Wildlife: Endangered bill sets a dangerous precedent

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The state legislature is scheduled to soon give second consideration to the Endangered Species Coordination Act. (House Bill 1576, Senate Bill 1047). The crux of this bill is that it gives lawmakers control over important wildlife management decisions.

The House version, with a vote scheduled March 10, would require the Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission to submit proposals to protect threatened and endangered species to a legislative regulatory review commission. Essentially, it takes wildlife management out of the hands of professional biologists and gives it to politicians.

The Game and Fish and Boat commissions oppose this bill, as do many organizations representing hunters, anglers, trappers and birders.

Support for the bill comes primarily from extractive industries such as the Marcellus Shale Coalition, Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association, with support from the Pennsylvania State Camp Lessee's Association.

Industry's gripe is that protecting endangered wildlife impedes its work and costs jobs. Conservationists counter that the state is constitutionally obligated to protect its natural heritage.

The most egregious part of the proposed legislation is that it requires all information about threatened and endangered wildlife be entered into a public database. This would make these species even more vulnerable.

If a gas company, for example, knew that a population of an endangered species occupied a work site, it could illegally hire personnel to capture and remove those individuals. Or an individual wanting to sell endangered bog turtles on the black market could locate and collect the remnant populations. These are valid reasons that locations of endangered species remain secret.

What concerns me even more than the actual policies HB 1576 outlines, however, is the precedent it would set. The Game and Fish and Boat commissions are independent. Their budget comes from license sales, federal excise taxes on equipment and royalties from timber sales and oil and gas leases.

John Arway, Fish and Boat Commission executive director, is especially concerned about the federal funding he might lose.

"That's a quarter of my budget," he said, in a recent phone interview. "And that's what politicians really want -- access to that annual pot of gold."

Wisely, federal excise tax dollars are protected by regulation. If those funds are not used by the designated agency, they can be withheld.

Citizens should let their state representatives know how they feel about this issue. Email addresses for state House members can be found at www.house.state.pa.us.

Biologist, author, and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 8-10 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) and online at www.wvly.net. He can be reached at www.drshalaway.com, sshalaway@aol.com and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

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