Thursday, October 22, 2009

Department of Fish and Game Director Resigns

By Dan Bacher, IndyBay
October 21, 2009

Donald Koch, the director of the Department of Fish and Game for 18 months, sent his letter of resignation to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today.

He said that his decision to resign is "unrelated" to his duties as director, but Koch had recently acquired the reputation for impersonating the "invisible man" for his refusal of requests from reporters for information on the state's trout hatchery program.

"It is with regret that I tender my resignation as the Director of the Department of Fish Game (sic), effective November 1, 2009," said Koch. "My decison is unrelated to my duties regarding the State's cherished fish and wildlife resources."

In informing the Governor of his resignation, Koch praised Schwarzenegger for his "leadership" regarding the development of a draft settlement agreement on the Klamath and for taking "immediate action" on climate change.

"I appreciate your personal efforts to acknowledge and address head on complex resource issues," said Koch. "For example, your steadfast support for resolving in a collaborative manner decades of conflict on the Klamath River has resulted in significant accomplishments culminating with the public release of a draft settlement agreement that sets the stage for the largest dam removal and fish restoration project in history. I am confident that with your continued support the parties will be able to finalize the agreements in the next few months."

He lauded the Governor for his "leadership in educating the public regarding climate change and taking immediate actions to require California to develop mitigation and adaption strategies has resulted in the California being a global leader in addressing this daunting challenge. Your actions will benefit countless generations of fish, wildlife and people."

In his article in the San Francisco Chronicle on October 4, outdoor columnist Tom Stienstra quipped that "A weird side story to this year's trout-stocking affairs has been DFG Director Don Koch's impersonation of 'The Invisible Man.'"

"Since January, Koch has refused requests from media, including The Chronicle and radio shows, for an explanation of the DFG's trout stocking program," noted Stienstra. "DFG did not respond to repeated requests I made for hatchery logs and stocking numbers. Cogdill's office also has been unable to obtain this data in order to verify that DFG's numbers add up and comply with AB7."

A coalition of groups, including the Karuk Tribe, Klamath Riverkeeper, Sierra Fund and Environmental Protection and Information Center, this spring opposed Koch's confirmation as director by the Senate Rules Committee for a variety of reasons, including the Department's unwillingness to implement badly needed changes to forestry practice rules and the DFG's refusal to adopt new suction dredge mining regulations. Senate President Pro tem Darrell Steinberg and the Committee put the confirmation on hold, due to concerns by Legislators that the Governor and Resources Secretary Mike Chrisman were imposing constraints upon Koch that didn't allow him to do his job of protecting the state's fish and game resources effectively, but they later confirmed his nomination.

"Donald Koch's resignation opens the door for real leadership at CDFG," said Scott Harding, executive director of the Klamath Riverkeeper after hearing that Koch had resigned. "We're hoping for a new director that will truly work to protect and restore the Klamath's imperiled fisheries and wildlife."

“I hope the governor selects a replacement that possesses the greatest intellect, knowledge and proven interest in protecting and enhancing California’s fisheries and wildlife," said Byron Leydecker, chair of Friends of the Trinity River.

The resignation by Koch occurs in the context of Schwarzenegger's campaign to build a peripheral canal and new dams to export more water from the California Delta to San Joaquin Valley agribusiness and southern California. The Schwarzenegger administration, by allowing record exports of water out of the estuary in recent years, has helped to engineer the unprecedented collapse of Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, striped bass, green sturgeon and other fish populations. Schwarzenegger's total disregard of fish, fishing rights and the environment secured his winning of Field and Stream magazine's "Outdoor Villian" of the year award for 2008.

Koch also leaves at a time the Governor is under fire by a broad coalition of grassroots environmentalists, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, Indian Tribes and seaweed harvesters that are opposing Schwarzenegger's fast track Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA process) on the North and South Coast of California. They charge the process for being rife with conflict of interest, mission creep, racism and corruption of the democratic process. They also blast the process for targeting fishermen, seaweed harvesters and Indian Tribes that sustainably harvest seafood while doing nothing to protect the ocean from the impacts of pollution, water diversions and the threat to the marine ecosystem's posed by corporate plans to install wave energy facilities and more oil rigs off the California coast.

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