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Reminder:This info maybe forwarded as long as PA Legislative Services and the PFSC are given credit for providing this info.




All,

There were to two House Game & Fisheries meeting held last week. The meetings are summarized below. The first meeting focused on the regulation of exotic animals. The second one, dealing with the Antlerless license allocation process, the PFSC testified that we support opening a dialogue to improve the system. We feel there has to be a more efficient way to handle this process with the technology we have at our disposal, including the PALS.

Have a great day!

Jeffrey R. Souders

PFSC Legislative Liaison

2426 North Second St.

Harrisburg, PA 17110

717-232-3480

House Game & Fisheries Committee

3:00 p.m., 10/21/09, G-50 Irvis Office Building
By Kimberly Collins

The committee held an informational hearing with the PA Game Commission (PGC) on the regulation of exotic animals.

Members in attendance included Chairman Ed Staback (D-Lackawanna) and Representatives Jeff Pyle (R-Armstrong), Curt Sonney (R-Erie), Dom Costa (D-Allegheny), Gary Haluska (D-Cambria), Mark Keller (R-Perry), Keith Gillespie (R-York), Deberah Kula (D-Fayette), Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster), Dan Moul (R-Adams), Tony DeLuca (D-Allegheny), and Kevin Murphy (D-Lackawanna).

Richard Palmer, Chief of the Bureau of Wildlife Protection, was joined by Jason DeCoskey, Chief of the Special Permits Enforcement Division of the Bureau, to provide an overview of the exotic wildlife permit process in Pennsylvania. Palmer first defined "exotic wildlife", stating it includes, but is not limited to, "bears, coyotes, lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, cougars, wolves" and any similar crossbreed of these animals. He noted that bears and coyotes are naturally occurring in PA, yet are included in the definition. Palmer explained there are four types of exotic wildlife permits in PA: menagerie, exotic wildlife dealer, exotic wildlife passion, and propagation. Currently 565 permits exist; 399 propagator, 117 menagerie, 37 exotic wildlife possession, and 12 exotic wildlife dealer. He highlighted the process an applicant goes through to obtain a permit and the role of the commission in ensuring the permit standards are adhered to.

Chairman Staback discussed the definition of exotic wildlife, commenting it was his belief that it meant the wildlife was imported from another country, which is clearly not the case. He also asked about snakes. Palmer explained the definition is what the statute wanted it to be, noting there are variations in state and federal regulations across the country. Regarding snakes, he explained reptiles, fish, and amphibians are regulated by the Fish and Boat Commission. He deferred to that commission on the specific definitions relating to snakes. A representative of the Fish and Boat Commission confirmed that snakes are not included in the code.

Chairman Staback asked how PA's regulations compare to other states. Palmer was not familiar with the regulations of all 50 states, but said his experience is that PA is "more liberal." He noted Tennessee has a complete prohibition on exotic wildlife, while other states are more liberal than PA. He referred to a study conducted a several years ago that found PA has a "fairly good regulatory structure." Chairman Staback asked if PGC would support banning private ownership of exotic animals. Noting that decision is ultimately up to the board, Palmer opined PGC would probably support the concept. He said this is a national trend.

Rep. Keller asked if the regulations relating to exotic wildlife require any veterinarian inspections. Palmer said the commission can and does enlist the assistance of vets when necessary. Rep. Keller asked about the commission's action in instances when a permittee does not renew. Palmer said the commission will send notice of the status and check to see if the wildlife has been transferred. He said this is not uncommon, and the local wildlife conservation officer will conduct a site visit if necessary.

Rep. Keller then asked about a proposal to exempt those licensed under a USDA Class C Exhibitor permit. Palmer explained that permit is the federal version of Pennsylvania's menagerie permit and the menagerie permittees asked for the exemption because they are already regulated. He said PGC was willing to grant the exemption.

Rep. Haluska asked if any aviaries are permitted, particularly relating to eagles. Palmer said PGC does work with some aviaries, especially wildlife rehabilitation facilities. He noted birds are categorized differently; not as exotic wildlife.

