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Merger of fish, game commissions possible

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania legislature may once again explore the idea of merging the Game and Fish and Boat commissions.

Forty-nine states manage fish and wildlife under the auspices of one agency. Pennsylvania is the lone exception.

But state Rep. Martin Causer, the Potter County Republican who chairs the House game and fisheries committee, said Tuesday he wants the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to study a merger.

He made that announcement at the close of a hearing about the Fish and Boat Commission's annual report, where executive director John Arway outlined financial challenges — not of its own making — facing the agency.

Those money troubles, which are behind plans to close two trout hatcheries, one in his district, are one reason a merger might be appropriate, Causer said.

“I think the thing to do at a time when we're all looking so hard at budgets is to see if it makes sense to consolidate government agencies,” Causer said.

A combined commission would continue to operate independently, he said. But it might be more efficient, he added.

The idea of even studying a merger is not a done deal. The full House of Representatives must authorize it. But Causer said he's optimistic that will happen in time for a study to be completed by year's end.

Arway was quick to say the Fish and Boat Commission views a merger as a “bad idea.”

“We think the independent form of government we've got with two commissions has worked very well over a long period of time,” he said.

Game Commission spokesman Joe Neville said staff at that agency would have to have “some long, hard discussions before commenting in depth” on the idea. But the Game Commission, which doesn't have the same financial problems as Fish and Boat right now, isn't interested in a merger per se, he said.

“I have no doubt that our senior management staff has the talent and expertise to assimilate (Fish and Boat Commission) operations into ours. An equal merger assumes the Game Commission gets responsibility for Fish and Boat's issues and problems but does not have complete authority to address those issues since they would be shared,” Neville said.

The legislature studied the idea of a merger twice before, most recently in 2003. A report issued then said that a merger of the two commissions was “clearly feasible” and would save money. But it also said that a bigger issue was the need to find new revenue sources for fish and wildlife programs.

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