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Will conservation’s single voice make a lot of noise? |

Will conservation’s single voice make a lot of noise?

| Sunday, October 24, 2010 12:00 a.m

There’s an effort underway to give conservation a single voice in Harrisburg.

But will it work?

The group Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, or PennFuture, has created a new initiative called the Pennsylvania Camo Coalition. It is an attempt to join sportsmen and environmentalists into “a unified voice about state government policies that address fishing, hunting, trapping, wildlife, habitat conservation, outdoor recreation and other sportsmen’s concerns,” reads its website .

The challenge will be getting the environmental and sportsmen’s organizations together. Historically, they’ve sometimes failed to cooperate, and, at times, been on opposite sides of issues, admitted Coalition coordinator Ed Boito.

The hope is that the Coalition — membership into which is free — can bridge that gap, he said.

“There’s some distrust by both parties,” Boito said. “However, when you can sit down at a table and spend an inordinate amount of time not on what you disagree on but what you agree on, that’s where strength comes from. There’s a lot of middle ground in there.”

As an example, the Coalition might be willing to support hunting and fishing license fee increases — something some sportsmen’s groups have pushed for — in the future, Boito said.

Similar coalitions have been put together in seven other states, he noted. They’ve grown large — Georgia’s has more than 26,000 members — and had some political success.

At least some sportsmen have been slow to embrace the Coalition here, though.

Representatives of the 100,000-member Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, the state’s largest group of its kind, and other hunting and fishing groups attended meetings held to organize the Coalition. None has yet joined as a group, however.

“There might be certain issues we will certainly work together on, but we didn’t want to be a full-fledged member,” said Federation president Ted Onufrak.

In the bigger picture, meanwhile, sportsmen are without a full-time representative working on hunting and fishing issues at the state Capital.

The Federation’s previous executive director, Melody Zullinger, filled that role for years before leaving months ago. She has not yet been replaced, though Onufrak said the goal is to do so “eventually.”

No other hunting or fishing group in the state has a full-time representative either, though some — like the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited, in a newsletter this summer — have identified that as a need.

That’s why why the Coalition — which attracted a little less than 100 members in its first two weeks of existence — is so important, Boito said.

“The whole purpose is to get sportsmen involved in the political process to work toward protecting our natural resources,” he said.

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