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Sportsmen split on bill to limit agencies

Posted on January 30, 2014

Harrisburg — Sportsmen’s groups across the state are lining up in support of – or in opposition to – House Bill 1576 Endangered Species Coordination Act and its companion in the Pennsylvania Senate – SB 1047.
Both sides have issued news releases. Battle cries from the pro side claim a need for consistency, accountability and transparency. Those opposing the bills see politics intruding into what they think should be a scientific process.
Critics claim that these bills would make it more difficult to list threatened and endangered species, as well as wild-trout streams.
These two bills would add a layer of legislative oversight to the process by which endangered or threatened species are listed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission or the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission. The same would apply to the listing of new naturally reproducing “wild” trout streams.
The oversight would be in the form of the Independent Regulatory Review Commission – a five-member commission. Four members are appointed by legislative leaders and one is appointed by the governor.
The IRRC typically interacts with the agencies and parties involved to accomplish the “best regulatory balance.” This includes the expected economic impact on the public and private sector. Pennsylvania is the only state with an IRRC. 
After a period of two years, SB 1047 would delist all currently state-listed endangered and threatened species if their status could not be proven to the standards of the IRRC. Following hearings, the House version of the bill has been amended to remove this provision.
In the last five years, the Fish & Boat Commission has added 13 species to the state’s endangered and threatened category and de-listed 11. However many wild- trout streams have been identified and added to the list. The Game Commission has added just three species in the last 10 years.
Supporting the bill are the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania and the State Camp Lessee’s Association. 
“Our two groups believe this legislation would add reasonable checks and balances to the way endangered and threatened species are listed by the state Game and Fish & Boat commissions,” said Dennis Wydra Marcellus Team Leader for the Unified Sportsmen.
“We encourage the public to look beyond the bogus claims the bills would hurt plant and wildlife conservation and threaten federal funds. Our research shows that this is not true.”
The camp association holds that endangered species are being used as vehicles to drive camp lessees from state forest land.
“I have never had an issue with the game or fish commissions,” said Pennsylvania State Camp Lessee Association President Marty Salinas.
“However, for too long, extremist environmental organizations – lacking a basic foundation of education or scientific proof regarding the positions they advance – have been wrongly influencing state agencies with a goal to permanently prevent various groups from using our state forests.”
“Enacting this law would start to curb the constant harassment that [our members] have experienced.”
Those organizations opposing the legislation include the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited, the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, the Pennsylvania Forest Coalition and the Pennsylvania Trappers Association, as well as the state chapters of Pheasants Forever, Quality Deer Management Association, National Wild Turkey Federation and the Izaak Walton League.
The Audubon Society and several other conservation organizations also oppose the bills.
“Both the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission currently have a transparent, rigorous process for listing species and wild trout streams – one that is based on science, while at the same time limiting bureaucracy, and overregulation,” said Melody Schell of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs.
“These bills seek to bury our commissions in regulatory obstacles that will not fix the problems that the proponents of the bill are seeking to address.”
However Wydra counters, “It isn’t transparent enough and I don’t see any oversight. I’ve attended agency meetings and the commissioners just rubberstamp what their staff recommends.”
These groups opposed to the bills question why the public would be better served by adding more politics and bureaucracy into the process.
“Politicians pushing these two bills claim that it’s merely ‘checks and balances.’ In reality, the bill is designed to allow political considerations to second-guess the sound science of the biologists from the Game Commission and Fish & Boat Commission. 
Those agencies have the experts; I expect that few, if any, legislators have PhDs in biology and zoology,” commented Richard Martin, founder of the Forest Coalition.
“It is clear that the proposed bills are intended to slow down, or even bring to a halt, the process of listing wild-trout streams and as a consequence, streams where wild trout are present are left unprotected,” said Brian Wagner, president of the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited.
These bills are supported by the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the Pennsylvania Builders Association, the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association, the Associated Petroleum Industries of PA and the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.
Both the Fish & Boat Commission and the Game Commission are opposed to HB 1576 and SB 1047.

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