By Steve Esack
For 42 years, the Pennsylvania Game Commission has had sole discretion in state government to determine when mammals and birds that live or roam in Pennsylvania's wilds are endangered or threatened. For nearly the same amount of time, the state Fish and Boat Commission has done the environmental policing for the fish, reptiles and amphibians.
In the eyes of Peter Saenger, curator of the bird museum at Muhlenberg College's Acopian Center for Ornithology, those state agencies deserve praise for saving scores of species from following the passenger pigeon into extinction.
"Not all government agencies are worth their weight in salt," said Saenger, also president of the Lehigh Valley Audubon Society. "[But\ they have done an outstanding job of protecting our resources."
But in the eyes of state Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Armstrong, and state Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, the commissions have become too secretive.
Pyle and Scarnati have introduced bills to give the Legislature more oversight over when, where and how species and waterways are given protective status. The lawmakers complain the commissions keep the science behind their decisions locked away from public review in an effort to protect the locations of endangered species or waterways — with no regard to the impact that secrecy has on industry, jobs and homeowners.
"We want to ensure anyone who has an interest in a property can be able to ascertain what species are being protected and what aren't," said Drew Crompton, Scarnati's chief of staff.
But John Arwary, executive director of the Fish and Boat Commission, said the bills would strip the agency of its authority and weaken environmental protection, while creating a prolonged regulatory process that could potentially cost the state millions in federal funds. More....