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For Immediate Release: Sep 12, 2000
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

POLITICS INFEST GAME & FISH, SAY EMPLOYEES

New Director to Face Big Hurdles


Albuquerque - Staff within New Mexico's Department of Game & Fish (DGF) say their agency is moving in the wrong direction to the detriment of the state's wildlife. According to a survey conducted by Southwest Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (Southwest PEER), strong majorities of employees report that DGF frequently sacrifices wildlife protection under political pressure, suffers from weak, inconsistent leadership and is both underfunded and poorly managed.

The principal theme emerging from the PEER survey results is the pervasive influence of politics within DGF on what are supposed to be scientific questions:

* More than two-thirds of employees (68%) doubt that their own management will stand up against "special interests or political pressures." More than half (59%) contend "many decisions...ignore sound wildlife or fishery biology" with only one quarter of employees in disagreement;

* Most (53%) feel New Mexico's wildlife are not "better protected today than five years ago" with a similar percentage (56%) reporting that DGF lacks "an effective program for managing and conserving wildlife;" and

* Although more than two-thirds (68%) believe the agency is not "adequately and staffed to manage the state's wildlife resources" most (61%) admit that DGF is not a "well managed agency."

The State Game Commission is now considering candidates for appointment as the next DGF Director. Employee expectations about the quality of the Commission's selection process are very low with less than a fifth (18%) expressing confidence that "the selection process for the next director will produce the most qualified candidates." Employees also give the Game Commission low marks on its performance:

* More than nine out of ten (91%) staff believe the Commission does not "carefully consider the biological analyses and recommendations" from DGF -- not a single respondent disagreed;

* Three quarters (75%) think the Commission focuses too much on "just game species;" and

* More than two thirds (67%) say the "Commission inappropriately interferes in staff matters."

"Field biologists and conservation officers cannot do their jobs if they are constantly being second guessed and undercut by politics," stated Southwest PEER Coordinator Leon Fager who served for 31 years as a federal biologist, most recently as the senior endangered species biologist for the U.S. Forest Service's Southwest Regional Office. "Apparently the Game Commission still thinks that promoting hunting is all there is to protecting wildlife."

Whoever is chosen as the next Director will also face challenges with the Legislature and Governor. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of employees believe stronger wildlife protection laws need to be enacted but less than a third (30%) rate DGF as "effective in presenting its funding needs to the state legislature and governor."

Internally, employee concerns go well beyond morale, which well less than one fifth (14%) rate as excellent or good. Survey responses reflect employee experience with illegal orders, fear of reprisal and lack of respect:

* One fifth (20%) report they "have been directed or encouraged by a supervisor to ignore a specific threat" to wildlife;

* More than one quarter (27%) "fear job-related retaliation for openly advocating protection of the state's wildlife resources" with nearly another third (30%) expressing uncertainty about the prospects of such retaliation; and

* Nearly a third (32%) feel their agency does not provide "complete and accurate information to the public on controversial issues."

The survey was not all bad news for DGF. Strong majorities of staff feel that the agency offers opportunities for professional advancement (64%), that racial and sexual discrimination are not a problem (61%) and that DGF recommendations to the Game Commission are "complete and accurate" (64%).

In August PEER mailed a survey questionnaire to all 227 DGF employees containing questions composed by current and former agency employees. More than one-third of all employees (37%) responded with many submitting essays about issues facing the agency. This rate of return is nearly four times the norm for this type of survey.