January 21, 2016
It was a surreal moment on June 4, 2014 when the California Fish and Game Commission said the California Department of Fish and Wildlife was staffed by clueless people who did not know what they were talking about. The Commission used more diplomatic language, but that was the import of the message. My office was represented at the meeting, and thus had a front row seat. For those who were not in Fortuna on the day of that fateful meeting, here is how it went down.
Not merely the staff, but the Director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) meticulously outlined why the gray wolf is not at risk of extinction due to any of the six factors that were under consideration by the Commission. Let me reiterate -the very biologists and specialists the taxpayers employ to advise the Fish and Game Commission said that the gray wolf did not meet a single factor that could trigger an “endangered” listing under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). None. Zero. Zip.
Indeed, on February 12, 2013 the United States Fish & Wildlife Service issued a press release with this headline: “Successful Recovery Efforts Prompt Service Proposal to Delist Gray Wolf and Focus ESA Protection on Mexican Wolf.” It is beyond bizarre that even as the federal government was proposing to remove the gray wolf from the federal roster of threatened and endangered species, California concluded that the wolf was in mortal peril.
The fact is that the gray wolf population, as a whole, is thriving. The federal government recognizes the fact that even though the wolf is not widely dispersed California, this does not mean it is in peril as a species. California should not be fashioning public policy around a few wolves that wander between Oregon and the north state. But the Commission chose to ignore the totality of the US wolf population, which is doing astonishingly well. Using that same logic, the Commission could declare the giraffe endangered, as we never see them frolicking near Etna.
Tragically, the listing decision pretty much blew up the efforts of the ranching and farming communities who had been working constructively with the Department of Fish and Wildlife to craft a management plan. The outrageous decision by the Fish and Game Commission effectively took away almost every tool in the tool box. Under the current decision, ranchers are not even supposed to hop on an ATV and chase the wolf off lest they be guilty of “harassing” the timid carnivore. Local ranchers will be effectively unable to defend their livestock against a predator which is unknown in other parts of the state, leaving them at a significant disadvantage.
In the absence of a CESA listing, the California Wolf Plan would have allowed the Department to protect the wolf while also protecting ranchers from these disproportionate losses. I am thankful that my friends at the Pacific Legal Foundation are looking into this flawed decision. I just wish the Fish and Game Commission had not foisted this travesty upon us. And I wish to thank the Department of Fish and Wildlife for at least trying to do the right thing. My hope is that your expert analysis can be the basis for overturning what a dissenting Fish and Game Commissioner deemed “the stupidest decision” the Commission has ever rendered. Thank you.