Agency circles its wagons around a besieged director

Delmont, Pa. — Pennsylvania game commissioners, at their recent meeting here, made a point of praising their embattled director of habitat management, who is under investigation by the state Ethics Commission.

With huge revenues rolling in from shale-gas-drilling-on-state-game-lands deals that William Capouillez and his staff have put together, commissioners wanted to go on record praising  him.

At their quarterly meeting – after hearing that a series of recent gas, oil and coal contracts would yield in excess of $9 million for the agency and that just-made land deals would add tens of thousands of acres to the game lands system – board members couldn’t say enough nice things about Capouillez.

“I want to commend Mr. Capouillez,” said Commissioner Brian Hoover, of Delaware County. “At this point we’re about to spend a little more than $6 million to buy new game lands but we brought in more than $9 million in bonus payments from oil and gas extraction.

“What a phenomenal job these guys are doing to further the Game Commission’s agenda of purchasing land and supporting hunting in the state.”

Commissioner Jay Delaney, of Luzerne County, agreed.

“There is one recurring theme that we have had at every Game Commission meeting over the last several years, and that is this type of work done by the Bureau of Habitat Management under the direction of director Capouillez.

“Meeting after meeting, land acquisition after land acquisition – over and over and over again, this kind of stuff doesn’t happen by chance. My compliments to Director Capouillez and his staff.”

Commissioner Dave Putnam, of Centre County, pointed out that “a tremendous amount of work” goes into every one of the tracts that become additions to game lands, and credited Capouillez for his leadership.

“In many cases, these tracts are already subdivided, laid out and ready to put 40 or 50 homes on, right up adjacent to one of our game lands and significant wetlands, and then we are acquiring them,” he said.

“This is a tremendous effort and I don’t think there are any other state agencies in the country acquiring properties like this.”

The commissioners’ vocal support came shorty after a powerful Pennsylvania legislator  asked for an investigation of Capouillez because while he is overseeing natural gas development on game lands he also moonlights as a consultant to private landowners on Marcellus Shale issues.

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R- Butler, the chairman of the House Committee on State Government, said he has asked the State Ethics Commission to investigate conflict-of-interest allegations against him.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported recently that Capouillez operates a prosperous business in his off-hours negotiating gas leases for private landowners.

Rival gas-leasing agents have complained for years that Capouillez’s state job as director of the commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management gives him an unfair advantage.

However, the Game Commission has sanctioned the activity and said it does not violate state ethics laws. Capouillez is even rumored to be one of the leading candidates to replace retiring Carl Roe as agency director.

Capouillez, who is paid about $76,000 by the Game Commission, earns a share of the fees and royalties paid to landowners for whom he negotiated oil and gas leases. Many of the companies he negotiated with in a private capacity also are drilling on state game lands.

“It’s highly improper with that kind of daytime job that he would be moonlighting in the same business,” Metcalfe told an Inquirer reporter. “It’s almost like inside trading.”

Metcalfe, according to the Inquirer’s story, said that if the Ethics Commission failed to find that Capouillez’s dual roles violated the state ethics law, then he would seek to amend the law to prohibit such double-dipping.

Capouillez told the Inquirer he has done nothing wrong. “In my position within the Game Commission, my efforts have always been toward the benefit of the sportsmen and the commonwealth’s wildlife resources,” he said.

Pennsylvania’s ethics law prohibits state employees from using confidential information or the “authority” of their employment for “private pecuniary benefit.”

In a press conference after their meeting, game commissioners claimed their praise of Capouillez had nothing  to do with the Ethics Commission scrutiny.

“Our comments were not motivated by the investigation,” said Hoover. “We think he has done a phenomenal job, and we would be remiss in allowing everyone to think that he is not doing a good job.

He is doing the best that he can for the Game Commission.

“He has gotten us some of the best deals on the market and he has added to the game fund,” Hoover added. “Without his leadership I don’t think we’d be in the position we are in.”

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