Outdoors Notebook: Pennsylvania endangered species bill passes in committee

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Last week the state Game and Fish and Boat commissions came one step closer to losing their authority to determine the protection status of plants and animals.

In a bipartisan vote of 16-8, the House Game and Fisheries Committee approved the Endangered Species Coordination Act, which would require the wildlife agencies to submit proposed protection designations to a legislative regulatory review commission. Among the bill's provisions: all information about threatened and endangered species, and those of special concern, would be entered into a centralized database accessible to individuals and companies involved in projects that may impact those species.

Several provisions of the bill's early drafts were removed, including requirements that species were to be de-listed and re-designated every two years, and that federal grants earmarked for species designation were to be transferred to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources or Department of Environmental Protection, which already report to a legislative review committee.

"Our ultimate goal with this legislation is to bring about the kind of consistency and transparency needed to better facilitate the co-existence of a healthy environment and a healthy economy," committee chairman Rep. Martin Causer, R-Turtlepoint, said in a written statement. "If [industries and local governments] have access to solid information from the start, they can determine if they want to continue with a project or move it elsewhere. There is no good reason to keep this information from the people who need it."

Sen. Rich Alloway II, R-Adams, majority chair of the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee, endorsed the bill and supported a Senate companion bill that he said, "strikes the right balance between species protection and economic considerations."

That's not the way many conservation and sportsmen's groups see the industry-backed bill.

Changes to protected status listings are not frequent. Since 2008, Fish and Boat has added 13 species and delisted 11 from the state threatened, endangered and candidate species lists. The Game Commission has listed three species in the past decade.

The wildlife agencies, many legislators and a broad group of hunting, fishing and environmental organizations cite long-held ecological reasons for protecting the anonymity of habitats of protected species.

Pennsylvania has an agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that permits the state to identify locally endangered species and to list and manage them appropriately.

Making unilateral changes to the process favoring legislative review subject to certain political influence threatens to void that agreement. Even with recent changes to the bill, it remains unclear how a state law authorizing the redirection of federal grants would supersede federal laws regulating how those grants are to be distributed.

The bill now goes to the full House for debate and possible vote.

2014 fishing licenses

Still deciding what to give at Christmas? Pennsylvania fishing licenses for the 2014 calendar year go on sale Dec. 1.

Club news

Angler Ernie Kern will demo several flies used during a fishing trip to Jackson Hole, Wyo., at Monday's 7 p.m. meeting of the Upper St. Clair Fly Fishing Club, 1800 McLaughlin Run Road, Upper St. Clair municipal building library multi-purpose room No. 1. 412-835-6107.

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