Pennsylvania hunters will likely find a changed woods this hunting season and may be surprised by the level of disturbance and activity on public lands in the north-central, northeastern and southwestern regions of the state, according to a wildlife expert in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Natural-gas exploration and development associated with the Marcellus Shale formation have increased exponentially over the past year, the college said.

“As a hunter, you may be shocked by the level of natural-gas drilling and production activity associated with Marcellus Shale on public lands in Pennsylvania,” said Margaret Brittingham, professor of wildlife resources and an extension wildlife specialist. “As of Oct. 1, there were 4,510 active Marcellus permits. Compare this with Oct. 1, 2009 when there were 1,970 permits.”

Accompanying the drilling activity, hunters will find new or modified roads in many areas and may encounter large volumes of truck traffic in areas where active drilling is occurring.

Brittingham said the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has vowed to limit heavy-truck traffic associated with Marcellus activities in many areas on the three days of bear season (Nov. 20, 22 and 23), the opening two days of the statewide firearms deer-hunting season (Nov. 29 and 30) and the two Saturdays of deer season (Dec. 4 and 11).

“Hunters also may come upon large open areas that are cleared or being cleared as well-pad sites,” she said. “The well pad is considered to be a restricted area that is not open to the public. The dividing line between the public forest and the restricted area is the native vegetation line.”

Brittingham recommends that hunters avoid these sites. “Individuals standing in the native vegetation are considered to be on public ground; those standing on the well pad are in restricted areas and fall under the rules and regulations of the company doing the drilling and completion activities,” she said.