To: Bob Hight Director of the Dept Of Fish And Game
From: Paul Wertz Department of Fish and Game Region Information office
Dec. 31, 2002
I just hit the 30-year mark with the DFG. To this day, fortunately, I have not been given an ounce of direction with respect to my job. Thus, over the past three decades, I have opted to apply my journalism beliefs to the job-that truth is good and that the public has a right to know how its money and resources are doing. Among my task selections has been one in which I have tried to open paths of both internal and external communication--hoping through the internal process to further the cause of conserving wildlife by bringing recognition and encouragement to the people in the DFG who, good judgment aside, have devoted most of the prime years of their lives to California critters. Their successes, I have always believed, have depended in part on their own morale. They like to think they're protecting wildlife from the onslaught of society, especially the ready-mix mentality of California that writes campaign checks. Many of these people invest 25 to 40 years in this effort. But, that's their problem. (Don'tcha just love the power of email?) You and your fleet of imported supporters are, on the other hand, transients, mostly indistinguishable from your political predecessors. You come and then you go; in your wake, the devoted professionals within the DFG are left behind to continue their pilgrimages despite messes often created by such things as "directorates" and "leadership teams" (There's an oxymoron in there somewhere.) Well, this is going to be long, so let's get to it. You might want to kick off your shoes. I have decided, in the interest of employee morale--and, by extension, employees' hard work on behalf of wildlife--to conduct an interview with you. I would have called first, but I'm in a bit of a hurry. Send your responses to DFG-All; I may or may not get a chance to read them. Philosophies... During an early MarCom committee meeting, one in which we were talking about the DFG's latest failure to protect the Klamath River fisheries, one of your deputies decided the committee needed a dose of administration reality. So, he told the group, "You people need to understand: this governor only likes people with money." He then went on to inform us that we had to learn not to "step on the toes" of the 2% with money and access to the governor's office and that, accomplishing that, we would be permitted to deal with the "other 98%" who might be having some sort of impact on wildlife. That the 2% are probably doing 98% of the damage to wildlife habitat didn't come up. What are your feelings about this approach to protecting California wildlife? How has this been a factor in your management of the DFG over the past four years? Do you still want DFG personnel to shy away from dealing with the 2%? Speaking of your deputies, I am curious about a particular Region 1 event involving the FERC relicensing of a small hydro project on a Shasta County stream--Old Cow Creek, I think. Anyway, during the region's process of reviewing the hydro owner's application to take more water out of the creek, this same deputy, circumventing the regional scientists working on the proposal, had contact with the hydro owner, promising him, among other things, that there would be "no listing issues" with respect to threatened and endangered species (there are three state/federal listed species in that drainage). Worse, the region was prevented from making the FERC deadline for comments, thus temporarily giving up its standing in the relicensing of the project (other government agencies came to our rescue, embarrassingly). According to my media contacts, the hydro owner is some sort of Maryland Democratic Party fund raising guru. Let's switch to salmon, sort of. Cleverly, your staff and the Fish and Game Commission recently declared that coho salmon in the north "warrant" listing as a threatened species. But, as near as I can tell, the species was NOT actually listed. The implication your office worked hard at making was that coho were listed, but they were not. Instead, there is a recovery plan with a large committee of "recoverers" whose bulk alone pretty much assures endless meetings and not much recovery. Finally, a couple of questions. What was the motivation for sidestepping the clear evidence to list? And, if one species can be "not really listed" in deference to a large, bulky committee, why not every plant and animal on the T&E list? Why one and not all? I think I know why, but many of the career people stuck in thankless DFG jobs might not know. How about explaining this? How about a news release that makes it clearer, rather than muddier, what the commission actually did? So, would the foregoing be good examples of staying off the toes of the 2%? How do you feel about the way these issues were handled? What's the lesson from these episodes for other DFG employees? (Golly, this electronic communication stuff is great, isn't it?) These first three items would lead one to wonder what your philosophies are regarding the DFG's role as principal guardian of California wildlife. What are