Pennsylvania Natural Resources Management

Pennsylvania has more flowing water than any other state in the contiguous United States. This is a fact that I’ve recited many times on this blog. These waters must be properly managed and protected in a state with such an abundant and important natural resource. The numerous animals living within those waters are just as important as the water itself, and managing those natural resources should be equally important. Currently, Pennsylvania is one of five states [VT, NH, CT, RI, & GA] out of 14 that have no brook trout specific angling regulations.

Pennsylvania has a unique governmental management system in place to manage the state’s natural resources. While this post focuses on the states within the Eastern Brook Trout’s native range, the post’s subject applies to a broader cross-section of the United States. Pennsylvania’s management of native brook trout differs significantly from other states within the brook trout’s native range, and the state’s natural resources management structure plays a significant role in the reason for that.

Let’s start by looking at all the states in the Eastern Brook Trout’s native range (excluding the midwest/driftless region) and their respective fisheries management agencies. It’s important to note that we’re looking at the agencies that manage the state’s fisheries and create fishing regulations. All of the states in the brook trout’s native range have other agencies that manage the state’s aquatic resources, including Pennsylvania.

You’ll note by reviewing the names of the agencies on the map above that all of the state agency names either reference “Natural Resources,” “Wildlife,” or “Fish & Game.” Pennsylvania is unique in that the agency in charge of managing fisheries and creating angling regulations is called the “Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission.” The name of Pennsylvania’s agency says nothing about natural resources, wildlife, or the environment.

Pennsylvania has two sister agencies that also manage the state’s aquatic resources, or at least the water itself, and the Pennsylvania Game Commission which manages the state’s terrestrial wildlife. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) both manage the state’s aquatic resources. Pennsylvania DEP’s mission is “to protect Pennsylvania’s air, land and water from pollution and to provide for the health and safety of its citizens through a cleaner environment.” Pennsylvania DCNR’s mission is “to conserve and sustain Pennsylvania’s natural resources [which would include water] for present and future generations’ use and enjoyment.

While Pennsylvania DEP and DCNR have a say in how the state’s aquatic resources are used and managed from a protectionary standpoint, neither agency has any say over how the fish that live within those waters are managed from a recreational angling standpoint. DCNR does not set rules for the recreational use of aquatic resources on state forests and state parks (those lands within the agency’s jurisdiction) property. The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission does.

This gives the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission unique jurisdiction over one of the state’s natural resources. Fish. Similarly, the Pennsylvania Game Commission is also charged with protecting the state’s terrestrial wildlife even where those animals exist on property managed by other state agencies. For example, the Game Commission sets the rules for the taking of White-tailed deer on state forest land managed by DCNR. Interestingly, the PGC’s nonnative ringneck pheasant rearing and stocking program is similar to the PFBC’s nonnative trout rearing and stocking program.

When looking at the management agencies across the Brook Trout’s native range, we see that this arrangement is unique to Pennsylvania. Many states manage terrestrial and aquatic wildlife/natural resources within the same agency. Hence, agency names like Vermont Fish & Game, which explains in the name of the agency that they manage both fish and terrestrial “game.”

Managing a state’s natural resources is a significant and challenging job. From threats to wildlife from overharvest, invasive species, and natural disasters to pollution and misuse, effectively managing and protecting a state’s air, land, water, and wildlife requires the careful planning, coordination, and cooperation of many people. This job is difficult enough when consolidated into one government agency where scientists, planners, and managers all work within the same departments within that single agency. That job becomes exponentially more complicated in a large state with extensive aquatic resources where the management of different natural resources is split into multiple government agencies.

In some cases, the management goals of one agency may be in direct conflict with the established rules and regulations of another. For example, one of PA DCNR’s rules for state forest and state park lands is that “Releasing an animal that was brought into a state forest” is prohibited. This rule exists so individuals don’t introduce nonnative species to state-managed lands. I’m not allowed to release a red-eared slider turtle in a state park because it risks destabilizing the park’s natural ecosystem. However, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission routinely releases thousands of nonnative trout into state forests and parks yearly.

This issue becomes even more egregious when considering the state’s wild and natural areas. For example, the following describes the purpose of wild and natural areas from DCNR.

The objective of a natural area is to protect areas of scenic, historic, geologic or ecological significance, which will remain in an undisturbed state, with development and maintenance being limited to that required for health and safety. Natural areas are set aside to provide locations for scientific observation of natural systems, to protect examples of typical and unique plant and animal communities, and to protect outstanding examples of natural interest and beauty. Natural areas are maintained in a natural condition by allowing physical and biological processes to operate, usually without direct human intervention.


From reading, the purpose of wild and natural areas is clear: the state intends to protect ecosystems and preserve them as close to a natural state as possible. Again, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission continues to stock thousands of nonnative trout in waters that flow through Pennsylvania’s wild and natural areas. These two management approaches are in direct conflict with one another. You can’t claim to aim to preserve an ecosystem in its natural state on one hand and then introduce thousands of nonnative fish on the other.

I have tried for years to get an answer from DCNR on why they allow this to happen despite it being in direct conflict with the stated objectives of the agency. While there may be some legal loophole for why the PFBC is allowed to violate another agency’s rules, the spirit of the rules that designate the purpose of wild and natural areas is clearly in direct conflict with PFBC’s actions. The fact that both agencies allow this to happen is a serious concern.

Pennsylvania lags behind most other states in the brook trout’s native range by decades or more in some cases regarding regulations to protect native brook trout. The structure of our government likely plays a significant role in that. The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission is not a natural resource management agency. It is a fish hatchery system with permit, license, and law enforcement authority. While the agency does carry out some important conservation-related and environmental protection activities, the agency’s primary focus is the proliferation of nonnative species to sell licenses to continue raising and introducing nonnative species.

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2 thoughts on “Pennsylvania Natural Resources Management

  1. Bill Scherder 10/18/2023 — 4:36 pm

    I generally agree with having special projection on brook trout in PA and do not agree with the stocking of rainbow trout in some streams that are really brook trout streams. For example cross fork creek in Potter county. But for the most part PAs biggest problem continues to be the coal industry and acid mine drainage. PA is making some progress in that regard but it is still the largest problem.
    The trout stocking program is in my opinion way more of a positive than a negative. In particular stocking of formerly polluted water ways like the Clarion River and Bennetts branch bring needed attention to these watersheds and the sportsmen who enjoy fishing these waters will hopefully prevent future pollution and continue the hard work of restoration. Some of these rivers will become bass and brown trout fisheries. Both are nonnative to the Susquehanna drainage.

    1. Hi Bill, Thanks for your comment. There are several issues that impact brook trout that are a higher priority and higher threat than nonnative fish. Land use, sedimentation, loss of riparian buffers, pollution and on and on. A lot of folks can all agree on that part.

      The nonnative fish impact on brook trout is less widely acknowledged, and even fewer seem to be concerned about it. I’d like to see the biotic issue receive the same level of attention as the other human-caused imapcts.


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