By Jerry Karnow, Special to The Sacramento Bee
January 31, 2010
California's Fish and Game wardens are responsible for enforcing fishing and hunting laws, and have jurisdiction over illegal water diversions and water pollution. Wardens are the front-line defense for all natural resources that belong to all 38 million Californians.
We are California's "environmental police." Shamefully, California has the "lowest ratio of wardens to population of any state or province in North America," as stated in The Bee article "Wildlife panel seeks furlough exception" (Capitol & California, Jan. 23).
It is impossible for the warden force to effectively enforce existing regulations, much less new regulations that the Fish and Game Commission approves over our objections. Many of the regulations approved by the commission will not protect the natural resources of California. They will serve only one purpose; they will stretch the warden force ever thinner, which will eventually result in another warden's on-duty injury or death.
We take no policy position on the Marine Life Protection Act. Yet the act is a hollow regulation and unenforceable. The Department of Fish and Game has reported to the commission that enforcement cost for the Marine Life Protection Act for the first year of implementation will be $27 million and annually thereafter, the cost for enforcement will be a minimum of $17 million. While it seeks to design Marine Protected Areas, my warden colleagues have a different meaning for "MPA" – we call them Marine Poaching Areas. Since the protection act closes productive fishing areas, poachers will know where to rape our resources, and they will know that there is unlikely to be any law enforcement presence or legal anglers present to turn in poachers.
The governor does not support wardens; his actions speak louder than words. He says he supports wardens but his Department of Personnel Administration opposes the warden request for severance from their current bargaining unit. He keeps wardens on furlough yet eliminates furloughs from non-sworn peace officers in our own bargaining unit.
Commissioner Richard Rogers of Fish and Game has approved new regulations knowing they cannot be enforced. Rogers said in the article that "I'm very disappointed the governor chose to restrict the amount of time that the wardens can put in." Hopefully, Rogers will change his position and oppose regulations placing additional duties upon wardens.
We truly appreciate the commission's letter to the governor. But, it is our hope the commission will back up its words with action, otherwise they are just words and meaningless echoes of the governor.