Rep. Cutler asked if traveling circuses fall under the USDA exemption. Palmer confirmed they do, explained this is important to these organizations and is the reason for the USDA classification. Rep. Cutler then asked about sugar gliders, questioning how it is determined what is included and excluded given that hamsters, which are similar to sugar gliders, are included but sugar gliders are not. Palmer explained that is the interpretation of the law. He said sugar gliders are new "pocket pets" and regulation of them varies state to state. He noted regulation is a concern because a number of these animals carry infectious diseases.

Rep. Sonney asked if the application process specifies the species and number of each species allowed. Palmer confirmed this, explaining the inspector needs to know this information to determine if the standards, such as cage size, are met. Rep. Sonney asked if the location of permittees is public information. Palmer said the information would certainly be available under a Right To Know request, noting that the local municipality is required to sign off on all permits. Rep. Sonney asked about penalties. Palmer said a violation is a summary offense of the third degree, per day. He said permits can be revoked or not renewed in egregious situations. Rep. Sonney asked for an estimate of the number of exotic wildlife animals in PA, but no one could prove an estimate, particularly because the number fluctuates widely among the dealer permittees. Rep. Sonney asked if the commission regulates who buys and sells these animals. DeCoskey confirmed this, explaining transactions within the state must occur between permittees, but PA does not regulate sales out of state. Importation permits are issued when animals are brought into PA.

Chairman Staback read from a handout, which states "it shall be unlawful for any person to: improve into this Commonwealth, possess, buy, sell, locate or find for a fee, barter, donate, give away or otherwise dispose of more than one bird or one animal classified as exotic wildlife in any calendar year without first securing a permit issued under this section." He questioned if this language means that potential dealers can make one sale a year without a permit. Palmer conceded this language may be vague, but indicated that the practice is that a permit is required for possession of any exotic wildlife.

Rep. Moul asked what happens to exotic wildlife that is no longer wanted. Palmer said the wildlife can be transferred to an authorized facility, noting that the commission assists with this when necessary. Rep. Moul asked about confiscation, which Palmer said happens "very often." Rep. Moul then asked about penalties for releasing exotic wildlife into the wild. Palmer explained it is prohibited, but is only a summary of the fifth degree, which carries an insignificant fine compared to the cost of keeping and caring for the animal. When pressed, Palmer opined this penalty is not a deterrent. Rep. Moul commented on the danger wolves pose for other game. Palmer agreed, stating it is the number one species found in the wild. He noted wolves in the wild also pose a public safety risk.

Rep. Moul then asked about public notification when permittees are permitted, commenting he would want to know if one was in his neighborhood. Palmer said there are a variety of options that could be considered, noting some municipalities may already have notification procedures in place. When pressed, he opined this may be worth looking into.

Rep. Kula asked what information is needed when applying, beyond the application itself. Palmer said a package is sent to the applicant with a number of items, additionally the commission inspects the facility and the permitted must meet certain qualification standards.

Rep. DeLuca asked how many permits have been revoked. Palmer could not speak to revocations, but said he has dealt with a number of violations in recent years. DeCoskey said he has revoked four permits in his four years in his position. He explained the wildlife conservation officers often work with the permittee to get back in compliance. He could not provide an exact number of citations issued.

Rep. DeLuca asked if it is possible to determine where a released animal came from. DeCoskey said often they can determine the source by checking records. Rep. DeLuca asked how many states outlaw exotic wildlife. Palmer reiterated he is not familiar with the laws of each state, but the issue varies by species. He again mentioned Tennessee's complete ban.

Rep. Costa asked about tagging of animals. Palmer confirmed tagging methods are available, including external tags, internal microchips, and DNA testing. Tagging is not required by the commission. Rep. Costa suggested that should be looked into, which Palmer agreed with. Rep. Costa asked if background checks are conducted on applicants. Palmer was not aware of any formal requirements. Rep. Costa suggested this should be required.

