When it comes to protecting endangered species, whom would you trust? Members of the Legislature, who know squat about conservation but a lot about campaign contributions from special interests, or the wildlife experts employed by state agencies that manage threatened and endangered plants and animals?
If you trust ideologically driven politicians more than the professionals, then House Bill 1576 is for you. The measure, which has 67 cosponsors, treats current regulations and the species they protect as a nuisance to economic progress.
The prime sponsor, Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Armstrong, acknowledges that Marcellus Shale gas drillers would benefit from the bill. In a telling quote to the Post-Gazette, he said, "We're not trying to be mean to the animals. But what happens when protecting animals screws up our lives as humans?"
If enacted, this bill would do mischief to all concerned. It would require that only animals or plants considered endangered or threatened by the federal government be listed by the state, leaving no room for Pennsylvania to set its own standards.
It would limit the missions of Pennsylvania's Game Commission, Fish and Boat Commission and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, making their recommendations subject to review by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and the political attentions of Senate and House committees. And it would require a central data base that would enable developers and, unwittingly, poachers and other trespassers to identify the locations of listed species.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has already warned that the fish and game commissions may lose a combined $27.5 million in federal funding if the bill becomes law. Rep. Pyle was inspired to offer the measure when he was disturbed that a local school district had to pay thousands of dollars to reduce the impact of a building project on the habitat of an endangered bat. That's just perfect -- one of his school districts pays thousands of dollars more, but now his bill will cost the state millions.
Besides, Rep. Pyle's reaction was based on a misunderstanding. The school district mitigation was required by a federal decision; a state law, even the one he is proposing, would have had no effect on the case.
Which only adds to the folly of this proposal. Yet the threat from this bill to Pennsylvania wildlife is real. Leave the management of endangered species to the professionals. Politicians should keep their distance.