from larger feed areas.
The benefits of drilling are not limited to just wildlife. Pennsylvania’s Game Commission has also been a big beneficiary.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s reinstatement this year of a ban on new leases for oil and gas drilling beneath state parks and forests does not extend to land owned by the Pennsylvania Game Commission, whose lease revenue has increased nearly fivefold in four years.
The commission’s revenue from such leases increased from $4.7 million in fiscal year 2011 to $22.1 million, or 20 percent of its $100.5 million budget in the fiscal year that ended June 30. The money helps support operations and training of new staff at the agency.
The game commission has leases dating to the 1960s. Of its 120 active gas, oil and coal leases, 45 are for shale gas extraction. Of those, 24 allow surface operations on the game lands. Companies must access the gas horizontally from adjoining properties in the other leases.
Royalties that the commission collects go to the game fund to pay for salaries, maintenance of game lands and habitat improvements. The commission, which is not supported by tax dollars, receives most of its income from the sale of hunting licenses, fees for which have not increased since 1999.
The most recent class of cadets that passed through the commission’s officer training program would not have been possible without the lease money.
Game Commission’s revenue from the drilling certainly keeps the commission vibrant and active which is a benefit to all outdoorsmen whether you live in Pennsylvania or not.