Rep. Gillespie asked about the size of the exotic wildlife industry in PA. Palmer could not speak to the volume of the industry, but said the value is "extreme amounts of money."

Chairman Staback asked if there is an upward or downward trend in application volumes. Palmer said there is a slight downward trend; nothing significant. Chairman Staback asked about qualification standards to receive a permit. DeCoskey said a menagerie, dealer, or possession permit requires two years experience with the animal.

Chairman Staback asked how inspections are conducted in areas lacking a wildlife conservation officer. Palmer said the office in the neighboring district covers as best he can.

Rep. Pyle asked if there are any bonding requirements. Palmer said the commission has no such requirements, but some municipalities do. Rep. Pyle asked about the size of the 12 permitted dealers. DeCoskey estimated they average about six animals each, but that can change throughout the year.

Rep. Sonney asked about the location of the 12 dealers. DeCoskey reported there is one in the southwest, three in the north central region, one in the south central region, three in the north east, and four in the south east.

Chairman Staback concluded the meeting by stating this is an issue that deserves the attention of the committee, noting there are strong feelings on both sides.

- 30 -

House Game & Fisheries Committee

9:30 a.m., 10/22/09, Room 140 Main Capitol Building
By Jeff Cox

The committee conducted a public hearing on the process now in place to distribute antlerless deer permits.

Members present included Chairman Edward Staback (D-Lackawanna) and Representatives Dom Costa (D-Allegheny), Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster), Anthony DeLuca (D-Allegheny), Marc Gergely (D-Allegheny), Keith Gillespie (R-York), Gary Haluska (D-Cambria), Deberah Kula (D-Fayette), Michael McGeehan (D-Philadelphia), Kevin Murphy (D-Lackawanna), Michael Peifer (R-Pike), Jeffrey Pyle (R-Armstrong), Todd Rock (R-Franklin) and Curtis Sonney (R-Erie).

Carl Roe, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, described the deployment of the Pennsylvania Automated License System (PALS) as "an unqualified success." He told the committee, "Overall the system has been very stable under the most demanding circumstances and all reports from our vendors are that the system delivered as promised." Roe noted, "That's not to say we did not have some initial problems with some license sales, particularly in some of the larger chain stores due to rapid turnover of personnel and their unfamiliarity with the system, but these problems were attributed to human error and not system error." He said the commission changed the antlerless application system this year to accommodate requests from the county treasurers to receive the antlerless applications directly." According to Roe, "This year the hunter sent his license to a county treasurer of his or her choice and the treasurer would fill the applications on a first come first serve basis by mail until the allocation for the wildlife management unit (WMU) was exhausted." He said the commission also implemented a new feature allowing applicants to log-in to the commission website to check to see if the antlerless license was issued. He also said for the most part the county treasurers responded well to the new system. Roe testified, "As far as the future of antlerless sales is concerned, I believe the general consensus within the hunting community is in favor of allowing license buyers to purchase their antlerless license directly from the Commonwealth." He concluded, "If the law were changed to allow the commission to sell antlerless licenses I have no doubt that we would be able to build a system to handle the change in antlerless licenses sales with little or no difficulty."

Chairman Staback wanted to know about the complaints the commission may have received and what they were about. Roe explained that every year they get a lot of telephone calls because "you have a limited commodity." He said with the new system they had calls about that and received about 60 direct e-mail inquiries and numerous calls. Roe also said that across the board "the complaints were up a little bit." Chairman Staback asked if the complaints came from any particular part of the state or if they were statewide. Roe responded that there was one county office in northwestern Pennsylvania that did not start processing the antlerless licenses right away and there was a two or three day delay which "caused some consternation in the northwest." Chairman Staback then asked if any Pennsylvania hunters that applied in that particular area lost out in getting the first crack at the first wave of doe tags. Roe said the commission would have no way of knowing. Chairman Staback wanted to know about the options available in allocating doe permits through the computerized system. Roe responded that an automated sales system is "a customer environment." He said he thought the system overall for the first year "worked very well". Roe added the commission can see every transaction made by the vendors and when errors are made or people not quite following the regulatory process, the commission can work with them to correct it. Chairman Staback asked if the commission was authorized to handle the entire process how they would be working that process and how would they avoid the "Black Friday" kind of concept that happens the day the doe tags are available. Roe explained, "That is one of the challenges of building an automated system." He further explained the system right now has the capability of issuing antlerless licenses on a first come, first serve basis. Roe added, "But as a matter of public policy, I do not think that is equitable." He suggested the development of a system where the applicant puts down three WMU choices and there would be an instant lottery on the availability of a doe tag for those particular WMUs.

