Department of Fish and Wildlife says it’s changing course to be more proactive
Four dozen people attended the Department of Fish and Wildlife scoping meeting at the Tri County Fairgrounds in Bishop to hear Armand Gonzales, the project lead for SWAP (State Wildlife Action Plan), describe how the new 10-year plan update includes ranking threats by ecological regions, adding new climate change analysis and the process for identifying at-risk species and habitat with the goal of helping prevent species from becoming extinct or requiring costly protections for survival in the future.
SWAP has far-reaching implications for California tourism and agriculture and these 10-year State Wildlife Action Plan updates, for protecting wildlife and habitat, are vitally important to many local economies, particularly in Eastern Sierra communities. The goal of the meeting on Monday night was to gather comments from the public to discuss regional wildlife and habitat issues before an update to the State Wildlife Action Plan is completed in late 2015. Other public meetings will be held before the plan is finalized in 2015.
Gonzales told the audience that a new approach that emphasized collaboration with other agencies, groups, and the public is being used through postings on the project’s website, which will keep everyone informed and allow for continuing comment and changes as they are made.
“California has more species than any other state in the U.S. and many of the places where recreation and other human activities such as agriculture for example, are the same areas where wildlife lives and thrives. In a time of reduced funding and resources, which affects monitoring efforts and law enforcement efforts, collaboration is vital. We are seeking broad public participation in the process and truly invite everyone’s input in developing draft strategies,” Gonzales said.
To receive wildlife funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is required to have a written general plan, which has the benefit of giving state planners guidelines to develop strategies to preserve the state’s diverse habitats. It is hoped that by supporting plant and animal species before they become rare and more costly to protect, will be a much more efficient method than those strategies used in the past.
Gonzales explained that the department wants to create partnerships with public and private landowners to collaboratively develop best management practices (BMPs) that benefit wildlife without adding new regulations. In addition, they’ll look to mitigate costs by identifying and implementing conservation actions that will eventually improve the condition of ecosystems by acting on specific threats and stresses that will benefit the most Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) within an ecoregion, watershed, or marine study area.
The SGCN’s list includes those species with the greatest need that are deemed most rare, imperiled and in need of conservation action and while SWG funding program is limited to only animals (fish and wildlife), and their habitats within the state, Gonzales said California’s flora will be added to the SGCN list in order to allow the SWAP to be more comprehensive in its scope than currently required. It almost goes without saying that one cannot exist without the other.
When the floor was open to public comments, the first public speaker was William White who expressed skepticism. “I think this is yet another attempt to do whatever you want and that you have already made up your minds on the result and will do whatever you want.”
Duane Rossi of Big Pine spoke out on the department’s need to give greater priority to predator species that he feels, based on his many years spent out in the wilderness, have had a devastating impact on many of the native species that he grew up with in Inyo County. Gonzales asked that Rossi’s suggestion be put in writing.
In other meetings around the state concerning wildlife protection — this meeting being no exception — concern that the government takes away private landowner rights using constantly changing and new regulations was voiced. According to Gonzales, the DFW is no longer looking to land acquisition, stating that the fiscal reality today is that the state doesn’t have funds to manage properties it already owns.
“Land acquisition is not the solution. We prefer to work with landowners to develop win-win outcomes which can result in modifications on a property that do not impact on the landowner’s rights or livelihood, and often they can be compensated for any potential income loss or expenses. We want to keep land in private hands and keep it on the tax rolls.”
In another change of direction, the DFW’s new strategy is to focus on ecosystems’ units or regions rather than single-species management. He noted that efforts made to help one species can create problems for another that will have to be fixed later, which only adds to costs. He went on to explain the importance of indicator species whose presence, absence, or relative well-being in a given environment is indicative of the health of its ecosystem as a whole which may require attention. It is not without its critics as seen recently on issues surrounding designation of endangered species such as the yellow-legged frog and sage grouse. Many fear that it will cause great damage to the livelihoods and economies of local communities dependent on tourism dollars.
At the meeting’s close, Gonzales again stressed that DFW is working on collaborative solutions instead of regulatory mandates, recognizing the importance of improved collaboration and outreach between DFW, private landowners and other stakeholders.
The impact of local regional conservation units was discussed in brief presentations given by CDFW environmental scientists Mike Giusti, Mike Morrison, and Alisa Ellsworth.
Information discussed at the meeting will be posted on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website www.dfg.ca.gov/SWAP. The website will be continually updated, so those interested in how the plan is progressing should revisit the site often. Suggestions, critiques, and comments can be emailed to California Department of Fish and Wildlife at SWAP@wildlife.ca.gov.