By Vic Attardo
Special to The Mercury
Last year the Pennsylvania legislature — House and Senate — failed to pass any measure on Marcellus shale drilling. They also failed to pass legislation on the privatization of the state liquor control system.
Last year was also just another year with no property tax reform or any meaningful mitigation for overburden taxpayers.
Year after year, this same legislature either goes into overtime or accepts the state budget by the skin of the timetable’s teeth -- often forcing layoffs and cutbacks in state employment.
These same politicians now want to reach into the science-based decisions of Pennsylvania Game Commission and determine hunting seasons and deer allotments.
Yes, the same politicians who are incapable of creating fundamental changes with a legislature that is so bloated and useless now wants to take control of the Game Commission, and I have no doubt, the Fish and Boat Commission as well.
So I ask, are the few sportsmen pushing for this agency assault out of their minds?
I think so.
Two bills before House committees would established an “Antlerless Deer Harvest Committee” (H.B. 2034sponsored by Rep. Michael Hanna, (D.) 76th district) and/or provide for a regulatory review commission with the power to repeal PGC and PFBC decisions (H.B. 2073 sponsored by Rep. David Maloney, (R.) Berks 130th District).
Area co-sponsors of the Hanna bill are Robert Godshall, Hatfield (R.); Thomas Caltagirone, Reading (D.); Ronald Waters, Delaware County (D.) and Rosita Youngblood, Philadelphia (D).
Listed as areas co-sponsors on the Maloney bill are Godshall and Caltagirone.
Looking at this situation it appears to me that a narrow band of sportsmen and their controversial organization have allowed these politicians to advance to this curdling point.
Chief among these reckless sportsmen organizations is the so-called Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania.
This group, which failed in the courts to change the PGC’s deer management program – a legal battle which cost hunters considerable sums -- now has turned to these vote-hungry politicians to achieve their flawed goals.
I had to laugh when recently the new president of Unified Sportsmen, Randy Santucci, admitted the group had made some mistakes with their court battle.
Thank you Mr. Santucci.
You and your organization stymied the PGC legitimate attempt to increase the cost of hunting licenses – just to keep pace with inflation -- and by doing so hurt a host of worthwhile PGC programs. All this because you have failed to understand the need to reduce whitetail numbers to promote woodland regeneration in places where deer were literally overwhelming their environment.
And now the politicians – apparent flatlanders to scientific comprehension – are rowing the same boat.
Ironically and sadly, the politicians attempt to grip the Game Commission with their fetid claws is not happening for the good of sportsmen or deer management. Their purpose is to increase their power and make themselves more attractive for re-election.
Understand that politicians see sportsmen as a voting bloc, one that trudges to the polls angry and disenfranchised.
By covering themselves with the mantle of “giving the sportsmen a voice” (Hanna) they are suckering hunters and anglers into believing, they alone can fight the bureaucracy of Harrisburg, when, in fact, they are the problem.
In recent years the Unified Sportsmen have used scare tactics to bring numbers to their ranks. If you travel to the Harrisburg sports show you’ve probably seen their booth with the banner reading, to wit: “Have you had another disappointing deer season?”
This group uses the ineffectiveness of some hunters to bolster its membership – a figure that the group has been unwilling to share with this inquiring reporter.
Several years ago, when the USP began its legal battles, I requested information concerning the number of members the group espoused to represent. Eventually I received an email from a USP lawyer claiming that since the organization was in litigation with the Game Commission they could not reveal that information.
Think about that: they don’t want to tell you how many of them there are yet they want to worm their way into establishing hunting seasons.
Being a hard-headed elephant, I have not forgotten that cynical attempt at a cover-up.
In the years since, I had been satisfied to watch the USP’s failure in the courts. But now with their latest attempt – one I think has a stronger chance of succeeding – I’m forced to throw a spear at their offensive goal.
When you scan the USP homepage, Santucci talks about receiving considerable feedback on the deer issue but he admits to removing the name and email addresses of his complainers, “for the writer’s privacy.”
Is there anything this group does that is above board?
I believe that the potential damage of the USP and their politicians could be catastrophic to the future of hunting and fishing in Pennsylvania.
Imagine having to wait – like all the other unpassed bills in the legislature – for the hunting and fishing seasons to be approved by this meddling band.
And as for fishermen sitting back and saying, WOW look what is happening to the Game Commission, well, I think you’re next. Already vote-grubbing politicians have reached into the Fish and Boat Commission with attempts -- and with success – in changing science-based decisions on stocking species and locations.
Sportsmen who have gone to their legislators arguing that a declared wild trout stream should be stocked with inferior hatchery-raised fish have bolstered the case for the political hacks to destroy the one agency that has taken the forefront in fighting the renegade polluters in the shale industry.
I ask you sportsmen, who do you think is a bigger threat to your sporting activities -- the politicians and polluters or the two fish and game agencies?
Sportsmen, including those from the smallest rod and gun clubs who donate money to USP, to the larger umbrella organizations, need to re-think their positions. As I see it, let the politicians ruin the rest of the world but keep them out of our rivers and woods.