Wildlife notebook: Groups take sides on endangered species bills

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Businesses have long complained that state policies protecting at-risk species are too restrictive, redundant with federal protections and interfere with legitimate efforts to develop lands or harvest resources. Bipartisan bills in the state House and Senate would strip the independent Game and Fish and Boat commissions of oversight of threatened and endangered species.

Agencies and conservation organizations are lining up on both sides of the debate.

Under the proposed Endangered Species Coordination Act, endangered and threatened designations would require the approval of House and Senate committees and a joint legislative review committee. Endangered and threatened species would be automatically de-listed every two years and the legislative committees would vote on their reconfirmation. All information about those species, including their locations within the state, would be entered in an accessible database.

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, financed through the state's general fund, would assume some responsibilities now charged to the independent wildlife commissions. Federal grants earmarked to protect endangered and threatened species would be threatened, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sources, because those funds can be transferred only to state commissions that have independent authority over species conservation programs and the spending of that revenue. Some $27 million a year in federal funding of Pennsylvania's species protection programs would be redirected.

Groups opposing the bills include Penn Future, Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited, Audubon Society, Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs and the Game and Fish and Boat commissions.

Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania State Camp Lessee's Association have sided with the Marcellus Shale Coalition, Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association in endorsing the bills. In a co-authored position statement, Unified Sportsmen and the State Camp group said they "strongly support" the Endangered Species Coordination Act.

"For too long, 'extremist' environmental organizations, lacking a basic foundation of education or scientific proof regarding the positions they advance, have been wrongly influencing state agencies in a goal to permanently prevent various groups from using our state forests," says the statement, in part.

Senate Bill 1047 and House Bill 1576 are in committee. Learn more about the bills at the PG Rod & Gun Club blog (http://blogs.post-gazette.com/sports/rod-gun-club).

Fly tying course

The McDonald Sportsmen's Association Fly Tying Guild will hold beginner tying classes on six consecutive Thursdays starting 6 p.m. Jan. 30 at McDonald Sportsmen's Club. Free, registration required 412-596-9076.

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