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Game Commission wants to set record straight

A Mirror article titled, “Game Commission audit ‘disgusts’ hunters” that appeared June 2 contained several misleading claims that need to be addressed.

First, one of the individuals quoted in the article references a single line from the auditor general’s 136-page report in which the individual who currently serves as the commission’s chief financial officer acknowledged that he was not familiar with third-party escrow accounts held for the benefit of the Game Commission.

What the report did not mention is that, at the time he was being interviewed by the auditor general, the chief financial officer had only recently been appointed to that position, and his predecessor, who was intimately familiar with the escrow accounts, had unexpectedly passed away.

The commission’s executive director, chief counsel, director of the Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management and all members of the board of commissioners were aware of the escrow accounts and had been utilizing them to benefit sportsmen and sportswomen of the commonwealth for over a decade through purchasing land for public hunting and trapping.

Any implication otherwise is false.

Second, the article points to the amount held in the commission’s reserve fund as if it were previously undisclosed. This, likewise, is misleading.

In fact, the commission has always been transparent with its finances, and every year posts its annual report on the commission website.

The most recent report, showing a Reserve Fund balance of $72 million, has been on the commission website since January. The commission’s financial report was also published in the February edition of the Game News magazine.

There was never an attempt to hide this information.

Lastly, the article implies that the commission should use its reserve fund to study CWD. This claim falls apart for several reasons.

First, as one of two agencies that do not receive an allocation from the state budget, the Game Commission must maintain a healthy reserve fund balance in order to continue to operate and meet upcoming expenses, as well as to plan for long-term infrastructure projects.

In addition, the commission does not have the ability to use its reserve fund money at its own discretion. The fund is controlled by the governor’s budget office, which sets limits on the amount the commission can use.

The fact that the commission cannot draw down from this account without approval from the governor’s office is one of the reasons that the reserve fund has reached the level it currently has.

Second, even if the commission could spend from its reserve fund to study CWD, such efforts would not take away from the fact that CWD is quickly spreading through the wild deer herd.

Diverting resources toward searching for a cure, for which there has been no progress in the approximately 50 years since CWD was discovered, would be the height of mismanagement.

Rather, we need to confront this disease and the difficult choices that have to be made lest it continues to spread beyond the point where it can be contained.

Bryan Burhans

Executive director

Timothy Layton

Board president

Pennsylvania Game Commission

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