Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Agency: More cuts in programs coming

By Jeff
Mulhollem
Editor

Harrisburg — Back in September, when Game Commission Executive
Direc-tor Carl Roe addressed the Governor’s Council for Hunting,
Fishing and Conser-vation, he warned that if a hunting license fee
increase doesn’t come until the end of the next legislative
session, his agency would have more than 50 vacancies in
law-enforcement positions across the state.

But won’t that result in poaching chaos? he was asked.

“Yes, it probably will,” Roe responded with a weak smile. “But
we’ll do the best we can with the funds we have … The agency will
go on. What else can we do?”

Now, three months later – after the Legislature adjourned
without even considering a bill to increase hunting license fees
and rescue the financially troubled agency – the reality of having
to survive for two years on current funding levels is beginning to
sink in on Elmerton Avenue.

“It is too early for me to speculate on what programs,
initiatives or positions might be cut in the agency as a result of
not getting a hunting license increase,” said Jerry Feaser,
commission press secretary. “But I can say this – the whole budget
is on the table.”

Feaser pointed out that a number of programs have been cut in
the last year to deal with the agency’s fiscal problems.

“We will have to make decisions on funding cuts and shifts in
priorities when the time comes,” he said. “We have already
eliminated toll-free lines, cut the pheasant program in half, and
the agency is running at a rate of 20 percent vacancy in its 732
positions, which includes conservation officers.

“Without a license increase, sportsmen are going to see a
further reduction in wildlife-management research, law-enforcement
patrols and habitat work on game lands.”

How many vacant law- enforcement positions result from the
present funding situation depends on a number of factors, according
to Feaser.

“The number Carl used a few months ago reflects just the
retirements we know are coming,” he said. “There may well be
retirements among the wildlife conservation officers coming that we
don’t know about.

“And it depends on whether we can afford to have a conservation
officer class next year,” Feaser added. “If so, that would fill
some of the coming vacancies.”

There are 136 districts in the state of 350 to 400 square miles
to each district. There is one wildlife conservation officer per
district. Twenty of those districts likely won’t have an officer by
the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2007, according to
Feaser.

Feaser indicated that Roe and other agency officials were not
surprised by the failure of the license fee hike bill to get out of
the House Game and Fisheries Committee, but noted that they remain
optimistic that a license fee hike will come before November
2008.

“We realized that from what we we’re hearing earlier,
legislators wanted to wait until after the elections to take up
consideration of this issue,” he said. “We are hopeful that early
on next session we are able to move the issue forward.

“Pennsylvania sportsmen have already spoken by and large in
opposition to Rep. Bruce Smith’s proposed conservation stamp for
the game lands idea, and they have been supportive of a license fee
increase in support of conservation programs.”

But Charlie Bolgiano, legislative liaison for the Unified
Sportsmen of Pennsylvania, claims it’s not that simple. “The
Unified Sportsmen recognize the Game Commission’s need for
additional revenue,” he said. “However, it has become glaringly
apparent that the sporting class of Pennsylvania is deeply
concerned about the current policies of the agency and its
unacceptable direction.

“We truly wish for the PGC to continue on as an independent
wildlife agency with a financially solvent status,” Bolgiano added.
“But we also wish for the the agency to address its obvious
deficiencies that threaten the future of our grand tradition of
hunting.”

But whatever happens with a license increase, the Game
Commission will limp along, Feaser noted. “The agency is not in
crisis,” he said. “We do have some contingency plans. The cuts that
have been made will continue, and we will add some other cuts as
necessary.”

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