they? Everyone knows the state has sacrificed a high percentage of its once rich fish and wildlife resources to human invasion over the past 150 years and that it has only a fraction of its original resources left. In your estimation, what percentage of the remaining fraction must be sacrificed in the coming decades in the interest of a "growing economy"? What should you or the next transient do, if anything, in defense of the plants and animals? Even better, can you give any examples of your "team" taking strong action on behalf of wildlife in full public view over the last four years? Organization... There has been much discussion about the current structure of the DFG. Former director Schafer, now mucking with the Arizona environment, tossed the department into a blender and "reorganized" it into what most Fish and Game people to this day cannot, to save their lives, describe. (In her first headquarters briefing after taking the reins of the DFG, Schafer interrupted the briefing to say, "Hold It. I don't want to know about all that stuff. I want to know where my Army is, where my Navy is, where my Air Force is." That's who rearranged the deck chairs.) The old DFG structure worked well; everyone knew whom to contact on what subject. We had fishery biologists, wildlife biologists, fish culturists, wildlife and fish habitat specialists, game wardens and-least numerous of all-environmental specialists (oops, scientists). Now, it appears that, in addition to your extremely top-heavy headquarters roster, the numbers have flip flopped. In the old, workable system, regional environmental review personnel extracted critter information from the appropriate field professionals, including wardens, and wrote DFG comments. It worked great. Until about six years ago. Today, we have timber harvest personnel, for example, who specialize. Yes, one will review a plan for herps; the next one will check the same plan for herbs. Herps and herbs; herps and herbs. Kinda gives you goose bumps, doesn't it? (If the DFG can afford a "herb" ecologist, why not a pronghorn antelope biologist?) In spite of the monstrous size of the "habitat conservation" branch/division, DFG people still fail to set foot on the actual sites of 75% of the timber cutting plans. And, of course, the DFG examines ZERO timber harvest plans on federal land (but, that's only half of Region 1, so no problem). Here's a recent HC accomplishment. Priorities were being established by the regions for dealing with T&E species. In our region, these "new agenda" people completely ignored one of the most endangered species in California-the Shasta crayfish-in sending its priority list to Sacramento. What did they list as their top three species? Two plants and a butterfly. Will you be looking into that? (Some of this same bunch also attempted to stop Cantara's funding of the trout studies on the upper Sacramento River; and, recently, threatened the City of Redding that "we'll sue you and you won't have a project" over wetland habitat--on the basis of a plant that is found in dozens of counties. But, no crayfish, no sir--that species is in the province of the "old" Fish and Game sections and cannot be recognized under the open warfare within the disorganized DFG.) This takes us to the next question: why, in the name of anything even remotely sensible, didn't you, upon your appointment four years ago, immediately put Humpty Dumpty (DFG) back together again? Why did you embrace the mess Schafer left behind? Why didn't you put fisheries people back in fisheries; wildlife people back in wildlife, etc.? It would seem you don't care--do you? With respect to the re-org from hell (Scott Adams is today a millionaire, thanks in large part to the previous DFG administrations), wouldn't this be a good time to undo much of it, given the state budget's abyss? How about starting by eliminating the pointless Region 6 from the structure? For 50 years or more, the wildlife-deficient southern California area (the Sierra's still pretty good, of course) functioned just fine under the direction of the Region 5 office in Long Beach. At a time the wildlife resources had significantly been supplanted by tile roofs and parking stripes, Schafer split Region 5 into two regions. Two sets of everything. Elimination of that over-bureaucratized piece of California by dropping Region 6 would save lots of money--especially given that the regional manager and immediate staff continue to pay rent in Long Beach while the rest of the region's people have been uprooted and moved to Chino Hills. (How efficient is that? What's the explanation for paying rent in both places?) Are you aware that, among the many sensible recommendations that came from DFG people during the Schafer massacre, was one calling for consolidating the state into three east-west regions? With today's electronics, what's the need for seven field headquarters (and fewer wardens and biologists in the process)? If this is not a good idea, how about telling DFG-All just why it isn't? As long as we're on the subject of the state budget black hole, how about a full disclosure of the names, salaries and duties of each and every one of the DFG people