Rep. Pyle asked if PALS has been fully deployed. Roe responded, "Yes."

Chairman Staback asked for an explanation of a lottery system. Roe said when hunters buy their general hunting licenses they put in their three WMU preferences and "you would spin those preferences inside that system." He acknowledged it is a tough math problem and "it would be difficult to build but the system must be equitable."

Rep. Haluska read a letter from a constituent on behalf of her 72 year old father who was denied a doe license because the WMU was sold out. The constituent contacted the county treasurer who suggested contacting the commission who in turn suggested the constituent contact her legislator. Roe responded that he could not speak to the specifics but if Rep. Haluska provided him with a copy of the letter he would check into it.

Rep. Sonney wanted to know if there is a specific timeline for county treasurers to process the applications. Roe said they are required to have the licenses sold in the first round and mailed out by mid-September depending upon the year. Rep. Sonney noted he and his son sent in their applications at the same time and his son received his license rather quickly while his own took five weeks. Roe responded that Rep. Sonney's area is where there was a problem. Rep. Sonney wanted to know how long it would take the commission to implement a system where they would handle the entire process. Roe estimated it would take about one year after being authorized by the General Assembly.

Rep. Peifer wanted to know where the $1 vendor fee goes. Roe said it goes to the vendor. Rep. Peifer pointed out he served as a county treasurer and most county treasurers "do a great job". He noted that one problem is bad checks from applicants. Rep. Peifer wondered whether local hunting stores and the "box stores" would be able to handle the volume of applications if the county treasurers no longer processed the applications. Roe asserted that a lottery would help reduce the lines because it would no longer be a first come first served basis.

Rep. DeLuca asked if there has been a problem with county treasurers not cashing checks until they are cleared by the bank. Roe said that question should be directed to the county treasurers. He added the commission has received some calls about that problem.

Rep. Pyle said he did not understand why there could not be a "real time" count of the number of licenses issued in a particular WMU. He said the technology is out there to make it possible.

Rep. Gergely wanted to know what percentage of licenses is handled by "box stores". Roe said the commission estimates it is about 40% to 45%.

Craig Ebersole, President of the County Treasurer's Association of Pennsylvania and Lancaster County Treasurer, testified that the county treasurers faced a challenge this license season because they did not know how many applications a particular county would receive or whether hunters would apply to the county where they hunt or where they reside. According to Ebersole, they found that 90% of the hunters sent their application to the county treasurer's office in the county of their residence. He told the committee members that "the first two or three days was the learning curve but that was quickly followed by applications being processed more efficiently and less costly than the previous methodology. We saved time and thus money." He pointed out the single largest issue for the county treasurers was the poor quality of the "pink envelopes" but added that the commission is aware of the issue and will address it with the vendor. Ebersole went on to explain that the county treasurer offices are paid $1 to process and issue each antlerless license. He explained the Association met last week with the commission to discuss system improvements and various "tweaking" of the system which he said "will allow us to be more efficient and should allow the PGC to keep our selling fee to the hunter where it has been for decades." Ebersole expressed concern with a "certain big box type store in our state" that sells more hunting licenses than anyone else. He noted that with every license sale, the money from the sales commission on that license goes to another state. Ebersole told the committee, "Please don't take sales commission dollars from counties in this Commonwealth and send them out of state."

