Will California ‘Department of Fish and Wildlife’ live up to its name?

by Dan Bacher

The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) became the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) on January 1, 2013, but many Californians are wondering whether the controversial agency that presided over precipitous declines of chinook salmon, steelhead, Delta smelt and other species will live up to its title and mission any better than it did under its previous name.

The new name was mandated by AB 2402, signed Sept. 25 by Governor Jerry Brown. The name change is one of numerous provisions passed into law during 2012 that affect the department, according to a news release from the CDFW.

“The name of the department was changed to better reflect our evolving responsibilities,” claimed Department Director Charlton H. Bonham. “As our role has grown to meet 21st century expectations, we remain committed to our traditional responsibilities and to honoring our deep roots in California’s natural resources legacy.”

Bonham noted that the department’s law enforcement staff, traditionally known as game wardens, will now be called “wildlife officers.”

Californians will notice new Internet (http://www.wildlife.ca.gov) and email addresses for CDFW employees. The old URL and email addresses will continue to work indefinitely.

“Many department materials will continue to bear the old name because AB 2402 reduced the cost associated with the name change by preventing CDFW from undergoing a wholesale turnover of materials, including signs, uniforms and supplies,” according to the release.

The mission of the department continues to be “to manage California’s diverse fish, wildlife, and plant resources, and the habitats upon which they depend, for their ecological values and for their use and enjoyment by the public.”

In spite of this admirable mission, the Department has collaborated with the Bureau of Reclamation, Department of Water Resources and other state and federal agencies in promoting policies over the past several decades that have resulted in the collapse of Sacramento River chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt and other fish species.

The Department and other agencies presided over record water exports to corporate agribusiness and Southern California in 2011, 6,520,000 acre-feet in 2011 – 217,000 acre-feet more than the previous record of 6,303,000 acre-feet set in 2005. These massive water exports resulted in the “salvage” of a record 9 million Sacramento splittail and over 2 million other fish including Central Valley salmon, steelhead, striped bass, largemouth bass, threadfin shad, white catfish and sturgeon. (http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/05/07/carnage-in-the-pumps)

An analysis by the Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA) has found that since year 2000 over one hundred million fish (102,856,027) have been sucked into the delta pumps. This figure includes twenty six million valuable game fish, many of which are endangered. The massive loss of fish in these years is no surprise, since freshwater pumping from the Bay-Delta between 2000 and 2006 increased 20 percent in comparison to 1975-2000.

This massive carnage in the Delta pumps takes place every year in spite of the fact that the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, signed by President George H.W. Bush in the fall of 1992, set a goal of doubling the Bay-Delta watershed’s Chinook salmon runs from 495,000 to 990,000 wild adult fish by 2002. The legislation also mandated the doubling of other anadromous fish species, including Central Valley steelhead, white sturgeon, green sturgeon, striped bass and American shad, by 2002.

Rather than doubling, the Central Valley Chinook salmon fishery has suffered a dramatic collapse over the past decade, now standing at only 13 percent of the population goal required by federal law. A NRDC and GGSA analysis, published in the Salmon Doubling Index in November 2012, reveals a steady decline in Bay-Delta Chinook salmon from 2003 through 2010, including a record low of 7 percent reached in 2009. The closest we ever got to meeting the salmon doubling goal was in 2002, when the index peaked at 64.33% of the doubling goal.(http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/11/23/salmon-on-the-brink)

While allowing this carnage to take place is bad enough, the Department leadership has collaborated enthusiastically with Governor Jerry Brown’s fast-tracking of the controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral tunnels, a project that will only aggravate the destructive impact of water exports upon imperiled fish populations. This plan will likely hasten the extinction of Central Valley Chinook salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt and other fish species, according to agency and independent scientists alike. (http://blogs.alternet.org/danbacher/2012/03/27/bdcp-study-independent-analysis-show-canal-could-hasten-species-extinction/)

The Department leadership has also shamefully collaborated in the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative started by Governor Schwarzenegger in 2004. The Department and the Resources Agency have issued press release after press release failing to mention the conflicts of interest, failure to comprehensively protect the ocean, shadowy private funding and incomplete and terminally flawed science that have made the MLPA Initiative into one of the most sickening examples of corporate greenwashing in California history.

In one of the biggest conflicts of interest in California history, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act Blue Ribbon Task Force for the South Coast that created alleged “marine protected areas” that fail to protect the ocean from oil drilling and spills, pollution, military testing, wind and wave energy projects and other human impacts other than fishing and gathering.

Reheis-Boyd, a relentless advocate for offshore oil drilling, the expansion of the environmentally destructive practice of fracking, the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the evisceration of environmental laws, also served with a marina corporation executive, coastal real estate developer and other corporate operatives on the task forces tasked with the development of marine protected areas on the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast. (http://truth-out.org/speakout/item/13459-former-mlpa-chair-says-hydrofracking-is-safe-for-california)

The MLPA Initiative is also based on highly questionable science, in spite of claims by MLPA Initiative advocates that the process creates “Yosemites of the Sea” and “underwater parks” based on “science.” The Northern California Tribal Chairman’s Association, including the Chairs of the Elk Valley Rancheria, Hoopa Valley Tribe, Karuk Tribe, Smith River Rancheria, Trinidad Rancheria, and Yurok Tribe, has documented how the science behind the MLPA Initiative developed by Schwarzenegger’s Science Advisory Team is “incomplete and terminally flawed.” (http://blogs.alternet.org/danbacher/2012/06/08/yurok-tribe-challenges-mlpa-initiatives-terminally-flawed-science)

Other environmental policies that the Department presided over include the annual stranding of endangered coho salmon due to over-pumping of irrigation water on two major Klamath River tributaries, the Scott and Shasta rivers; the massive clear cutting of forests in the Sierra Nevada; and horrendous fish kills like the one that took place at Prospect Island in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in November 2007, when tens of thousands of striped bass, Sacramento blackfish, Sacramento splittail and other species perished.

These are just some of the many examples of how the Department has failed “to manage California’s diverse fish, wildlife, and plant resources, and the habitats upon which they depend, for their ecological values and for their use and enjoyment by the public.”

To properly fulfill the Department’s mission and to live up to the new name, Director Chuck Bonham and other California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) officials must take a more aggressive stance in protecting fish populations and the environment in California and be willing to confront other agency officials, the Governor and the President over policies that have led to the fishery collapses and environmental degradation.

The Department also needs to engage and work with recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, Indian Tribes, family farmers, environmentalists and others in finding genuine solutions to California’s fish and water problems rather than constantly backing rigged, corrupt processes such as the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative and the Bay Delta Conservation Plan to build the peripheral canal or tunnel.

Otherwise, the Department will collaborate in pushing Central Valley salmon and other fish species over the abyss of extinction – and should be forced to adopt a more fitting name such as the “California Department of No Fish and No Wildlife” or the “California Department of Species Extinction.”


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