Early this month, hunters appeared to be on the verge of becoming an endangered species in California, because of reports that the Department of Fish and Game could no longer afford to fight the anti-hunters in court.
Up to 180 DFG employees were about to lose their jobs, including wildlife biologists who prepare the environmental documents to justify the hunts.
Last week, DFG Director Pete Bontadelli distributed a bulletin to his 1,500 employees discussing the "great deal of uncertainty and many rumors" that the department was going belly up.
"I appeal to you to keep your spirits up at this difficult time," the bulletin said. "The Department of Fish and Game is not being dismantled or gutted. We will continue to be a vital critical element in protecting the fish and wildlife resources of California."
That was three days after the distribution of a "budget fact sheet" noting that reducing the DFG's 1990-91 budget by $12.6 million to $119 million "will necessitate eliminating approximately 180 positions."
However, on the next page it was noted that the governor's proposed budget contained new sources of revenue "to offset more than 100 of the 180 position cuts anticipated."
Also, three days before that, the DFG had released a "1990-91 budget shortfall and plan" indicating that Gov. Deukmejian had approved a $9.787-million revenue package to lift the DFG out of its hole, subject to approval of the Legislature.
The signs indicate that it was all an orchestrated scenario crafted by the politically savvy Bontadelli, in concert with Deukmejian, who appointed him.
"He wanted to put pressure on the Legislature," said one insider, who asked not to be identified. "My understanding is that nobody is going to be laid off. They're playing games over there (in the DFG)."
Apparently, it worked. In one instance, Assemblyman Gerry Felando (R-San Pedro) is sponsoring a bill--AB 2126--calling for $5.3 million in new commercial fisheries taxes, licenses and fees, the major part of the $9.787-million package mentioned above.
Although Bontadelli played on the crisis to prod the Legislature into action, the prospect of reduced hunting probably wasn't as big a hook as Bontadelli's suggestion that the DFG wouldn't be able to manage non-game species, either. That hit the anti-hunters right in the heart.
The DFG has budget problems partly because of Sections 711 and 713 of the Fish and Game Code, which was written when the department's chief concerns were hunting and fishing, with little concern for environmental matters or non-game species.
Those concerns have shifted heavily in recent years, but the Code still restricts the department to supporting, say, commercial fishing only with commercial fishing revenue, and hunting and fishing only with hunting and fishing license revenue, with no help from the state's General Fund. In today's environmental climate, when hunting and fishing revenue are declining, that structure is unrealistic.
"I've studied this and have seen that every four years since 1970, the department went through this crisis," said Ed Willis, Bontadelli's assistant for administration. "Until they get this issue of how the Department of Fish and Game is funded, it will always have this problem."
Albacore are not a significant catch of the San Diego sportfishing fleet, but few are complaining.
Those operating on overnight and 1 1/2-day schedules are making impressive hauls of other exotic species on a daily basis, and there have been no signs of slackening.
The Cat Special returned Monday from a 1 1/2-day trip with 23 passengers accounting for 105 yellowtail, 68 bluefin tuna, 11 dorado and six albacore. The Conquest returned from an overnight trip with 85 yellowtail and 10 dorado.
Two Humboldt County men will serve four months in jail for poaching a pregnant Roosevelt elk along the Klamath River last February. Howard N. O'Neill, 27, of Willow Creek also was fined $694 in restitution; Michael J. Uboldi, 25, of Hoopa, was ordered to pay $761. A third man, Timothy W. Ames, 24, of Hoopa, is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 6.
Staff writer Pete Thomas contributed to this article.