Chairman Staback asked Ebersole if he was satisfied with the cooperation with Game Commission. Ebersole responded, "Not totally" but added that most of the problems have been resolved. He expressed concern that the commission did not contemplate a "Plan B" if a problem developed with the system. Ebersole also said he was disappointed no one from the commission was available to attend the association's summer conference but noted Roe and members of the commission staff met with him last week. He added many of the issues were resolved. Chairman Staback asked him to compare the old system with the new system. Ebersole said the system has improved over the year and the old system was more labor intensive. He added that the association surveyed 53 county treasurers last week and found that 40 urged the association to maintain this system; seven said they did not care one way or another; three said they wanted to exit the business of issuing doe tags; and 3 did not respond. Chairman Staback asked how many have a strong desire to see a dramatic change in how the system operates. Ebersole reiterated there are three that want out of the current system. Chairman Staback asked if the association has indicated the manner in which they would like to see the system tweaked. Ebersole said they had a "laundry list" of suggestions of which the commission seemed to be receptive. He described his meeting with Roe as a "quality dialogue." Chairman Staback asked what problems Ebersole encountered this past year. Ebersole said he would have liked to have a Plan B. He also said he knew that it would be a learning process this year because they did not know how many applications to expect. Ebersole also said the delay in passage of the state budget also was problematic.

Rep. DeLuca asked about the process of holding checks. Ebersole said his office waits for the checks to clear and pointed out it is against the law to issue a bad check. He also indicated the county received 25 to 30 bad checks this past year. Rep. DeLuca asked if e-check could be a possibility. Ebersole said yes if the bank accepts it.

Rep. Haluska asked how many county treasurers opted to be a full licensing agent. Ebersole responded, "All of them." Rep. Haluska wanted to know if a lottery system would be feasible to allow the use of credit cards. Ebersole said it would depend "who absorbs the 2.75% hit." Commenting on the lottery, Ebersole said legislators would receive more complaining telephone calls. He said most hunters are committed to their first WMU choice.

Rep. Rock wanted to know what the fee can be used for. Ebersole said it goes into the county's general fund. He added some counties use it to pay for a staff person to help process applications. Rep. Rock asked if counties could reduce costs by hiring temporary workers to do the work so they would not have to pay for extra benefits. Ebersole explained that many counties have had to lay people off and it would not be feasible for a county to try to hire temporary help after laying off full time employees.

Rep. Gergely asked what percentage of the license sales in Lancaster County is made up of fishing licenses. Ebersole did not know. He said they sell more fishing licenses because the county has about 50 to 60 miles of the Susquehanna River. He added people are not generally buying a fishing license for a particular stream.

Jeffrey Haste, chairman of the Dauphin County Board of Commissioners, told the committee, "I have a very simple message for you today: now is the time to allow hunters the option of purchasing antlerless deer licenses online through the Pennsylvania Automated License System." He related his experiences as a county commissioner, a former legislator and as a hunter and how he came to that position. Haste argued, "By enabling any issuing agent to sell antlerless deer licenses, as a hunter, I could purchase my general hunting license, including my antlerless deer license, and walk out of the issuing agent knowing that I have the antlerless deer license issued for the wildlife management unit I wanted to hunt in, or for the wildlife management unit that was available at the time I purchased it, and it would be in my possession. I would no longer have to worry about having my application lost in the mail." He added that "such a process would eliminate the burden among treasurers to race the clock in issuing their constituents a license in the WMU of their choice before it was sold out." Haste concluded by saying that "now is the time to allow hunters the option of purchasing their antlerless deer license outline through PALS. It completes the transition to a more user-friendly, customer-convenient method of issuing hunting licenses."

Chairman Staback asked about first come first serve under the new system. Haste said he believed it would be better in the new system. Chairman Staback asked about the sense of fairness and having a lottery system in the more popular WMUs. Haste responded that it would depend on how the system was set up.

Rep. Pyle asked if Haste favored PALS with some modifications. Haste responded, "Absolutely."

