It’s time to restructure both PGC, PFBC

Commentary

After last week’s revelations from the auditor general’s office that appeared on the front page of the Mirror on May 31, does anyone still think the Pennsylvania Game Commission is capable of managing its own financial resources, let alone the wildlife resources of Pennsylvania?

Throughout my 30-year career as an outdoor journalist and more than 50 years as a hunter and angler, I’ve marveled at what has always seemed to me as a large measure unwarranted devotion and confidence to the Game Commission by the hunters of our state. I can remember the somewhat arrogant and aloof stance toward its constituents that agency manifested during the 1970s and 1980s.

But as hunters, we were forced to take it. It’s not like going to a store or restaurant and receiving bad service. I can always find another vendor or eatery that appreciates my business, but if I want to hunt in Pennsylvania, I have to buy an array of licenses and permits from the government monopoly that is the Pennsylvania Game Commission. I shouldn’t have to remind any hunters that agency has never been bashful about creating licenses and permits to relieve us, the hunting public, of more of our hard-earned dollars. And for decades, we have faithfully ponied up those dollars.

Now, we find those self-righteousness bureaucrats to which we have entrusted our conservation dollars aren’t up to the task of managing not only those dollars but also the revenue generated from the 1.5 million acres of pubic hunting lands entrusted to their care. I’m not going to rehash all the problems defined by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s report, but they were appalling at best.

Overall, the auditor general revealed the Game Commission has terribly mismanaged the revenue from the revenues of oil and gas royalties on state game lands. Some of those failures include: not accurately tracking royalty payments; failure to deposit royalty payment checks in a timely manner; and failure to charge interest on delinquent royalty payments. And the most egregious of those faults is the nearly $73 million balance in the Game Fund had not been considering when developing the agency’s annual budget or license increase proposals, along with the auditor general’s finding of another $6.5 million in various escrow accounts, which the Game Commission’s financial officer had no knowledge of the specific accounts, balances, or purposes until the audit.

In response to this unholy mess, Game Commission’s executive director, Bryan Burhans said, “To do our best for Pennsylvania’s wildlife and citizens, we must work as efficiently and effectively as possible, Nearly all the recommendations offered by the auditor general’s office will further improve the Game Commission’s operations.”

Wow. That insipid response is from a guy who is costing us hunters about a quarter of a million dollars a year in salary and benefits, not to mention what we will be paying him not to work when he retires in few years. The same goes for the clueless financial officer. In the real world, folks get fired for that kind of incompetence. Just saying.

But let’s forget about the Game Commission’s internal ineptitude for a moment. How about their track record managing our wildlife resources? Well, just during my hunting career, I’ve watched bobwhite quail disappear. Wild pheasants have also become a memory. The Game Commission blames loss of habitat. Not buying that one. We have lost some habitat; we’ve lost all our pheasants.

We’ve lost all our bats to white-nose syndrome, which is an ecological catastrophe of immeasurable proportions and caused by human intrusion, yet we hear so little about that. That’s because bats are scary and ugly to the uninformed masses and no one buys a hunting license for them. Ruffed grouse, our state bird, is in severe decline attributed to West Nile virus. And the crown jewel of Pennsylvania wildlife, white-tailed deer, are threatened with the insidious chronic wasting disease, with no answers or hope on the horizon for that problem.

I’m not suggesting that the Game Commission is to blame for any of those situations, nor that there was anything the agency might have done to prevent any of them from occurring. But it is well past time to allow both the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to operate as “independent” agencies that receive no general tax dollars to manage the natural resources for “all” the citizens of Pennsylvania.

Both agencies are funded almost entirely from hunting and fishing license revenue, but both agencies also manage all the wildlife resources of Pennsylvania, only a handful of which are pursued by hunters or anglers. Only 10 percent or less of Pennsylvania residents purchase hunting or fishing licenses.

It’s time we get rid of the obsolete and unsustainable model of hunters and anglers footing the bill for conservation in Pennsylvania. Why are we the only state with “independent” fish and game agencies? Let’s ring Pennsylvania into the twenty-first century and restructure the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission into sustainable, effective conservation agencies.

Youth skills event

An NRA Youth Hunter Education Challenge event will be held on June 15 at the Scotia Range near State College. Recognized as the most comprehensive youth hunting program anywhere in North America, the YHEC is NRA’s graduate studies program in outdoor skills and safety training for young hunters. The program is conducted under simulated hunting conditions to provide the best practical environment for reinforcing and testing a young hunter’s skills.

The challenge provides a fun environment for youth to improve their hunting, marksmanship and safety skills. Through its simulated hunting situations, live fire exercises and educational and responsibility events, YHEC helps build upon skills learned in basic hunter education courses and encourages safer lifelong hunting habits.

Participants must be 18 years old or younger and have completed a State Hunter Education Course. Parent or guardian permission is required.

No prior experience needed, but participants must be able to safely handle and shoulder firearms. Contact Charlie Fox at 570-297-4642 or pgc5@frontier.com or for more information about this event. Visit yhec.nra.org or email yhec@nrahq.org for more information about YHEC.

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