Outdoors Issues

A legislative hearing is slated for March 19 in Harrisburg to discuss a potential merger of the Fish and Boat Commission with the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

In a conference call on Friday facilitated by the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, the executive directors of both agencies John Arway with PFBC with Matt Hough of the PGC discussed the ramifications of merging.

Arway noted that the PFBC has been independent since 1866. “By that I just mean we’re part of state government, but have an independent board of commissioners. I believe we do the business very well,” he said.

Acknowledging that Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation with two fish and game agencies, he said that being separate “allows you to focus on your principal mission” without “distractions pulled from game.”

He also claimed that the PFBC “doesn’t see the effect of political and economic considerations” factoring into their decisions.

“Very rarely do we have outside influences influence the decisions we make,” he said.

Hough said that he would not comment on the merger, which is subject to a confidential report that will be released the day of the hearing. However, he argued that the PGC would be best served to work on its own to “give the best service to the public, the best way that we can.”

When asked generally about how the agencies would suffer in the event they were merged, Arway said, “I think the primary concern we have is about diluting our authority.” He expressed concern that if the two entities’ funding was merged there would be “a huge drag on the fund to deal with deer issues. It would take us away from the focus we have on fish, (boating and other recreation options.)”

“It would dilute our ability to take care of the birds and mammals we are legislatively mandated to take care of,” said Hough. “There would be a huge conflict for manpower and funding to take care of each thing. We have a conflict in our agency… with programs we have now. (We) can’t do everything for everyone.”

Beyond potential issues should the entities be merged, the process of getting there could pose barriers as well.

“The cost of merging the two agencies would be significant,” claimed Hough, comparing the merger to “mixing apples and oranges. The cost would be tremendous, a tremendous amount of manpower.”

He also cited significant legislative work that would be require to consolidate the code as well as bargaining unit dilemmas.

Arway said the hearing on March 19 will be before the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, a joint committee in the General Assembly. The hearing was previously scheduled for last week, but was postponed due to weather.