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Report: Fish and Game Fails to Do Job : Environment: Little Hoover Commission says agencies need to be concerned with more than hunting and fishing.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Little Hoover Commission, completing a 10-month study of the Fish and Game Commission and the Department of Fish and Game, concluded Thursday that California “has failed to develop an adequate system to manage the state’s natural resources.”

Among eight findings and recommendations in the 40-page report released in Sacramento were that the five-member commission should be restructured to extend its scope beyond hunting and fishing, and that the department lacks an adequate management information system to determine reliable counts of fish and animal species, as well as how its money is handled.

“The state has an antiquated structure . . . that has not proven capable of reacting either quickly, consistently or adequately to the demands of our times,” said the report, which was signed by Chairman Nathan Shapell over the names of the 11 other Hoover commissioners.

The Little Hoover Commission investigates the efficiency of state agencies.

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Specifically, the report cited the handling of the controversial mountain lion and bear hunting issues and the threatened winter-run Chinook salmon in the upper Sacramento River, saying the commission lacked sound information to act properly, either because of the commissioners’ inadequate backgrounds or the failure of the department to provide it.

“The Fish and Game Commission’s mandate and related activities have grown far beyond the time when the good intentions and honest opinions of five sportspersons could be relied on to mold the state’s natural resource policies,” the report said.

The current commissioners are president Robert A. Bryant, 60, of Yuba City; vice president John A. Murdy III, 59, of Newport Beach; former president Albert C. Taucher, 64, of Long Beach; Everett M. McCracken Jr., 69, of Carmichael, and Benjamin F. Biaggini, 71, of San Francisco.

Each was appointed by Gov. George Deukmejian. Each is a hunter and a fisherman. Bryant and Murdy are farmers, the other three businessmen. The Hoover report recommends a broader representation of interests that would include “biologists, environmentalists, developers, ranchers and sportspersons.”

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Shapell, incidentally, is a developer.

Pete Bontadelli, director of the DFG, is a former legislative aide.

The report also said the commission is a rubber stamp that “does not adequately exercise its statutory authority over the department” and that the department doesn’t listen to its own field experts and is “subject to political pressures . . . (which) largely relegate protection of fish and wildlife to a status secondary to agriculture’s water and land requirements.”

Little Hoover Commission member Barbara Stone of Fullerton said one problem is in recent years the legislature has loaded the commission and department with decisions on environmental issues, without providing money for research.

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Personnel of the Fish and Game Commission and the Department of Fish and Game had no immediate response to the report. DFG spokesman Pete Weisser said Bontadelli was out of town and had not seen it yet. However, Bontadelli has had several meetings with the Hoover staff.

“We asked him specific questions on areas and concerns we had, so we understood both sides,” said Jeannine L. English, executive director of the Commission.

Also, English said, Bontadelli’s deputy, Paul Jensen, had said, “The department will look at the recommendations and attempt to implement the ones that it can. Their attitude has been (that) they recognize there needs to be some changes made, and they’re looking for our help in giving them ideas on where to go.”

Apparently, the recommendations have big teeth.

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“We try to get as many of those changes that can be administratively changed put in place,” English said. “Those that can not be or will not be, then we will sponsor legislation to get them through.”

English said the Hoover probe was impeded by the lack of information the DFG was able to provide on its own operation.

“There’s an effort to make some changes under way, (but) the evaluation we would normally make couldn’t be as thorough as it should have been (because) they have very little, if any, management information system.”

KEY POINTS

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Findings and recommendations of the Little Hoover Commission:

Composition of Commission: Place into law criteria for membership, including representation by biologists, environmentalists, developers, ranchers and sportspersons.

Commission Viability: Make it part of a formal Resource Agency Oversight Task Force, with one member from each of the major resource-related commissions to deal with fish and game, water and habitat.

Commission Operations: Should concentrate on effectively monitoring the DFG, responding to public input and making full use of scientific analyses before deciding issues.

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DFG Negotiations With Related Agencies: The present system of personal intervention by the director on a case-by-case basis is unacceptable. Create a separate staff unit.

Acquisition and Stewardship of Land: Notify the public and surrounding landowners of intent to buy property (and) secure at least two appraisals.

DFG Internal Administrative Capacities: Fiscal and management information needs should be analyzed. Department should be directed to (provide) specifications for empirically defined, consistent measurement of taking of fish and game by sporting and commercial agents.

DFG Internal Allocation of Resources: Should push for greater resources, especially in the Environmental Services division, and promote better relationships between its own commissions and departments.

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DFG Authority Over Regional Administrators: Institute an internal hotline from all field regions to the central office, such that employees can access staff regarding . . . information, policy or regulation.


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