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Environment & Energy

Bill Would Change Endangered Species Determination Process

Two state agencies are warning proposed legislation would strip their authority to determine which species are labeled endangered in Pennsylvania.

The measure would require the Fish and Boat Commission and the Game Commission, now independent agencies, to instead run their decisions through certain legislative committees and a state regulatory review agency.

A Senate version of the bill is sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati. His spokesman, Drew Crompton, said some industries believe the "goal posts were continuously moved" as far as what animals were on the endangered species lists, which are now controlled by the two independent state commissions.

"We're not by any means trying to one, thwart their power, two, second-guess prior decisions," Crompton said. "What this is about is, going forward, and an attempt to try to make sure that we have a publicized list of endangered species by region."

Endangered species lists are available on two state websites. The Game Commission controls what mammals and birds are listed as endangered species. Dan Brauning, wildlife diversity chief, said the whole process takes about a year, from petition to approval.

"The list is not changed very often," Brauning said. "We look at a lot of data to develop these lists so, it's a slow process."

But certain industries have long wanted more exact information about the endangered animals' whereabouts. The bill in question doesn't make that information public. Instead, it allows the data to be obtained on request, and then it can be shared with others only with the permission of another state agency — the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

John Arway is director of the Fish and Boat Commission, with domain over fish and invertebrates on the endangered species list. He calls the bill a power grab and is suspicious of plans to make regional data about endangered species public. Right now, such information is exempt from the state's open records law, and Right-to-Know requests focusing on the data are denied.

"Poachers would like to know (location information), because some of these species have a black market value," Arway said. "We don't want other people making decisions about species under our jurisdiction."

Some developers want to know where endangered species are so they can plant their facilities elsewhere, but Arway argues developers often aren't considering the size of an animal's habitat.