State Rep. Ed Staback (D-Lackawanna/Wayne) fired back last week at the National Rifle Association after the organization issued a May 11 "legislative alert" to members opposing aspects of House Bill 97, a Staback-sponsored initiative to help curb the poaching of Pennsylvania wildlife by making changes to the state Game Code.
The bill would sharply increase fines for poaching, which are low compared to some states , and mandate a jail sentence for chronic poachers and those who illegally kill several animals in a single poaching incident. Unlike some states, Pennsylvania prohibits the incarceration of even the most notorious game poachers.
Staback's May 12 letter to the NRA revealed divisions between the pro-gun majority chairman of the House Game and Fisheries Committee and the gun lobbying group.
"If passed into law," wrote Staback, "the penalties in HB 97 will leave no doubt to all of those who would pursue poaching, on a large and small scale, that their actions are viewed as serious crimes by the outdoor community and by legitimate hunters."
Staback accused the NRA of making several misleading statements, including engaging in hyperbole by restating an "inflammatory" hypothetical scenario -- a hunter who could be arrested for hunting "five minutes before or after legal shooting hours." That issue, said Staback, had been corrected in a draft amendment to the bill before release of the NRA alert.
"My office tried repeatedly to contact your Pennsylvania representative to inform him of this," wrote Staback. "Perhaps because he was preparing the erroneous NRA Alert, or because he had told me in an earlier face-to-face meeting that he would not work against House Bill 97, he was reluctant to call."
Staback wrote that while the NRA criticized his efforts on the bill, the organization had not informed its members of "substantial suggestions from the NRA I have already put into the bill."
The NRA Alert, published on its Web site, said the organization was "concerned that the punishment proposed in this legislation for the professional, calculating criminal poacher is often the same as that for the licensed hunter who may exercise poor judgment. We believe appropriate distinctions must be made."
Links to House Bill 97, the NRA Alert and Rep. Staback's response are posted in full at post-gazette.com on the Hunting & Fishing page.
At the Children's Fishing Rodeo June 7 at Cooks Forest State Park, kids 12 and under fish are invited to fish Tom's Run from the Swinging Bridge to the Children's Fishing Pond behind the Park Office. Registration 814-744-8475.
Seats are still available for the June 6 Penn's Woods West Trout Unlimited coach trip to the famous Fisherman's Paradise stretch of Spring Creek, near Bellefonte and State College. The bus stops for a buy-your-own breakfast on the drive up and snack on the way back. Seats are $60. Call 412-521-0714 for details.
John Hayes can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1991.