Wednesday, February 1st, 2023
Wednesday, February 1st, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Bill to add seat on PGC a big surprise

By Jeff
Mulhollem
Editor

Harrisburg — A bill introduced by Rep. Bruce Smith, R-York and
Cumberland counties, that would add a ninth seat to the
Pennsylvania Game Commis-sion, unanimously passed the state House
in July and caught the leaders of Pennsylvania sportsmen’s groups
by surprise.

House Bill 2650 will add a seat to the current panel of eight
game commissioners. According to the legislation, the extra seat is
to be “given to an individual, knowledgeable on wildlife matters,
who currently holds a hunting or trapping license and has done so
for the last 10 years.”

The 198-0 House of Representatives vote came on July 1, and the
bill went to the Senate for committee assignment and debate.

Smith, who is chairman of the House Game and Fisheries
Committee, explained that he thought the measure was needed to
prevent tie votes such as the deadlock that developed in January
when game commissioners struggled to elect a president.

That four-hour session, which included seven tie votes and much
negotiation, finally ended when Commissioner Roxanne Pallone, of
Greene County, withdrew her name from consideration, leaving
Commissioner Tom Boop, of Northumberland County to be voted board
president.

According to Smith, he started thinking about the need for a
ninth game commissioner right after the tie votes for board
president. “Every governmental body has some way to break tie
votes,” he said. “Boards of township supervisors, borough councils,
city councils – you name it, they all have odd numbers.

“And where there is an even number, such as the U.S. Senate, the
vice president breaks ties,” Smith added. “The Game Com-mission is
the only government body that I know of that has no way to break a
tie. Never again will we have a long meeting where they can’t break
a tie.”

Actually the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission, with 10
seats, also has an even number on its board too, but Smith said he
didn’t consider the other agency on Elmerton Avenue. “You can’t do
them both at once, they have to be separate bills for fish and
game, so there is no way that the Fish & Boat Commission could
be incorporated into my bill,” he said.

“But I really never thought about the Fish & Boat Commission
because they don’t seem to get into the same intense debates that
game commissioners do, and to my knowledge haven’t had drawn-out
tie votes.”

Game and Fish & Boat commissioner candidates are presently
interviewed by the Governor’s Council on Hunting, Fishing and
Conservation before two or three finalists are passed on to the
governor to select an appointee. The Senate then must confirm the
appointment.

“I envision the exact same selection process for the ninth game
commissioner.” Smith said. “It will be an at-large seat – the only
one on the board.” Each game commissioner currently represents an
area of the state.

Leaders of the state’s largest sportsmen’s organization revealed
that they were blindsided by Smith’s bill, and while they didn’t
oppose it, neither did they endorse it.

“I didn’t know anything about it,” said Ted Onufrak, president
of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs. “And since we
haven’t met, the federation doesn’t have a position on it. I’m sure
we will be talking about it at our meeting this fall.

“What I think is ironic is that they never seem to have all the
positions on the Game Commission filled anyway,” Onufrak added. “I
think it doesn’t matter how many seats you have, but that they are
all filled.

“I don’t see the need for it – I thought it was fine the way it
is. They got that tie for board president worked out.”

Greg Levengood, chairmen of the board for the Unified Sportsmen
of Pennsylvania, also was surprised by Smith’s bill.

“We knew nothing of this bill in advance, but have no problem
with a ninth commissioner,” he said. “Bring on a ninth, 19th or
99th commissioner – as long as they represent sportsmen’s interests
instead of political agendas from special-interest groups.

“But the bigger issue that needs desperately to be addressed is
the game commissioner appointment process,” Levengood added. “Why
does Michael DiBerardinis, secretary of the Department of
Conservation and Natural Resources, an organization that is
blatantly anti-deer and has adapted the position that hunting is
not part of its long-range plan, have any input whatsoever in the
selection of game commissioner candidates?

“This is an obvious conflict of interest that DCNR is using to
promote their agenda at the expense of sportsmen, and is in dire
need of revision.”

DiBerardinis last year, when confronted with an allegation like
Leavengood’s, confirmed that he interviews finalists for the Game
Commission seats. “The governor has asked me to do that,” he said.
“He and I worked closely together on recreational projects in
Philadelphia, and he trusts my judgement. But I have never
suggested anyone for Game Commission who was not presented as a
finalist after interviews by the governor’s council.”

But Leavengood sees a conspiracy. “A game commissioner candidate
who is not in favor of the current deer-reduction program is given
the thumbs down by DiBerardinis, and is eliminated from further
consideration,” he contended.

“This kind of political maneuvering is a terrible injustice to
the sportsmen of Pennsylvania, and reform should be a priority for
all sportsmen’s clubs in the state.”

Melody Zullinger, federation executive director, who has worked
closely with Smith on other legislation for sportsmen, conceded the
ninth game commissioner bill “came out of the blue.”

“My response was, how often do to you have a full board sitting
up there?” she said. “When I first heard about House Bill 2650, I
just didn’t pay that much attention to it because I didn’t think it
was that serious an issue.”

Zullinger said her biggest concern about Smith’s bill is that it
will increase expenses for an already cash-strapped agency. “Even
though they don’t get paid, commissioners’ expenses are paid and
they get a phone line into their home. The added member will cost
more.”

One national group that supports and promotes hunting portrayed
Smith’s legislation as “giving sportsmen a more powerful voice in
decisions made by the state Game Commission.”

“The pro-sportsmen Pennsyl-vania bill contrasts many recent
efforts by anti-hunters to stack state wildlife rulemaking bodies
with animal-rights sympathizers,” claimed a news release
distributed in mid-July by the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance.

But in reality, no member of the Pennsylvania Game Commission
has ever been anti-hunting – all the commissioners have been
hunters. In fact the selection process for seating commissioners in
the Keystone State guards against animal-rights advocates being
appointed to the board that manages hunting and trapping.

However the Pennsylvania effort to add a seat on the Game
Commission for a hunter does come at a time when sportsmen across
the country are fighting to protect seats on state wildlife
commissions and game boards.

Animal rightists have been trying to stack the committees with
anti-hunters and environmentalists and make them propaganda pulpits
for the animal-rights movement.

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