Jeffrey Souders, Legislative Liaison for the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, described the current process for obtaining an antlerless deer license as "inefficient and cumbersome." He said his members voted to "support changing the current antlerless deer license allocation process to a method that employs the new technologies available to us." Souders told the committee members, "If we can find a way to eliminate the antlerless envelopes and improve the current system, it will increase efficiency, the Pennsylvania Game Commission would see a significant cost savings because they would not have to print antlerless envelopes, and applicants would no longer have to submit two postage stamps, which is a savings nearly equal to the issuing agent fee." He concluded, "There is a better way, and we are confident that the professionals at the Pennsylvania Game Commission, along with Pennsylvania sportsmen will find and develop the most practical and efficient antlerless license allocation procedure."

Chairman Staback asked if the federation had any ideas to improve the system. Souders responded that they support opening a dialogue between the commission, county treasurers and sportsmen. Chairman Staback asked if the federation has given any thought to a lottery. Souders said the idea has not come up for discussion as of yet.

Sallie Neuin, Lebanon County Treasurer, told the committee, "The point of sale system implemented by the Game Commission has for the most part been very good." She said there was a "lot of anxiety" about the antlerless deer process because of not knowing how many licenses would be received which led to not getting approval ahead of time for extra help. According to Neuin, her office received almost 2,600 applications in the first three days. She said when she approached her county commissioners the chairman told her "not to get excited, that I could handle it." Neuin went on to say the commissioners did eventually receive the extra help. She provided a brief overview of some of the problems her office faced with processing the applications. Including incorrect CID numbers or verifying a WMU.

Chairman Staback wanted to know how many licenses Neuin's office processed. Neuin said they processed approximately 7,700 which was about 350 more than last year. Chairman Staback asked how many employees need to be hired to help with the processing. Neuin said they normally do not hire any additional staff but this year they did hire one part time employee. Chairman Staback wanted to know what kind of errors are found. Neuin explained that the errors include the application not being signed, the wrong amount of money enclosed for the license and incorrect CID numbers. Chairman Staback asked if the lack of a CID prohibits the processing of the application. Neuin responded, "Yes."

Rep. Gergely commented they he believes a lottery system has to be established to make the system more equitable.

Ronald Peters, President of the Crawford County Sportsmen's Council, told the committee members about his experiences over the past 25 years as a volunteer in the Crawford County Treasurer's office processing antlerless deer applications. He described the system used this year as "the most labor intent and time consuming I have encountered in my 25 years of volunteering" but added, "however, I feel it might work if tweaked properly." Peters said the largest problem was that nearly 90% of the applicants did not place their CID numbers on their checks. He pointed out, "Many of the problems were occurring frequently which indicated the applicant did not understand the instructions." Peters argued against removing county treasurers from the system saying, "I feel that county treasurers are more efficient and knowledgeable and this would be a mistake." He also opposed a lottery type system.

Chairman Staback thanked Peters for his 25 years of voluntary service. He wanted to know how many licenses are processed in Crawford County. According to Peters, they processed approximately 20,000. Chairman Staback asked if he is the only volunteer. Peters explained they have a crew of 8 to 10 people along with some retirees.

Rep. Peifer asked if it would be helpful if county treasurers mailed the doe applications sooner instead of holding them for a month. Peters said in his opinion it would.

Rep. Gergely expressed concern with first come first serve. He wanted to know how many issuing agents are in the state. The Game Commission said approximately 700. Rep. Gergely asked how many general hunting licenses were sold last year. The Game Commission said 670,000. Rep. Gergely asked if the commission has any protocol for the issuing of licenses. Roe responded that it is first come, first serve.

Rep. Pyle said he believes the resident of a county should receive primacy in receiving a license in that county. He added the Commonwealth is close to an automated system. Rep. Pyle suggested licenses could be sold to the residents of a county a day prior to the general public. He also reiterated his belief in the need for the commission to utilize real time technology in the processing of doe tags.

The United Bowhunters of Pennsylvania submitted written testimony to the committee,
 
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