A note from Bold Visions Conservation: when Ricardo Small sent us this great piece, we saw it as an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the similarity of problems generated by Game Commissions and the departments they direct in other states. Game Commission Reform is a national issue; states that successfully implement reform will lead the way for the nation to follow.
Stacking the Deck: Fish and Wildlife in Oregon
by Ricardo Small
Stacking the deck in a poker game guarantees who wins. It’s not fair, but wildlife politics in Oregon is far from fair. Members of the Legislature tried to stack the deck at the Fish and Wildlife Commission during the 2015 session. They introduced HB3197 in an attempt to bias Fish and Wildlife Commission decisions in favor of commercial livestock and shooting interests, not fish and wildlife. They want to limit who the governor appoints to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Commercial livestock operators and big game shooters advocate killing predators. They think fewer predators will increase profits from cattle and sheep operations. They think slaughtering predators will increase the numbers of elk, deer and antelope for the shooters to kill. Commercial livestock operators and shooters want the Fish and Wildlife Commission to support killing predators, in spite of an increasing amount of scientific evidence that there are better alternatives, such as non-lethal deterrents.
Representative Sal Esquivel from Medford is the chief sponsor of HB3197. This bill would restrict who would be appointed as a Fish and Wildlife Commissioner. The bill would create a Nominating Committee to interview and approve or disapprove Commission candidates. The Governor would be required to review up to two sets of nominated candidates from that Committee. If the Governor decided not to appoint any of the nominated candidates (a long shot), the Governor could revert to existing law and appoint commissioners who “have a general knowledge of fish and wildlife issues”, among other existing requirements. Odds are the Governor would choose commissioners approved by the Nominating Committee. That would be a huge mistake.
HB3197 requires three of five people on the Nominating Committee to be from shooting organizations. Another person would “represent the interests of ranchers of cattle or other livestock”. A fifth member would represent the general public or be a member of a nonprofit organization related to nongame wildlife conservation. Talk about stacking the deck. Predator killing priorities would dominate Oregon’s Fish and Wildlife Commission decisions even more than now.
Cosponsors of HB3197 are Representatives Wayne Krieger from Gold Beach and Mike Nearman from Dallas, with Senators Herman E. Baertschiger Jr from Grants
Pass and Chuck Thomsen from Hood River. Last session, the bill died in the House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources. It’s likely to be back next session.
What will happen, if this bill becomes law in Oregon and the Governor selects Fish and Wildlife Commissioners from the Nominating Committee?
Arizona already has a Game & Fish Commission Appointment Recommendation Board. In 2010, the Arizona Legislature passed a bill worded almost exactly the same as Oregon’s HB3197. In Arizona it is mandatory for the Governor to appoint recommended candidates. Today’s composition of Arizona’s 5-member Game & Fish Commission reflects that stacked deck method of limiting gubernatorial appointments.
There is a glaring contrast between the current Arizona Commission members’ priorities and former Game & Fish Commissioners’ decisions, before the appointment process became politically biased.
The current Arizona Commission unanimously opposes a proposed national monument known as the Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument in Northern Arizona. This Monument is a very good idea for wildlife and habitat. You can read more about the proposal at this link: http://utah.sierraclub.org/content/grand-canyon-watershed-national-monument. The area proposed for monument status is an endangered ecosystem with at least 22 sensitive species, including the California condor and the northern goshawk. It is important that President Obama designate this national monument. In spite of that, the five current Arizona Game and Fish Commissioners voted unanimously to oppose the designation. Their reasons include “…lock away these lands … could impact public access, recreation, grazing and the ability of the Commission to manage wildlife.”
The access the Commission is concerned about is for 4-wheel drive and quad runner vehicles. One of their recreation priorities is target shooting that concentrates toxic lead on heavily used areas of public land. Grazing is a shocking priority for Game & Fish Commissioners, because grazing is detrimental to wildlife and habitat. Grazing is a political priority, because the Commission Appointment Recommendation Board includes a member of a statewide cattlemen or ranchers’ organization, like HB3197 proposes for Oregon.
The current Arizona Commission’s concern about their “ability … to manage wildlife” relates to killing predators without restriction. They perpetuate a futile attempt to increase numbers of game species by annihilating predators. The Commission’s resolution opposing the Grand Canyon Watershed Monument also
emphasizes local government’s “rights” over federal management of land, similar to what outlaw rancher Cliven Bundy is doing in Nevada.
Five former Arizona Game & Fish Commissioners support the Grand Canyon Watershed National Monument. Their letter to President Barrack Obama is a 180-degree contrast to the current Commission’s opposition.
