The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Editorials

March 20, 2013

Combining fins and fur | Game, fish agencies again topic of merger

JOHNSTOWN — Our state is unique in that it is the only one to have separate enforcement agencies for hunting and for fishing and boating.

The agencies only interaction with state government is when they must ask the Legislature for license fee increases.

Now, with both agencies walking tightropes, budget wise, and appealing to the Legislature for more money, lawmakers again are taking aim at merging the commissions, CNHI Harrisburg Bureau reporter John Finnerty wrote last week.

In 2003, a state-commissioned study found that combining the two agencies would save $5 million, but at a cost of 71 jobs.

In an effort to save money, the fish and boat commission announced in January it would close two trout hatcheries, one in Bellefonte, Centre County, and the other in Oswayo, Potter County. That effort would shave $2 million from its $60 million annual budget.

Rep. Martin Causer, R-Coudersport, chairman of the House game and fisheries committee, wondered if the agencies could reduce expenses by eliminating duplicitous efforts, such as having the same officers police both hunting and fishing and boating activities.

“They’re busy at different times of the year,” Causer said, referring to enforcement officers.

But Gary Haluska, D-Patton, Democratic chairman of the game and fisheries committee, countered that both agencies said their conservation officers conduct many tasks not related to law enforcement, and it would be unreasonable to expect a combined force to provide the same level of service.

Would a waterways conservation officer know how to conduct a hunter-trapper education class, or how to handle a nuisance bear complaint? Would a wildlife conservation officer be able to tell boaters the correct way to board a canoe or where to place riparian buffers?

Causer said he hopes the House will pass a resolution to allow a study of the proposed consolidation to proceed.

But Haluska countered that he is not optimistic a merger would be successful.

It is our hope that lawmakers and the commissions will take the adequate amount of time to study the proposed consolidation, and that jobs would be saved.

 

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