Legislator: Wildlife commissions outdated

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A state legislator who sits at the juncture of two important committees said Pennsylvania is being under-served by a wildlife management system he describes as "antiquated."

State Rep. David Levdansky, D-Forward, a member of the House Game and Fisheries Committee and chairman of the House Finance Committee, said Pennsylvania is the only state that uses a "19th century commission system" to manage its wildlife.

Unlike other state agencies in Pennsylvania, the separate Game and Fish and Boat commissions receive no money from the state's general fund. While increasing spending on non-game species, they operate almost entirely on hunting and trapping license fees, federal taxes on hunting and fishing equipment and leases on state game lands. Not surprisingly, the commissions are plagued by chronic funding problems -- Fish and Boat is expected to be unable to provide basic services in 2011.

"We have two dysfunctional agencies," said Levdansky. "This is an anachronism, a bad way of managing wildlife. This commission form of governance is obsolete."

Levdansky made the comments during a telephone interview and a recent hunting trip on a bluff overlooking the Monongahela River. The wildlife commissions made sense, he said, when they were founded in the late 1800s primarily as law enforcement agencies charged with enforcing newly enacted poaching rules. Both agencies have evolved, he said -- their responsibilities far exceeding enforcement.

"The bottom line is, they can't afford to go on like this," said Levdansky. "They're underfunded, unable to respond to change -- Fish and Boat just ran a talented, progressive executive director out of town."

Doug Austen vacated his post at Fish and Boat last week.

"We're the only state to do it this way, the only one," said Levdansky. "That either means we're so far ahead of the rest of the country or decades behind the curve."

Despite the strong language, Levdansky said he has not proposed that the legislature alter the agencies' basic management structure.

"I'm not officially seeking a change," he said. "I'm not going to suggest a better management structure. All I'm saying is, it's a legitimate concern to the public."

John Hayes can be reached at jhayes@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1991.


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