The former Commissioners support the proposed Monument, because “… we fully understand how important protection of habitat and our public lands is to ensuring that there are healthy populations of wildlife throughout Arizona.”
The five former commissioners are Bob Hernbrode (a classmate of mine at the University of Arizona’s wildlife biology program back in the mid-1960s), Jennifer Martin, Linn Montgomery, Tom Woods and Beth Woodin. Their letter includes topics such as: “… limit fragmentation of this important wildlife habitat” and “…protecting old growth forests, keeping uranium mining from contaminating the waters of the region...”
I told one of the former commissioners, Beth Woodin, about Oregon’s HB3197 and asked: “Do you have an opinion about Arizona's restrictions in the selection process for Game & Fish Commissioners that I could quote in a blog post?”
She answered with: “Do not let such a bill go forward. Fight it with everything you and the constituencies have. It has not been a help in Arizona. Lack of diversity is a big mistake for most organizations and for a statewide wildlife commission which is supposed to represent all constituencies and wildlife, 90% of which is not hunted or fished, leaves a huge number of both citizens and wildlife unrepresented. Bad idea!”
The current Arizona Game & Fish Commission perpetuates a war on predators. Those Commissioners continue multiple bag limits for mountain lions and they allow lions to be hunted with dogs. Multiple bag limits are as high as 20 pumas per hunter in certain hunt units. One killer can slaughter 20 cougars as quickly as the dogs will chase them up trees in those multiple bag limit units. A report to the Game & Fish Department about each dead lion is required. After 20 dead cougars are reported (not all are) in a unit, then the “limit” reverts to one lion per hunter with a big game tag. The total number of tags is not restricted. After one or more hunters kill the 20-lion limit, an unlimited number of shooters can kill lions in that same unit, until there aren’t any cougars left.
The current Arizona Game & Fish Commission continues their opposition to establishing a viable wolf population in Arizona. They recently sued the U.S.
Department of Interior’s Fish & Wildlife Service over the wolf recovery program in Arizona in a blatant attempt to hinder the success of that program.
On August 19, 2015, a letter to the editor about the Arizona Game and Fish Commission appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun, a daily published in Flagstaff. It was from the Education and Outreach Coordinator at the Grand Canyon Wolf Recovery Project, Toni Prothero. She wrote:
“I attended the recent meeting of the Commission in Flagstaff and was appalled at their decision to oppose any more releases of adult wolves from captive breeding facilities … I have no doubt that many excellent people work for Arizona Game and Fish and work hard for the Mexican wolf's recovery, but the Commission is another matter. They are political appointees and their decisions are based on politics and not on peer-reviewed science …”
There you go … a stacked deck of politically appointed commissioners in Arizona, who are supposed advocate for wildlife and habitat, but who actually work toward opposite objectives in way too many of their decisions.
Those of us who vote in Oregon and who care about wildlife and habitat know how precarious our wolf population is and how our ban on hunting cougars with dogs is challenged every year. These apex predators, along with other predator species, such as coyotes, are extremely important to keep from being slaughtered by shooters, trappers and commercial livestock profiteers.
It is important to maintain the integrity of the appointment process of our Fish & Wildlife Commissioners and not allow any bill like HB3197 to pass in Oregon. Arizona’s experience with a stacked deck is evidence that we must avoid the same situation in Oregon, like Beth Woodin recommends.
Watch for announcements from Oregon Wild during the next session of the Oregon Legislature about any proposal like HB3197.
Ricardo Small is a wildlife biologist with bachelor’s (1969) and master’s (1971) degrees, University of Arizona. He worked as a civilian deputy game warden at Fort Huachuca, Arizona (1968) and as the executive secretary of the Arizona Wildlife Federation (1971–73). He worked as a real estate broker and appraiser in Tucson (1976–2009). He is retired and lives in Oregon’s Willamette Valley seven months of the year (Apr-Nov) and in Tucson for five months (Nov–Apr). He volunteers as a photographer for Oregon Parks and Recreation and for non-profits: Greenbelt Land Trust, Marys Peak Group of the Sierra Club, Volunteer Caregivers, Festival Latino, Sonoran Desert Conservation Coalition, Street Smarts column - Arizona Daily Star and a few others. Hobbies include photography, kayaking, bicycling and hiking. Addictions include good books, environmental activism and two cocker spaniels – Maggie & Chula – who consider him one of their two humans. His wife, Mary, is their other human. Ricardo’s photo essays can be seen at www.ricardosmall.smugmug.com. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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