As a lifelong outdoorsman, Robert Schwalm has enjoyed hunting, fishing and other outdoor pursuits in Pennsylvania for five-plus decades. For more than half of that time, he’s also made it a priority to give back, volunteering for local, state and national conservation organizations and mentoring countless individuals in the outdoors.
Now, the Bethlehem resident will have the opportunity to have even more of an impact on hunting and wildlife conservation efforts in the state as he represents the Commonwealth — and more specifically this region — as the first commissioner of the newly-created District 9 on the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Board of Game Commissioners.
An avid deer and turkey hunter, Schwalm is a life member of the National Rifle Association, National Wild Turkey Federation (NWTF) and United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania, as well was a member or past member of organizations like the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Ducks Unlimited, Ruffed Grouse Society and others. For the past 16 years, he has served as a Hunter-Trapper Education Instructor for the state, and he volunteers for several local outdoors organizations.
A founding member of the Lehigh Valley-based Jerry Zimmerman Memorial Chapter of the NWTF, Schwalm has served as the NWTF’s local JAKES Youth Day Chairman for more than 20 years, helping to introduce thousands of young people to the outdoors during this time. He is also the chapter’s former vice president and fundraising banquet chairman and has served as a volunteer archery instructor for the NWTF’s local Women in the Outdoors event for the past 15 years. In addition, he’s a past member of the state NWTF Board of Directors and serves as a mentor, taking veterans, women, persons with disabilities and children turkey hunting each spring.
Members of the PGC’s Board of Game Commissioners are selected by the governor and must be confirmed by a majority vote in the state Senate. Commissioners hold their position for four years and may be reappointed for up to two additional terms. Among their primary responsibilities are helping to establish policy for the PGC, including setting and approving hunting and trapping seasons and bag limits, managing and developing state game lands and private-land access programs, and revising the state classifications for wild birds and mammals, including threatened and endangered status.
As the commissioner of the PGC’s new District 9, Schwalm will represent Lehigh and Northampton counties, as well as neighboring Berks, Schuylkill, Carbon and Monroe counties. He was officially sworn in as a commissioner on Aug. 11 and will appear at his first Board of Game Commissioners meeting when the commissioners meet in January 2023. Lehighvalleylive.com recently spoke with Schwalm to get his thoughts on serving the citizens of the state, as well as some of the top issues impacting wildlife and the sport of hunting.
Bob, as commissioner for the new District 9, what are some of your top priorities or areas of focus coming in?
I’m looking forward to serving with all of the current commissioners and the entire PGC staff and contributing to their efforts of creating more opportunities to recruit, retain and reactivate hunters.
Why do you feel having this new district is so important for local sportsmen?
The newly formed District 9 will consist of six counties — Schuylkill, Berks, Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon and Monroe. This will enable the PGC to more accurately represent each county. It will also give the hunters/conservationists from each county more of a voice on the board.
The game commission hasn’t had a license fee increase in two decades, but any change needs to come from the state legislature. Do you feel a license fee increase is needed and why?
Yes, the cost of operating a wildlife agency requires substantial revenue to run efficiently. Sadly, the PGC, due to budget constraints, had to eliminate some very valuable programs. The current rise in inflation has compounded this deficiency and this is very disconcerting, especially when considering the many challenges that are ahead us. Just one example is diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease, West Nile Virus, etc.
What are your thoughts on Sunday hunting? Should the Game Commission have more say on setting dates?
I’m a big supporter of Sunday hunting and would like to see our legislators give the PGC the greenlight for more. We could begin by adding Sundays to our current mentored hunts. For example, the Turkey Mentored Hunt is scheduled on the Saturday before the Pennsylvania opener, and if inclement weather prevents this hunt from taking place, the opportunity to take a new hunter is then lost. Conversely, if the opening day is a success, we would now be able to share the hunt with yet another new hunter.
From helping at NWTF JAKES events to mentoring young hunters, you’re very active in getting children involved in hunting. Why do you feel this is important?
We are losing more hunters than we’re producing. It is imperative that we as hunter/conservationists take the time to expose as many youngsters and adults as possible to hunting and conservation. Not everyone that I’ve mentored hunting or hosted at an NWTF JAKES event has become a hunter; however, no one that I’ve shared this experience with has ever regretted doing so, nor would they ever vote against hunting/conservation.
Only a hunter can create a hunter and nothing is more gratifying to me than to share our passion with a new hunter. I’m hoping and praying that this frame of mind becomes contagious throughout the hunting community. Hunting is a privilege that could be so easily taken away with the pull of a lever at a voting poll.
Deer hunting always seems to be a controversial topic. Some say there aren’t enough deer in certain areas, while in some places there are too many whitetails. What are your thoughts on the state of deer hunting in the Commonwealth?
The PGC manages each Wildlife Management Unit according to the science available with mindset of “the resource will always be first.” This varies throughout each WMU in Pennsylvania.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’ve always considered myself to be blessed that I was born and raised in Pennsylvania. We have such diversity in our landscape and a vast variety of wildlife. These gifts from God that have been nurtured and protected by the Pennsylvania hunter/conservationist since 1895 must continue if we are to carry over this cycle of passing it on, along with our hunting heritage and the 2nd Amendment. It is of vital importance that we all become united and take it upon ourselves to recruit, reactivate and retain hunters/conservationists — the future of hunting and conservation depends on it.
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