Tom Stienstra Sunday, December 8, 2002
How can 30,000 salmon die on the Klamath River and nothing be done?
How can the Scott, Shasta and Kaweah rivers be dried up by farmers and nothing be done?
How can the Delta pumps kill 20,000 endangered winter-run salmon and nothing be done?
How can the 100 best fishing spots on the coast face closure to sport fishing when for years commercial interests were allowed to net, long-line and trap everything they could get their greedy mitts on?
How can California fishing licenses be the most expensive in the United States when hatchery production is being reduced to a shell operation? How can the DFG director, Bob Hight, a 25-year pal of the governor, get away with refusing to answer to the media and the public?
How can the governor get away with appointing a bunch of favored pals to run the commission? How can two commissioners not even show up at the most contentious vote in the history of the Fish and Game Commission, to close a major portion of the Channel Islands to fishing?
How can the DFG take revenue from licenses -- that by law must go to enhance fishing and hunting -- to pay for pet projects?
The answers are simple: They do these things because they can. That's how it is with the DFG.
It may be a pipe dream to think this would ever change, but here's how one dreamer would begin:
The power to appoint the DFG director, deputies and commissioners should be taken away from the latest governor from Southern California. The entire DFG should be trimmed down, reorganized and renamed.
Either by legislative act or by initiative, the power to appoint the leaders of the DFG and its commission should be given to a committee selected by senators and assembly members serving on the natural resource commissions. This new committee would consist of conservation leaders who are not paid by government. It would conduct nationwide searches to uncover and hire the best resource management talent in the country to run the DFG and the commission.
The director would then serve a term that doesn't run concurrent to the governor's and would answer to this committee, not to the governor.
All conservation programs would be transferred to the environmental department within the Resources Agency, the Department of Conservation.
This would give nongame issues the attention they deserve. Consider who is minding the store when it comes to endangered species, stream alteration permits, state wildlife lands, timber review, oil spill prevention, treatment of animals at pet stores, zoos and live-food animal markets, and the spread of invasive species such as pike and mitten crabs. The DFG? You've got to be kidding, right? The DFG does not have the people, talent or money to do any of these jobs well, and yet is charged with these missions by state law.
The game wardens go next. The current ratio is roughly one game warden in the field per 100,000 residents. That is why game wardens are forced to occasionally pool their talents on special enforcement projects. But that leaves vast areas with zero surveillance for weeks, and with it, rampant poaching and illegal wildlife activity.
One answer is to transfer the game warden force and create a new division within the California Highway Patrol, to deputize all CHP officers as wardens, and then coordinate activities between them. That's how they do it in Oregon.
What would be left is a trimmed-down version of the DFG that would pay its own way. It would be funded independent of the state's general fund, with money collected from the sale of fishing and hunting licenses, stamps, access fees, and federal excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment.
An independent commission would set policy, seasons and review permits. An independent director and his staff would run a scaled-down department. It would be split into divisions for fishing, hunting, licenses, hatcheries, a new legal team of bulldog litigators, and a new public information division designed solely to help the public quickly get the answers it needs.
The name Department of Fish and Game would be junked, just like the current director and his cronies.
In its place would be a new Department of Fishing and Hunting. Its sole purpose would be to improve fishing and hunting opportunities and communicate with the people who would be paying the freight. Meanwhile, the Department of Conservation would finally have the power to address critical nongame issues.
For years, many conservation leaders have played I'll-kiss-your-butt with the governor's club to try to get what they need under the current setup, believing they have no other options.
Well, there are.
E-mail Tom Stienstra at firstname.lastname@example.org.