June 8, 2009

The Field Season has Begun

Today is the first day of my summer field season. I'll be in the field for the majority of the next three months so my posts during this period will come at irregular intervals. I'll do my best to provide periodic updates but they won't be weekly as they are during the non-summer period.

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June 1, 2009

Reforming the California Department of Fish and Game?

When it comes to the management of California's fisheries and native aquatic fauna Tom Stienstra, the writer of the Outdoors column in the San Francisco Chronicle, and I rarely think alike. In his 5/31/09 column, Tom argues that the budget crisis currently enveloping California is an opportunity to reform the Department of Fish and Game (CDFG). Although I certainly agree that the CDFG is badly in need of a major overhaul, Tom's proposed solutions would not accomplish a thing. Tom says:

"In the new budget, the governor proposes to take $30 million out of dedicated funds as a 'loan' to the general fund, likely order an additional cut and tell Fish and Game to deal with it. This could devastate matching federal funds the department receives. There's a better way to conduct business. This is how you fix it: All habitat, conservation and nongame programs should be shifted to the Department of Conservation, which can better allocate priorities. This includes endangered species, non-game management, response to oil spills, toxics, timber review, oversight of pet stores, zoos, live-food animal markets and invasive species, few which Fish and Game does well..... This trimmed-down unit would be renamed the Department of Fishing and Hunting, and pay for itself with license fees, stamps and federal excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment. The governor could get his dream answered to cut all general fund money to the department. This new 'DFH' would exist to stock trout, improve fishing and create hunting programs, especially for wild hogs."

These proposed reforms make no sense. First, simply transferring a wide range of conservation-related duties from the CDFG to the Department of Conservation would produce no cost savings. With most of the tasks the CDFG is currently responsible for transferred to another agency, the CDFG may in fact be able to finance its slimmed-down operations using non-general fund dollars. However, the general fund dollars previously needed by the CDFG would now be needed by the Department of Conservation. This is a zero-sum game.

Second, the suggestion that all conservation-related CDFG programs be transferred to the Department of Conservation ignores the reality that several of these conservation-related programs exist primarily because of the impacts caused by programs focused specifically on fishing and hunting. For example, the CDFG is currently spending $1.8 million dollars to write an environmental document that discloses the impacts of its fish stocking program and proposes means by which these impacts could be mitigated. Why should the Department of Conservation be in charge of dealing with the messes that the CDFG fish stocking program created? The agency that makes the mess should be in charge of fixing the mess. Furthermore, given the many impacts caused by fish stocking, should efforts to mitigate these impacts be paid for using general fund
(i.e., taxpayer) dollars? It seems to me that these efforts should be paid for using revenues obtained directly from anglers (e.g., from fish licenses).

I don't claim to have any solutions to California's budget problems nor are the CDFGs many anachronistic practices easily reformed. However, I would suggest two important initial steps in the direction of reform. First, the CDFG should reduce its fish stocking program to include only to those elements that actually benefit fishery resources. This would eliminate all stocking of mountain lakes that contain self-sustaining trout populations, stocking of rivers and streams where hatchery trout have negative effects on the native trout, and rivers where the stocking of anadromous species negatively affects the native anadromous species. Second, the CDFG should pay for its catchable trout stocking program solely with revenues generated from a new "Hatchery Trout" stamp on licenses. Under such a program, anglers who fish in areas that are stocked by the CDFG with hatchery trout would need to purchase a hatchery trout stamp for their fishing licenses. Under the current system, all California anglers (many of whom avoid hatchery trout like the plague) unfairly end up subsidizing the hatchery program. It makes far more sense for those anglers who benefit from the hatchery program to support it instead of placing this burden on all anglers.

Such a hatchery trout stamp program might even convince me to dust off my neglected fly rod, buy a California fishing license (without a hatchery trout stamp), and go fish one of my favorite lakes or streams.

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