who are employed at CEA levels and above, including all of your "leadership" team members--you know, deputy directors, assistant deputy directors, junior deputy directors, wannabe deputy directors, etc.? In addition, many of us would like to know how many DFG personnel work within the city limits of Sacramento. Will you supply that? Further, what percentage of DFG salary costs go to those people within the Sacto limits? I know that all of the grunt level people in the DFG would be interested in seeing such a report. Are you willing to give everyone such a report? If not, why not? This also leads into a subject of money. I understand that some of your bean counters have concluded that they now have carte blanche (through new legislation?) to spend DFG money from any source on any subject. Can you explain this? Does this mean you might be using fishing/hunting license revenue for such things as commenting on the herbs in a timber harvest review, for example? How does this fit with one of the DFG's traditional roles to serve one of its traditional constituents, the wildlife recreationist? Are you willing to provide a complete, and understandable, explanation of just where the money is coming from and where it is being spent within the DFG? More specifically, how about an update on two areas of particular interest to many of us--the employment of attorneys and interpreters. An interpreter, as you may know, is a leftover job title from the old Wildlands Program, an abject failure of the Bontadelli administration more than 10 years ago. The program went under, but--surprise, surprise--the interpreter jobs have remained behind, year after year. How about an explanation of what these people do and how it helps the DFG get its message to California's 34 million people? For openers, I refer you to the last memo I wrote during my abbreviated presence on the MarCom committee--it outlines months of activities of one interpreter (note: I know of one that for years showed up at the assigned office an average of about five hours a month). It is safe to say that information officer work reaches millions upon millions of Californians year in and year out; interpreters reach...well, no one knows. Is there any accountability when it comes to those jobs? How, in your opinion, is the value of such a job assessed, compared, for example, with that of informa! tion officers? Over the last several years, there have been numerous job openings and exams for interpreters and none for information officers. What does this say about your commitment to an accurate flow of information to the public? (These computer transmissions sure are handy!) Which leads, perfectly, to a similar subject of DFG attorneys. We had not one attorney on staff during my first dozen or so years with the DFG (the AG's office handled Fish and Game legal matters). Now, I believe, we have something like 19. If we count you, it's a gross. How about a report on what each of these people has done over some period of time--the past 45 days, let's say? Tell the DFG working class how wildlife are better off with these people on staff. Perhaps describe what kind of wildlife losses there might have been without this herd of attorneys. How many lawsuits/injunctions have been filed over the past four years on behalf of wildlife or wildlife habitat? Patrol... Wildlife protection is the DFG's anomaly. Wardens, many with college degrees and a penchant for the real world of wildlife, ply the hinterlands sans any DFG game plan and do their best to make Fish and Game visibly present and protective of wildlife. Most of them. Others draw the pay, enjoy the protections of a "safety" job and rarely venture into the field, save to take a class in computer science or get a real estate license. The word on the street is that you and your circle of supporters will be slashing warden positions during this latest state budget debacle. If the purpose is to save money, are you willing to take a look at upper level positions? Field wardens enjoy safety retirement benefits and on-the-job injury benefits that others don't because they fairly regularly confront people with guns, for example. On the other hand, there are "patrol" people feeding at the same trough for whom the biggest danger in life is the possibility of having to attend a staff meeting. Some, for example, teach college or university classes during the same hours the DFG is paying them to be patrol personnel-and drive their state vehicles to and from the classroom. Can Fish and Game afford this? How do you feel about it? (You might take a look at the pay level of hunter education people; does the public need to shell out $65,000 for what is at best a part-time position?) In the same budget arena, last spring you slashed something like 80 DFG jobs, selecting almost exclusively vacant positions rather than taking on the hard task of prioritizing department jobs and shifting people accordingly. One of those, I believe, was the headquarters fishing regulations coordinator position. That person's job has always been to assemble the biennial package of "regs" that goes before the commission. Many DFG people feel fishing and hunting have