Sacramento – The Gray Davis administration deliberately obstructs the California Department of Fish and Game’s (DFG) efforts to protect fish and wildlife from the impacts of timber harvests and has failed to promote needed reforms, according to a report released today by California Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (California PEER). The report states that Davis’ staff has ordered Fish and Game biologists to “back off” from their attempts to get industry to mitigate wildlife concerns. Biologists further contend that the state’s forestry policies fail dismally at protecting California’s wildlife resources.
The report, based on 70 interviews with DFG and other state agency employees, maintains that the Davis administration is overly industry-friendly, and employees fear that this is a result of timber-backed contributions to the Davis campaign war chest.
According to interviewed employees, the administration’s directives include concessions to Pacific Lumber Company in implementing the Headwaters Forest Habitat Conservation Plan. They say these concessions are resulting in the continued decline of federally listed species such as the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet.
Employees also say that the existing Forest Practice Rules are not protecting endangered species such as coho salmon. According to one Fish and Game manager, “commercial logging is the predominant management activity affecting coho salmon. Coho numbers have declined precipitously; therefore Forest Practice Rules are not accommodating that species.”
Another major concern expressed by employees is a lack of financial and staff resources. Biologists say recent budget increases for additional staff to review Timber Harvest Plans (THPs) will help, but even if all those positions are filled, the Department will still be able to review only one-fourth of the hundreds of Timber Harvest Plans filed every year. They also note that reviewing more plans will mean finding more problems for which they have no legal remedy, because the existing Forest Practice Rules do not protect the state’s fish and wildlife resources. They blame the lack of reform on Davis’ failure to make use of his opportunities to appoint reform advocates to the California Board of Forestry.
“Its own employees say Fish and Game cannot fulfill its Public Trust responsibilities of protecting our state’s wildlife,” stated California PEER Coordinator Karen Schambach. “Employees had high hopes for the Davis Administration, but expectations for reversing a nearly two-decade slide in the agency’s ability to address the state’s declining wildlife resources are fading.”
In January, 1999 PEER released the results of an agency wide DFG employee survey which raised many of the same issues reflected in the 2000 interviews.