The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

May 14, 2013

Don Steese's Outdoors column: Agencies, politicians duke it out

By Don Steese
For The Daily Item

— The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, desperately needing additional revenue, explored the idea of charging a registration fee for canoes and kayaks, but after careful consideration decided not to pursue this revenue raising avenue.

Both the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission are facing the possibility of their commissioners’ terms being shortened from eight to four years.  

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has to cut costs to the bone due to an inability to raise the price of a hunting license. PGC personnel take a verbal battering from deer hunters at a recent meeting about deer management in Coudersport.  

Both the PGC and the PFBC are again facing the possibility of being forced into a merger that neither agency wants.  

All these situations are fueled by one thing: pressure from state legislature!

The PFBC ditched plans for registering non-motorized watercraft after discovering there was no support for the move in the legislature. It’s the legislature that is pushing the idea of shortening the terms of agency commissioners.

The reason the PGC could not get a license increase for all those years was lack of support in the legislature. Members of the state legislature set up the deer management meeting in Potter County and it’s members of the legislature who are pushing the possibility of a PGC/PFBC merger.  

Depending on which side of the issues you’re on, you’re either cheering or lamenting the legislature’s increased involvement in the day-to-day operations of our two state wildlife agencies.

Make no mistake about it, pressure from hunters and anglers is behind this increased involvement.

Hunters are largely upset because of what they see as a failed PGC Deer Management Plan. Anglers are upset by the PFBC’s plans to close two trout hatcheries and consequently stock fewer trout.

These hunters and anglers spoke to their legislators and their legislators listened. This is supposed to be the way things work, right? Maybe.

I can remember not too many years ago when most hunters and anglers would tell anyone who would listen that the state legislature needed to keep its nose out of our wildlife agencies’ business.

These agencies, they’d declare, needed to be independent without any politics involved. Yep, that’s what they said. That was then and this is now.

I think the big change came when the PGC instituted the massive changes in their Deer Management Plan. Increased antlerless allocations, DMAP permits, longer seasons, bonus tags and antler restrictions all upset segments of the deer hunting population. Many of these folks showed up at game commission meetings to let the commissioners know of their opposition.

Many showed up numerous times, and unfortunately came away with the feeling that their voices weren’t being heeded. It seemed to them that the other “stakeholders” had the commission’s ear.

Slowly the disgruntled stopped going to commission meetings. They began using other methods to express their disapproval. One group went so far as to sue the game commission over the Deer Management Program. More and more upset hunters began talking to their legislators.

They figured if they didn’t have much power over the agency, their legislators certainly did. Turns out they were right. As the complaints about the agency increased, legislators took action, which is, I guess, what we elect them to do.

I’d still like to see these two agencies remain largely independent, but I can easily see how we got to where we are today.

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