been, in the words of one biologist, "marginalized" to a point of insignificance. Using that one job as an example, how did you justify eliminating it? Is fishing--except when angling for the browns planted at Blue Lake--out of the loop of your administration? Will you explain that one to all the good DFG folks out there? Here's another example. I understand that a Sacramento position designed to coordinate DFG use of millions of dollars from the Sport Fish Restoration Act also was eliminated in your slash-and-burn cutbacks of last spring. How about explaining that one? How can you, in one breath, whine about the lack of brown trout in Modoc County's Blue Lake and in the next breath approve the destruction of such a key fishing-related job? (Imagine how hard it would be to send this to you--and everyone else--without our techy gains. That would be a lot of postage stamps!) Cantara... In contrast, there's Cantara. How would you feel about an audit? Not a balance sheet audit designed to compare income and expenses. I'm talking about a thorough examination of where the settlement money was spent and what the public has gotten for that $14 million. Most people would agree that the dollars used for post-spill monitoring and management of the trout comeback couldn't have been better spent. The DFG now has unprecedented data tracking the return of a wild rainbow trout population from zero to a full population within a blue-ribbon habitat. Beyond that, the expenditures are fuzzy, at best. It is clear that the resources have recovered completely on their own-without a flicker of help from man. So, what are the expenditures for? A former regional manager/Cantara Trustee Council president told me once, "We have to find jobs for all those people at Cantara." I asked, "Why?" He smirked, but didn't answer--as if my question were absurd. What was absurd was that this department made a commitment to that Cantara staff that they would all be hired as permanent, full-time DFG employees. What happened to the competitive Civil Service process? The circumstances were that, year in and year out, Cantara staff were making recommendations to the council for annual budgets that included their own employment. Most of them now occupy permanent regional positions. What do you suppose the odds of that happening would have been in an openly competitive process? (Let me help you with the math. If, for example, the chances of one of the Cantara staff landing a permanent Region 1 position were, say, 1 in 15; and, if there were a dozen such people seeking permanent positions; then, the odds of all 12 beating out all other competitors would be 1 in...well, my calculator won't go that far; just say somewhere in the trillions). I'm wondering-were there people who applied for Region 1 openings that, unbeknownst to them, were already committed to Cantara staff? (Perhaps the State Personnel Board should peer into this.) There also has been a lot of money funneled to the DFG, water quality and Forest Service projects that should have been handled through their own budgets. For fun, look into the Cantara funding of its "volunteer coordinator" position; and, the River Exchange. Are you willing to examine how the public's money has been, and is being, spent? MarCom... I'd like to jump back to the MarCom subject (i.e. the marketing/communications "plan" development of a couple of years ago). You'll recall, that is the one in which the DFG paid $95,000 to a "consultant" from Denver to head a DFG committee in the development of a MarCom plan. I have already brought to the DFG's attention the sites of ordinarymagic.org and the Gill Foundation, so let's go to the subject of the plan itself. (You gotta wonder how this would play out on the streets of Alturas.) Produced well after its deadline, this document opens with this sentence: "The plan purpose and mandate was to craft a strategy,...." So, here's my first question: do you think if we had tossed in another few thousand, maybe kicked the pay to six figures, perhaps we could have gotten an opening that was grammatical? The rest of that first paragraph reads, "and a process by which it can be implemented, that will enable the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) to speak with one clear, consistent voice to our key audiences in a way that fosters public awareness of the importance, diversity and public benefit of our work, and that enables customer friendly access to our products and services and the natural resources of which we are stewards." Any idea what that says? How do you feel now about the $95,000 dished out to that particular consultant--and what the return to the DFG has been? Would you do it again? Can you tell everyone listening out there just how this "plan" has improved communications to date and how much more it will improve things in the future? (I know the budget abyss pretty much makes the answer to the latter question moot; but, remember, MarCom sucked up all that money and the ink was dry on the "plan" well before the budget crisis hit.) The last time I looked at the MarCom plan, it had no references to hunting. Can you tell us why? I remember bringing up the subjects of both hunting and fishing during my brief tenure on the committee--and getting no commitment to include either one in the plan. Are these "new" people trying to wipe hunting off the DFG agenda? Is that ok with you? Speaking of which, how about also giving us an update on how many other contracts have been "won" by that consultant over the last four years and for how much money? What have these various contracts accomplished? How are the state's wildlife resources better off as a result of those expenditures? Budget/Structure... Back to structure for a moment. We know the blood is flowing now, thanks to the mismanagement of the state budget in the past two years. I hear that people in the DFG are being asked to cut up to 40% of their personnel. The heart and soul of Fish and Game, whether you want to face it or not, lie at the field level where biologists, wardens, habitat specialists, fish culturists and clerical people labor hard for wildlife-and do so at the point where the wildlife meet the public. In recent years, thanks to Schafer's disorganization of the DFG, there have been wholesale expansions of "jobs" involving such things as timber harvest review and, my favorite, "habitat conservation planning." An even bigger set of smoke and mirrors would seem to be the beloved NCCP. How about a detailed explanation to the troops of how that process is saving and/or rebuilding "wildlife" in California? Tell us how many people work on it, where they are located, how much money is spent on it and what specific actions they have taken that assure the protection of all wildlife, not just listed species. Tell us why you are considering massive budget cuts at the regional/field level in traditional wildlife and fisheries areas (these field biologists for years have done perfectly well protecting all other species, too, in spite of what your imported advisers tell you) and whether you plan to do us all a favor and dump most of the Habitat Conservation Planning and NCCP jobs in the process. This should be good. Advisers (see Associated Press spelling)--Among the many disruptions of your administration has been this plethora of "advisers" that encircle you and that you are spending the public's money on. Let's talk about one-the awesome science adviser. First, why did you feel the need to hire a science adviser? On its face, the act would seem to suggest that the dozens of career, professional scientists within the DFG-many, believe it or not, with hundreds of hours of hands-on experience with varieties of critters-couldn't be trusted. It would appear that field information was to be filtered to meet some new agenda. What is that agenda? In announcing this science adviser appointment, you said you wanted to employ "good science." Well, let's see how that has worked out. Not long after arriving-and, of course, becoming thoroughly familiar with all the knotty details of the hundreds of species of fish, plants and terrestrial critters-the SA and staff decided we should stop the aerial trout plants in all wilderness areas of California because of an inferred harm by trout to lake and stream amphibians-in particular a couple of species soon to be listed in the Sierra Nevada. Region 1 people, professionally insulted, fought back, God bless them, and managed to get it through your Sacramento fog belt that Region 1 didn't have any of those species in its wilderness waters. Some in your staff then tried to substitute another frog and a salamander species, but that didn't work either and soon the planes were back to dropping fish in some of the lakes so people could catch them and enjoy themselves. It was a hell of a battle, but sensibility prevailed. So, here's my question: now that "good science" has fingered Central Valley farm pesticide drift as the REAL cause for the decline of Sierra amphibians, what will you be doing? Resuming air plants? Taking on the Long Beach-Glendale-Fresno lobby and filing lawsuits against valley farmers? Speaking out on behalf of the poisoned amphibians? Just what is your position? How about we conclude this interview with some final questions. What has been your goal and what continues to be your goal for fish and wildlife of California? What should DFG people do on behalf of the people of California when it comes to the plight of the state's wildlife? How do you feel about the public's right to know what is taking place within the Department of Fish and Game on a day-to-day basis? Is it ok with you if DFG personnel openly keep the public informed of Fish and Game activities and of the status of the public's wildlife? Thank God for electronic mail, eh? Paul Wertz
ps-Recently, I'm told, your Sacto techies invaded a running Region 1 computer and actually made changes in it-without the knowledge of the computer's operator-and did so from Sacramento. There are software programs that permit companies to monitor their employees' computers at any time. (I've set a leg-hold trap in my computer because it has been making some strange noises. I think there might be one of those Project DIANE people still lurking in there). Is your tech section monitoring and/or changing what is on DFG field computers?