Outdoors with Tom Venesky: Hunters continue to take backseat in doe license bill

By Tom Venesky - [email protected]
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When state Rep. Gerald Mullery introduced House Bill 231 three years ago, he essentially had to pick a side.

The legislation, which has now become HB 275, would allow the Pennsylvania Game Commission to sell antlerless licenses through its automated system. It’s the same process the PGC and Fish and Boat Commission use to sell nearly all of their licenses and permits.

But doe tags have yet to be added to the list, as they continue to be doled out by county treasurers, who receive a $1 for each license they issue. Mullery’s legislation, which wouldn’t take the authority to issue doe licenses away from county treasurers but rather add the PGC as another means to purchase a tag, is the result of a snafu in 2014 when Luzerne County was slow to process antlerless license applications and some hunters were left without a tag.

On one side, hunters were all in favor of the legislation as it gave them another option — a more efficient one at that — to apply for an antlerless license. County treasurers around the state, however, opposed the idea citing lost revenue.

The fact that Mullery has tried to get the bill passed for more than three years shows he has clearly sided with hunters on the issue.

And he’s not giving up any time soon.

After last week’s Sportsmen’s Forum, which Mullery hosted at Luzerne County Community College, I asked him why the bill continues to languish in the House despite being passed out of the Game and Fisheries Committee.

The legislation has the support of hunters as well as the Democratic and Republican chairs of the Game and Fisheries Committee.

So what gives?

“The biggest opponent are the county treasurers, who don’t want to give up that $1 fee or the control over issuing doe licenses,” Mullery said.

“I will continue to fight.”

It’s surprising that the county treasurers have so much clout in Harrisburg to stave off the legislation, despite an outpouring of support from hunters both statewide and locally.

Last month, the Luzerne County Federation of Sportsmens Clubs, which represents seven clubs with more than 900 members, stated its desire to allow the PGC to issue antlerless licenses. By allowing hunters to buy a doe tag through the Game Commission’s automated system on a first-come, first-serve basis, it would save hunters, the state and counties time and money, according to a statement from the federation.

“We know of no reason to defend the current costly antiquated procedure,” federation president Dennis Grimes wrote in a letter to state Rep. Mike Carroll.

Are legislators so beholden to county treasurers that they’ll ignore the wishes of the state’s hunters?

There has to be another reason why the antlerless license bill can’t make it through the House. Maybe the Game Commission doesn’t want to see it come to fruition because the agency isn’t interested in processing antlerless license applications?

Fortunately, PGC executive director Brian Burhans was at the Sportsmen’s Forum as well, so I asked him for his take.

“We have the ability to do it. It’s no issue at all,” Burhans said. “It’s just a question of when we can implement it once the bill passes.”

Burhans even went on to say it would be the Game Commission’s preference to handle the issuance of doe licenses.

It seems like everything is in place for Mullery’s bill to breeze through the House.

The Democrat and Republican committee chairmen are on board.

The Game Commission can handle the job and is willing to do it.

And hunters want to see it become a reality.

In at least 59 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties (there are eight home-rule counties in the state), treasurers are elected.

Treasurers oppose a bill that hunters fully support.

Hunters vote.

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By Tom Venesky

[email protected]

Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky

Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky