Lacking support, bill doesn’t get voted on

Harrisburg — Proposed legislation that would change how endangered species and wild trout streams get listed has stalled, at least temporarily.

The House of Representatives Game and Fisheries Committee was scheduled to vote on House Bill 1576 the second week of March. That did not happen. The bill as not been called up for a vote.

Some groups think they know why – pressure from sportsmen who oppose it.

“Word is they don’t have the votes to pass it,” read a statement from the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs. “Leader­ship is still working hard, trying to find a way to pass something. Please keep up the heat!”

State Rep. Martin Causer, the Potter County Republican who serves as majority chairman of the committee, did not return a phone call seeking comment on that.

The bill, sponsored primarily by Armstrong County Republican Rep. Jeff Pyle, would change how the Pennsylvania Game and Fish & Boat commissions list endangered species on the state level.

But any changes they propose would have to be reviewed by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, known as IRRC, a five-person board whose members are appointed by the Legislature and governor.

Under House Bill 1576, any additions to the state’s list of wild trout streams would also have to go before IRRC.

Supporters of the bill, which include the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania, say it would add transparency and oversight to the process by which species and streams get listed.

Information on Unified’s website expressing support for the bill, for example, says “it is time to drop the veil of secrecy that prevents industry from responsibly planning where best to develop, in a way that will ensure threatened and endangered species are avoided.”

Opponents say it would add another level of unnecessary bureaucracy and is, in reality, just an attempt by the oil, gas and coal industries to put their commercial desires above wildlife-related concerns.

The Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited, for example, has been urging its members to contact their local lawmakers and oppose the bill, believing that it would “have a major impact on Pennsyl­vania’s wild trout waters, threatened and endangered species, and the manner in which the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission and the Pennsylvania  Game Commis­sion conduct their business.”

The Keystone Trails Association agrees, saying House Bill 1576 “is designed to promote the interests of politicians – and the gas-drilling industry – not the interests of Pennsylvania’s wildlife.”

The commissions both agree, and have said as much, in public hearings, in meetings with newspaper editorial boards around the state and at their own meetings.

Right now, “science makes the decision” on whether a species is endangered or a trout stream has enough wild fish to qualify as worthy of protection, said Fish & Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway. The commission has also been able to take that information and work with industry to find compromises, he said.

Supporters of the bill want to avoid having to compromise or work around the science, he said.

“My conclusion is, they want us under IRRC just to see if they can come up with a different answer,” he said.

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