Last updated: October 13. 2013 12:12AM - 1560 Views
By - tvenesky@timesleader.com

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One group consists of three attorneys, a CEO and a former board member of the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority.

The other group includes two ornithologists, two mammalogists and a biologist with a master’s degree from Penn State and 30 years experience.

Which group would be best suited to make the determination of whether a bird or mammal is threatened or endangered in the state?

Several of our state legislators believe the former should have the final say when it comes to determining what species should be considered threatened or endangered.

House Bill 1576 and its counterpart in the state Senate (SB 1047), currently sit before their respective Game and Fisheries Committees.

Let’s hope they never make it out.

The bills, which have received support from the Marcellus Shale Coalition, Pennsylvania Builder’s Association and the coal industry, would change the way endangered species are listed and give the final say in the process to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission.

It’s an attempt to fix a process that isn’t broken.

What exactly is that process?

Right now, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and state Fish and Boat Commission have the authority to list or de-list, birds, mammals and aquatic life.

In order for the PGC board to list a bird or mammal, there is an extensive process within the agency.

It all starts with an agency biologist, who through field work, surveys and data reviews, believes that a particular species may be at risk.

The biologist will take the matter to the Dan Brauning, the PGC’s wildlife diversity division chief, who initiates a two-step process.

The first step is nomination, where Brauning reviews the data and findings, and decides if the species should advance up the chain. If the request looks reasonable, a biologist is charged with filling out a thorough documentation on that species.

The documentation process takes several months and it’s not uncommon for agency staff to deliberate for a year before the request advances.

Also included in the process is an independent review by the Pennsylvania Biological Survey, a group of experts dealing with birds, plants and mammals, most of whom have PhDs.

Finally, after more than a year has transpired, if all the data and reviews indicate the species warrants the protections that come with being listed, a recommendation is made to the PGC’s Board of Commissioners.

Yet it’s still not finished.

If the board votes to accept the recommendation, the proposal goes out for public comment. Months later, after the board and agency have reviewed the public comment, a final vote is taken.

The Fish and Boat Commission has a similar process, beginning with biologists who go through a process that may take two years before determining is a recommendation should be brought to their board.

House Bill 1576 is dubbed the Endangered Species Coordination Act, and proponents say it provides transparency and accountability for the regulations.

It says nothing about thoroughness or science, which are two elements that would be lost if the bill were to become a reality.

The only things that HB 1576 would actually coordinate is redundancy and more time for an already lengthy process.

Those species already state-listed as threatened or endangered would be removed after two years if not verified by the IRRC board. The database already in place for industries to use when reviewing if any threatened or endangered species exist at a particular site has worked fine for years, yet the bill calls for the creation of a new database — more time and more work to replace something that already exists.

An important thing to remember is we’re dealing with several species that aren’t that far away from extinction. Decisions regarding those species should be left to the experts, and not a board comprised of attorneys and businessmen.

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