Protecting bats, birds and fish; A legislative battle over endangered species
HARRISBURG, PA — Supporters say the proposed Endangered Species Coordination Act (ESCA) would merely standardize the state process for designating species of fish, wildlife or plants as threatened or endangered. Representative Jell Pyle, the prime sponsor of ESCA, has 67 co-sponsors in the house.
After a meeting about the legislation on August 26, Pyle said, “We are simply asking for sufficient burden of proof that a species is truly endangered or under a threat of extinction.” He added, “Not all state agencies are required to play by the same rules when it comes to these designations, and my bill would essentially level the playing field.”
Opponents say it would endanger the health of threatened species. Representative Steve McCarter says ESCA and a companion piece of legislation “would take the ability to declare a species endangered or threatened away from the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Fish and Boat Commission, or Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and would transfer the decision-making process to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) and the legislature.
“The Pennsylvania Game Commission has been scientifically managing wildlife in this Commonwealth for nearly 120 years,” McCarter said. “Why the makers of these bills want to throw away 120 years of knowledge, remove scientific experts and replace them with bureaucrats and politicians is baffling. Add to that the very strong likelihood that this legislation may cause us to lose almost $20 million in federal wildlife management funds in an attempt to fix a problem that does not exist is nonsensical.”
McCarter has proposed legislation designating the little brown bat, northern long-eared bat and tri-colored bat as endangered and prohibiting the possession, transportation, capturing, or killing of such bats. The bat populations in Pennsylvania have been decimated in recent year because of an illness called white nose syndrome.
Representative Doyle Heffley said such sweeping designations can have a negative economic impact. Heffley, one of the co-sponsors of ESCA, issued a press release that said, “In 2009, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission attempted to list five species of freshwater mussels as threatened or endangered. That effort was delayed when dredging companies and their workers protested about the impact the listing would have on their jobs. Regardless of the jobs it would cost, these designations were made and just this month, the last river dredging company and its 50 workers left the Allegheny River in western Pennsylvania.”
ESCA would also provide for an appeals process after a state agency determines that a species is endangered. Pyle said the legislation came in reaction to a proposed school building project in his district that was located in a habitat that contained an endangered species of bat. With no pathway for appealing the designation, the building chose to pay $61,000 to a conservation fund, rather than to abandon the project or be forced to find a new home for the bats.
“No one questions the ability of a government agency to render a decision, or the possibility of a species being in danger,” Pyle added. “I am simply asking every agency empowered with the ability to carry out an action that in this case has the potential to significantly impact the economy of a community, to have a second set of eyes review the decisions it makes.”
Any species currently listed as threatened or endangered would be required to go through the IRRC process within two years of the effective date of House Bill 1576, in order to justify its continued designation of that species. McCarter says the IRRC process would hand the control of the issues to people who are not necessarily focused on the welfare of the animals and plants in question. He said, “Allowing nonscientific bureaucrats and politicians veto power over the endangered species list would inevitably slow down efforts to protect these species. These unnecessary bureaucratic changes would make it increasingly difficult to protect Pennsylvania’s native species and begs the question, to what end?”