Matthew Hough, Executive Director of the Game Commission, told the House Game and Fisheries Committee Tuesday up to 40 percent of the Wildlife Conservation Officer Districts in the state will be vacant by 2019 due to the lack of funding to support the Commission.
Hough said the Commission has 85 Conservation Officers when it should have 136.
The comments were made during an informational meeting on the Commission’s 2016 Annual Report.
"In addition to the threats from diseases that wildlife is facing, the Commission's ability to effectively enforce the laws designed to protect wildlife in the Commonwealth is also being challenged," said Hough. “There is no way to skirt around the fact that poaching incidences will go undetected, and our officers will be limited in the services that they can provide to the public."
As a result, he says the Commission is making decisions it would rather not make, such as closing two of four pheasant farms and possibly closing popular and useful facilities like the Middle Creek Waterfowl Management Area Visitors Center in Lancaster County and the Howard Nursery in Centre County.
Hough said part of the solution to funding is to authorize the Game Commission Board to set its own license fees as was proposed in Senate Bill 192 (Stefano-R-Fayette) now being considered by the Senate.
In his written comments, Hough highlighted some accomplishments over the last year, including improved habitat for all wildlife, improved roads for user access in state game lands, enforcement of anti-poaching measures, the release of pheasants into wild areas, and high numbers of license purchases.
He also outlined several challenges, in addition to funding.
"On several fronts we are dealing with wildlife diseases that have the ability to have long-term and potentially catastrophic impacts on the future of wildlife in the Commonwealth," said Hough.
These include Chronic Wasting Disease, West Nile Virus, and White Nose Syndrome; the first has the potential to gravely harm the state's deer population, while the latter two have already caused severe reductions in the numbers of ruffed grouse and cave bats, respectively.
Hough said the Commission is doing what it can to address these diseases, but "Our ability to confront these challenges is directly tied to funding.”
Click Here to read Hough’s written testimony. Click Here to read the 2016 Annual Report. Click Here to watch a video of the informational session.Rep. Keith Gillespie (R-York) serves as Majority Chair of the Committee and can be contacted by sending email to: email@example.com. Rep. Bryan Barbin (D-Cambria) serves as Minority Chair of the Committee and can be contacted by sending email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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