On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Game Commission appointed R. Matthew Hough as its new executive director to replace Carl Roe, who recently retired.
Hough has been with the agency for 33 years, working his way up from Wildlife Conservation Officer in Westmoreland County to deputy executive director — the position he held before the appointment.
Hough spoke with The Times Leader to discuss his plans and goals as the agency’s new leader.
What is the first item you’d like to address as the new executive director?
“I want to make sure thins are in order throughout the agency. Maintaining our financial situation and keeping that in good shape is paramount. I don’t want the agency to be in the position we were in in 2005, when we couldn’t replace vehicles, and had to cut staff and program. We were in really bad shape then, financially, and I don’t want us to go back to that.
“Right now, the Marcellus Shale revenue basically saved us, along with a drastic increase in the Pittman-Robertson funds.”
With the bolstered revenue sources, the agency has been more aggressive with its land acquisition program in recent years. Is that something you’d like to see continue?
“Yes. There’s a saying regarding land that ‘They’re not making any more of it.’ We want to continue to purchase wildlife habitat anytime we can, and the revenue from Marcellus Shale has allowed us to do that. The good thing is we should get quite a bit of royalty revenue in the near future, which will continue to help with land acquisition.”
The agency recently announced a plan to boost hunting license sales by bringing back those who haven’t purchased a license in a few years. Are you optimistic this will work?
“I’m definitely optimistic about it. A study showed that as high as 25 percent of Pennsylvanians claim to be hunters, but we don’t get that in license sales. We have to bring them back, and keep them involved and buying a license.
“Our license sales over the last four years have increased by a small amount. It’s not dwindling like other areas of the country, so we’ve been holding our own.”
Deer management is always a hot issue. What is your opinion of the program and would you like to see any changes?
“Our deer management program is very good. We can manage deer well, the problem is managing people. We get ourselves into trouble when we try to satisfy everyone because we can’t.
“If I put my hunter hat on, I’d like to see more deer. But if I wear my management hat, the population is getting down to where we’re in pretty good shape. But it’s impossible to satisfy everybody. Farmers and foresters don’t want to see a lot of deer while hunters do. I think we need to be more consistent with our deer management over the long term.”
What is your opinion of the proposed legislation that would change the state’s threatened and endangered species program?
“It’s a concern. It adds another major step in the process and slows down your ability to react to things like White Nose Syndrome in bats. It would take years to give bats the protection they need (under the proposed legislation).”
Talk of a merger between the Game Commission and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission still continues. Is it a concern?
“We always hear about mergers. The Game Commission is a wildlife agency. We can concentrate on birds and mammals, while the Fish and Boat Commission can concentrate on fish and amphibians. We’d lose part of that through a merger into a larger agency.”
How important is it for the executive director and board to work together?
“It’s essential to have a good relationship with the board. There are going to be disagreements, but that’s what makes it work The biggest thing is that everyone is on the same team and moving in the right direction. The agency manages a lot more than deer, and what we do affects other wildlife species and people as well. People are sad to see Carl Roe go. He did a good job the last eight years, but the agency is going to continue in a positive direction.”