Explore hiking trails, environmental issues, recreational funding challenges and trail maintenance in Central Pennsylvania with Jim Foster.
Legislation introduced in both houses of the Pennsylvania legislature would make major changes to the ways that endangered species and streams are designated in our Commonwealth. I urge you to contact your State Senator and Legislator and ask them to oppose these bills.
Let’s start by explaining how the process works currently works. Highly trained scientists within the Fish and Boat Commission and the Game Commission review population statistics and other data, and make recommendations that a particular species or stream should be considered threatened or endangered. Eventually, their recommendations go to the Commissioners themselves. Some of the species that have been protected under this process are the osprey, the great egret, the bog turtle, the banded sunfish and wild trout.
These Commissioners are, of course, political appointees. This fact will become important to the story later.
The folks who are proposing changes to the process say that these bills would give important oversight to the process of naming endangered species and protected streams. Under the proposal, the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission and certain standing legislative committees would also be able to review proposals to designate a species or stream as threatened or endangered.
Well, what’s wrong with more oversight? Opponents respond that there is already sufficient political input, since the members of both Commissions are political appointees. Opponents like me say these bills would turn the process into an entirely political one, rather than the current one where scientists make the initial determination, and the final determination is made by politically appointed Commissioners. Right now the process seems pretty well balanced between scientific considerations and political ones. We opponents fear that these proposals would hamstring the work of the scientists of the Fish and Boat Commission and the Game Commission by adding another layer of bureaucracy and extra time to the process of identifying species worthy of protection. We worry that the process will become so micro-managed that it will grind to a halt.
I find it particularly noteworthy that Pennsylvania House Bill 1576 and Senate Bill 1047 are NOT JUST opposed by the so-called “tree-hugger” groups like the Sierra Club. In addition to the Sierra Club and PennFuture, the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs is opposed to the proposal. This is the statewide group of hunting and fishing clubs. They would clearly bridle at being called tree-huggers. In fact, most Pennsylvanians who love our precious wild spaces end up being opposed to this legislative proposal, once they fully understand its implications. Another group opposed to these bills is Keystone Trails Association, the statewide trails and hiking organization. By way of disclosure, I am an officer of KTA.
I urge you to look into this issue further. If you end up agreeing with me, contact your state legislators as soon as possible and urge them to oppose House Bill 1576 and Senate Bill 1047. Here are some resources to help you become more informed.
WITF’s own Mary Wilson has done a significant amount of reporting on this issue, both on the radio and the website. I’ve found her reporting to be thorough and even-handed. HERE is a link to just one of her reports.
HERE is a link to another article on the proposed legislation.
Lastly, HERE is a slick tool to help you find out who your State Senator and Legislator is, and how to contact them.