Looks like audit of deer program nixed

By Bob Frye

Capital Correspondent

Harrisburg – Couples who wind up on the Jerry Springer show
apparently stay in love longer than the state Legislature has with
the idea of auditing the Game Commission’s deer program.

Lawmakers – who in March and April burned with desire to have
someone review how the commission estimates deer populations and
harvests, even to the point of saying they might help pay for it
– have found a new belle.

Their priority now seems to be to audit the Game Commission’s
management of state game lands.

State Rep. Sam Rohrer, the Berks County Republican who serves as
minority chairman of the House Game and Fisheries Committee,
indicated as much in an e-mail sent to a Pennsylvania Federation of
Sportsmen’s Clubs officer. When asked if and when the Legislature
might move to have a deer audit done, Rohrer said &#8220we are
currently examining the best way to proceed,” but never directly
answered the question.

Instead, he suggested that the Legislature wants to tackle the
game lands issue – which centers on whether the commission is
maximizing revenues from those lands lands – first.

&#8220The Committee and the House have recently voted to
initiate two independent studies on how the Pennsylvania Game
Commission is handling the timbering and mineral resources. It is
my intention to move forward with the deer matter in the best way
possible,” Rohrer wrote.

Rohrer did not return a phone call seeking comment, nor did Ed
Staback, the Lackawanna County Democrat who serves as majority
chairman of the Game and Fisheries Committee.

What is clear, though, is that if lawmakers won’t pay to have
the Game Commission’s deer program evaluated, the commission itself
isn’t interested in paying for a review either.

The commission’s executive director, Carl Roe, suggested to
commissioners that they pay to have such an audit done. He even
went so far as to contact the Wildlife Management Institute and
determine that it could do an audit between June and September, if
commissioners wanted.

&#8220This is an opportunity to put the issue to rest and
improve our program where we can,” Roe told commissioners in an
e-mail.

Commissioners, however, declined to go along. Tom Boop, chairman
of the board’s executive committee, scheduled a meeting of that
group to discuss the issue. When all four members of that panel
said, though, that they were &#8220opposed to the hiring, at
Pennsylvania Game Commission expense,” of the Institute, for
various reasons, that killed the meeting and the audit.

Commissioner Greg Isabella, of Philadelphia, said he opposes
paying to have an audit done for a couple of reasons. First, the
financially-strapped commission is already operating on a
&#8220bare bones” budget because it hasn’t had a license fee
increase in nearly a decade. It simply can’t afford to pay for an
audit of a program that’s already been peer-reviewed, he said.

Second, there’s no sense spending money on an audit that – were
it to validate the commission’s deer program – would be dismissed
by the agency’s critics anyway, he said.

&#8220They’ll never believe us, for whatever reason. They’ll
just use it for whatever purpose they have,” Isabella said.

Commissioner Dan Hill, of Erie County, is not a member of the
board’s executive committee, but said he would have voted against
paying for an audit, too. For an audit to be perceived as being
&#8220independent of bias,” it must be defined, managed, paid
for and announced by someone outside the agency itself.

An audit of the commission paid for by the commission using an
auditor of the commission’s choosing doesn’t fit that bill, he
said.

&#8220You don’t solve anything with an audit under those
circumstances. You never end the debate,” Hill said.

&#8220If an audit is going to be done, it needs to be
independent, or else why do it?”

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