Fish, game commissions should merge

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We have long argued Pennsylvania’s patchwork of municipalities should be whittled down to a more manageable, efficient number – Washington County by itself contains over 60 of them, from bustling Peters Township to the sleepy 200-resident borough of Twilight – but it never happens largely because it would mean perks and powers would evaporate and fiefdoms would be toppled.


The same story seems to be playing out regarding a possible merger of the commonwealth’s Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission. Pennsylvania is the only state to maintain two separate agencies to deal with fishing and hunting. All 49 of the other states, including such angling and camouflage-wearing meccas as Michigan and Alaska, combined fish and wildlife commissions, to the apparent detriment of neither activity. A recently issued study by the state’s bipartisan Legislative Budget and Finance Committee found a $5 million savings would result from the two commissions joining forces, mostly from the elimination of redundant administrative positions in Harrisburg and regional offices.


The idea of combining the two commissions was first raised in 1972 – two generations ago – and nothing ever happened. Similar reports, issued in 1989 and 2003, also found melding the two agencies together would save money. Why has nothing ever been done, especially when rhetoric about “cutting waste” has been all the rage among politicians on every level of government?


“Pennsylvania is very slow to change,” state Rep. Martin Causer, a Turtlepoint Republican and chairman of the House Game and Fisheries Committee, was quoted as saying in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Anybody that works in this building knows change occurs very slowly here.”


Hunters and fishermen have voiced opposition, mostly arguing the current system isn’t broke and need not be fixed, and functionaries within each agency are, obviously, not keen on the thought of losing their jobs. But these arguments seem all too reminiscent of those local officials who insist that, no way, no how, should there be any sort of municipal merging. But it could very well be that a combined agency will have more resources to actually provide services rather than feeding overhead and administrative costs.


This is an idea that should have been enacted 42 years ago. And, yes, Pennsylvania moves slowly, but let’s hope we don’t have to wait until 2056 for this to actually happen.


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