Sportsmen skeptical of wildlife panel |

Sportsmen skeptical of wildlife panel

Rob Amen

Local sportsmen who learned of Gov. Ed Rendell’s decision last week to create a wildlife advisory panel were pleased with the effort, but hesitant to fully embrace the concept.

“The last time I heard about (such a panel), they had people in there who didn’t want to cooperate with the sportsmen, even though they were supposed to be sportsmen,” said Joe Connors, a Verona resident and treasurer of the Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League.

Rendell signed an executive order Monday creating the Governor’s Advisory Council on Hunting, Fishing and Conservation, which he said will comprise “a broad-based group” of 12 to 21 still-to-be-named appointees interested in the state’s wildlife resources. It replaces the former Sportsmen’s Advisory Council.

The governor said hunting, fishing and wildlife-watching provide huge economic benefits, generating $119 million a year in state sales, fuel and income taxes, and providing more jobs than the Pennsylvania State University system. One million Pennsylvanians hunt and 1.25 million fish, he said.

“More Pennsylvania residents hunt and fish each year than attend Pittsburgh Steelers, Philadelphia Eagles and Philadelphia (76ers) games combined,” he said.

Robb Miller, an employee of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources who will serve as liaison between Rendell and the advisory council, said the initial appointments will be announced soon.

Many sportsmen are concerned that those appointments will not reflect their thoughts and needs. They worry that environmentalists, not sportsmen, will be the ones who have Rendell’s ear.

“It’s bad if he has his own agenda and puts his own people on the council,” said Doug Baker of Cabot, a member of the Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League board of directors and North Boros Sportsmen. “It’s good if it represents the sportsmen. (Former Gov.) Tom Ridge had a council, and the Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League, the largest sportsmen’s league in the state, was never asked to be part of that council.”

Baker said Mike Maranche of Clairton is being considered for Rendell’s panel but did not know of any other western Pennsylvanian. Other sportsmen in the area also had not heard of anyone locally being considered.

Plenty is at stake.

Pennsylvania’s 1.4 million acres of game lands represent prime hunting and fishing opportunities, but also are filled with untapped natural resources.

“If they have the wrong panel in there, with the game lands, those game lands could be sold, and we would lose those forever,” said Tarentum resident Joe Shurina, a member of the Tri-County Trout Club, Pittsburgh Downriggers, Sons of Lake Erie and Frazer Sportsmen’s Club. “Some of that land is in some pretty good areas. The timber, the oil rights, the mineral rights, that part would really be a detriment to the hunters.

“If they have the right panel, they can preserve what we already have.”

“The radical environmental community is worlds apart from hunting and fishing,” said N. Charles Bolgiano of Lancaster, the United Sportsmen of Pennsylvania’s legislative director. “Their influence could be detrimental to hunting and fishing.”

Miller, who has been recruiting prospective appointees for the panel for several months, said he has looked for people sensitive to the needs of sportsmen so the various interests can “come together a little more” than they have in the past.

Contributing: The Associated Press.

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