Sunday, November 24, 2013

Pennsylvania Outdoors Groups Fighting Stubborn Bills

By Bob Frye

This has gone on longer than anyone expected.

Months ago, lawmakers in the state House of Representatives and Senate introduced companion bills that would change how the state identifies threatened and endangered species and designates wild trout streams. House Bill 1576 and Senate Bill 1047 would require the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and a legislative committee to review any designations proposed by the Pennsylvania Game and Fish and Boat Commissions.
Both, I was told in spring, would go away quickly. It hasn't happened.

Proponents of the bills say they would make decisions on species and trout streams “transparent” for the public's sake. They also would make it possible for industry to better know what it's up against when looking to operate.

Sen. Richard Alloway, chairman of the Senate game and fisheries committee, said in a recent op-ed piece that the bills “strike the right balance between species protection and economic considerations.”

Opponents say the bills are nothing more than an attempt to put conservation second to industrial interests.

“These disparate groups don't often agree, but they are unified in their opposition to these bills. Outdoorsmen and women from across the political spectrum are united in opposition to these bills,” reads an alert from the Hiking Association.

The Game and Fish and Boat Commissions oppose them, too. They say their processes of designating species and streams for protection already are public.

Fish and Boat commissioner Len Lichvar of Somerset County went further, opining in a recent letter that House Bill 1576 in particular represents “the worst single piece of legislation I have ever seen proposed.” The existing rules haven't cost a single job or deprived any business from pursuing its objectives, he said.

“However, if this legislation passes in its current form, our precious supply of clean water will dwindle, recreational activities and sportsmen opportunities will be reduced and the strong economic engines they support will be compromised,” Lichvar said.

Yet, House Bill 1576 recently passed out of committee and could be voted on by the full House at any time. Alloway said he plans to hold a hearing on the Senate version.

Sportsmen and conservationists are rallying the troops, though. If enough speak up, maybe these bills will finally die.

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