Friday, 27 December 2013

Two bills in Pennsylvania's House and Senate could further damage state's endangered plants and animals - via Herp Digest

September 15, 2013,

"Mankind has the honor of quite possibly being the most destructive force to ever hit mother nature. Whether by overhunting or overpopulation, driving a species to extinction is nothing to be proud of, and it's certainly not slowing down." Those are the words of Jamie Frater on his Internet list of the 10 most recently extinct species.
I was saddened as I read through the list and glanced at the obituary photos of recently extinct animals, such as the Pyrenean ibex, Baiji River dolphin, Tecopa pupfish and golden toad.
Sorrowfully, many of these calamities happened within my lifetime. Regrettably, humans had a lot of practice to achieve such an awful track record of destruction.
Even the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states: "Biologists estimate that since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, more than 500 species, subspecies, and varieties of our Nation's plants and animals have become extinct."
It further states: "In short, there is nothing natural about today's rate of extinction."
That rate averages about 78 extinct species per century. To speed things up and bring notice closer to home, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania lists 73 existing state-designated threatened or endangered species.
How would we feel if these species become extirpated or even extinct from Pennsylvania's resident flora and fauna?
This may become an ugly reality, based upon a manifestation of ignorance, apathy and greed all concocted into two bills: House Bill 1576 (sponsored by state Rep. Jeff Pyle, R-Armstrong/Indiana counties); and Senate Bill 1047 (sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson County), now pending in the House and Senate.
If passed, these bills would essentially modify the way threatened and endangered species are protected in Pennsylvania. Current endangered or threatened species would have to be re-evaluated and put through a new implementation process, using new species listing criteria.
According to the "PA Environment Digest," the bill applies to the state Game Commission, Fish and Boat Commissions and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which now have the statutory authority to list threatened or endangered species. In addition, the bill would immediately eliminate hundreds of species of special concern entirely from environmental permit review. These species were found by the agencies to be rare in Pennsylvania and are tracked for conservation purposes, in order to prevent them from becoming threatened or endangered.

Game Commission
In a letter to the House Game and Fisheries Committee, on Aug. 14, Carl Roe, executive director of the Game Commission, stated the legislation attempts to fix a problem that does not exist and threatens millions of dollars in federal funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The bill would require all threatened and endangered species designations made by the Game and Fish and Boat commissions to go through the regulation adoption process and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission. Listings by DCNR already go through the regulatory process.
The bill also makes a fundamental change in the way agencies evaluate species to be listed as threatened or endangered. Instead of looking at a species range or habitat within Pennsylvania for which the agencies are responsible, it requires them to look at the entire range of habitat for a species, even if it occurs across several states or in large regional areas across the United States.
In a simplified example, if there are 10 of the species in New York and only 2 in Pennsylvania, the bill would seem to direct the agencies to not protect the species in Pennsylvania because more exist outside the state.
In addition, the bill requires all species now listed to be re-listed through the regulatory process within two years of enactment of the bill. This means the commissions would have to re-evaluate and send 73 state-designated threatened and endangered species through the two-year window to protect their existing status.
The commissions would also have to evaluate the existing listed species under the new, expanded range of habitat criteria created in the bill, draft a regulation and move it through the regulatory process in two years — an all but impossible task with the limited resources the commissions now have.
Effectively, this means the protection of 73 existing threatened and endangered species are put at risk by this bill because of the process outlined in the bill.
Roe points out the bill may also have an effect opposite to the one intended by the sponsors of the bill. The lack of state action to protect species may prompt the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list more species as federally threatened or endangered.
Over the past 10 years, only three species have been added to the threatened or endangered species list by the Game Commission.

Fish & Boat Commission
Talking points circulated by the Fish and Boat Commission take a similar position, opposing the bills as unnecessary and harmful to existing protections offered to threatened or endangered species in Pennsylvania.
"Because these bills appear to provide protection only to federally listed T&E species, species that are rare within Pennsylvania, but not globally rare, will not be protected. Effectively conserving species at the state level prevents regional and range-wide declines that require federal listings," stated the commission.
The Fish and Boat Commission points out there is already a definition of "acceptable data" used by the commission to consider listing of species by scientifically valid and defensible data.
The commission also said the bill requires a new database to be created when there is already a database. The Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory, which is used for environmental reviews, is considered "one of the most advanced, and arguably the best, environmental review systems in the country," according to the commission.
The commission is also critical of the bills for opening access to specific location information for rare, threatened or endangered species. This could allow anyone to pinpoint their location, facilitating the potential for harm to those species.
In the last five years, the Fish and Boat Commission has added 13 species and de-listed 11 species from the state threatened, endangered and candidate species list.

History repeats
If these bills are passed, it would require all threatened and endangered species designations made by the Game and Fish and Boat commissions to go through the regulation adoption process and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission.
Joe Kosak of the Pennsylvania Game Commission wrote about the reasons that caused the extinction of the passenger pigeon by 1914. Kosak said, "Passenger pigeon numbers began to slip in some areas during the mid-1800s. There was little concern about the birds, though, because they were so numerous. But the bird protection movement sweeping the country during this period apparently compelled some Ohioans, in 1857, to petition state legislators to introduce a bill protecting wild pigeons. A select committee of the state's senate found problems with the idea. The panel's report recommended: "The passenger pigeon needs no protection. Wonderfully prolific, having the vast forests of the North as its breeding grounds, traveling hundreds of miles in search of food, it is here today and elsewhere tomorrow, and no ordinary destruction can lessen them, or be missed from the myriads that are yearly produced."
It looks like history might repeat itself as if we didn't learn from our past mistakes. Sound familiar? Can we trust the scientific judgment of the selected Independent Regulatory Review Commission?

Why now?
It's apparent that certain members of the House and Senate want to change the current methodology of species listings and demand a new implementation process. But for what reasons? Does House Bill 1576 and Senate Bill 1047 demonstrate concern about species protection?
Capitol reporter Mary Wilson reports in the State House Sound Bites:
"We've had questions as to their science, and there's been a lot of objection to there not being an appeal process, and it's come from a hell of a lot of sectors," said Pyle. "The underlying premise of the bills is that there should be more oversight of the endangered species designation process, since the label often affects permits for industries like timber, gas, homebuilders and coal."
Rep. Pyle serves as chair of the Environmental Resources & Energy Subcommittee on Mining.
Unless I've been living on another planet, Pennsylvania has recently transformed the landscape with a hell of a lot of gas pads, wind turbines, gas lines and power lines.
I have no objection to progress, as long as we drive the industrial speed limit and not detour environmental review. It appears the bills want to remove the endangered species designation and rubber-stamp development permits. The current system works to minimize environmental impacts on threatened and endangered species and their habitat.
On behalf of the imperiled 73, they question your logic? If you have concerns about House Bill 1576 and Senate Bill 1047, please contact your state representative and state senator.

Contact Rick Koval at or write to him at PO Box 454, Dallas, PA 18612.

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