Thursday, August 6, 2009

Puttin yer money where yer mouth is

© 2009 Joshua Stark

A recent post over at Albert Rasch's blog, on the amount gun-purchasers put into conservation efforts through excise taxes on firearms and ammunition ($109 million 1st quarter) got me to thinking. The first thing I thought about was this recent letter (scroll down a bit for the letter) from the California Fish & Game Wardens' Association, asking that a particularly large conservation effort be tabled due to funding restrictions around enforcement.
What really stuck out for me was this section:

"Poaching and environmental law violations are an everyday occurrence as we continue to provide the ''thin green line" of protection in spite of the ongoing statewide budget crisis and a requirement for taking three furlough days each month. With only a little over 200 field game wardens, the furloughs create a situation where we lose the time equivalent to 28 wardens."

For those of you living outside California: California is suffering through a horrible budget crisis, and one solution put forth by the Governator was to furlough state employees. Several law enforcement agencies are exempt from furloughs, but not game wardens. Additionally, California has the fewest game wardens per capita of any state in the union. 200 wardens for 158,706 square miles. 1 warden for every 183,800 people; 1 warden for every half-million acres. Last, for those outside California who tend to think of us as palm trees, L.A. and San Francisco, I can only point out that there were parts of California even Jedediah Smith couldn't go (namely, the Trinity Alps). It's harsh, rugged, and probably has the most varied habitat conditions of any state in the Union, from craggy beaches & 1,100 miles of ocean coastline, to the Mojave Desert, to Mt. Whitney(!). 40% of our plants are endemic. We also have the single most important watershed in the Nation, moving water about 1,000 miles, through a delta with 1,000 miles of waterways, and supplying 2/3rd's of our population, or roughly 8% of the population of the entire U.S. And only 3% of the land in California is urban.

So, to say that we have a warden shortage isn't the same as saying that Rhode Island has a warden shortage.

Now that I've removed folks a bit from their stereotypical image of California, I'd like you to return to it. What are California politics? Left-of-center comes to mind, yes? And on environmental issues, you'd be mostly right. If you wave a proposed offshore oil rig concept in front of us, we get all crazy-eyed (myself included). However, it seems that oftentimes, once we get a bill passed through the Legislature and signed by the governor, we move on to the Next Big Thing. We don't try to follow through. And we end up with little regulatory oversight.

This makes me particularly angry over wardens. Californians often profess a true love for the wild, yet we won't put up the money to protect it. Californians profess a disdain for pollution, but we won't pay to enforce clean air and water rules. And wardens are left running around after some real kooks: This is the one law enforcement group that knows the person they are pulling over is armed, and probably with a loaded weapon.

Now, I am 90% sure that if we had no excise tax on firearms to go to conservation, but it were put to a vote by gun owners this year, or even, say, 2005, we would assemble en masse to vote it down, with shouts about the 2nd Amendment and hippy tree-hugging enviros come to take our money. However, these taxes were passed back when hunters were the front line in conservation, and because they passed when they did, we can continue to claim that front line. But, we still have a responsibility to the place, beyond our politics. Californians prove that, these days, very few will step up and offer to pay for our wildlife and habitat. We parse management and impact and political intent until we justify our opposition, rather than taking the mature route of hiring someone to do a job, and then letting them do it.

So, hunters, I encourage you to find a program that your money is funding and volunteer for it. And Californians: demand that your fish, wildlife, habitat and water be protected through our game wardens. It's funny how we expect to pay for good service everywhere but with government. It's also amazing how requiring oneself to pay for a government service leads to pride in that service and payment, regardless of politics.


Anonymous said...

Josh, Mt. McKinley is in Alaska. You mean Mt. Whitney.

Josh said...

How stupid! Thanks for the catch.

Anonymous said...

this is anonymous again--Dad. Otherwise (than the previous Mt mishap) I am impressed with your comment and our beautiful state.

Zorro S. said...

I read it and didn't catch the Mount McKinley thing... obviously some people are more awake than others!

Thanks for the great point of view. I can't believe it myself, that California, which is bigger than many other nations and even some put together, has such a few number of game wardens. Sad. No, pathetic.

As a recreational park user, I can say that I've personally been affected by the lack of law enforcement out there. People who go to parks will experience more crime, more pollution, and there will be more poaching and illegal plant growing out there. Not safe for families. Just this summer, I know 3 people whose cars have been broken into while visiting a park.

Sad. Pathetic.

Albert A Rasch said...

Great post and well thought out. That is truly a wonderful idea and if every hunter volunteered one eight hour day a year to a worthy cause, it would make a huge difference.


I do the same thing with my kids too! Good to see a grown man's father still looking out for his boy.

All the very best!
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles
Why I Carry a Gun

Phillip said...

Good one, Josh!

The game warden situation in this state is a damned shame. But calling it what it is doesn't change it.

I'd love to offer some great solution, but I don't see one. Even if sportsmen put up additional money to cover the cost of law enforcement, I can't see it coming to fruition.

At some point, it really does (almost) start making sense to divide this state in two.

As far as the wonder that is California... if we got past the politics and economics, it's absolutely the most incredible place I've ever lived.

Josh said...

Zorro, good to see you got a google account, I can't wait to see your blog!
: )
You hit the nail on the head with "pathetic." It's also a danger for folks working in the outdoors, as I know you to do on occasion. Stay safe.

Albert, I know that the Orion Institute people have had a good program doing some volunteer work, as well as (of course) our own California Waterfowl Association. The 'one eight-hour day' idea just may catch on... I'll help you throw it, too.
And yeah, my Dad takes care of me. He's a great man, a working-class intellectual.

Phillip, I'd split this state in a heartbeat... having to deal with the political force that is Los Angeles is tough, tough business. Not that they are all bad, mind you, but they are watching out for themselves, and in California's very direct democracy, that makes for some pretty selfish actions.

And speaking of selfish actions, I think it's time to start shaming green, urban California into putting some money into enforcement.

Ain't California grand? I've lived here almost my entire life, and I'm still in awe of it.

native said...

Just simply cut out extraneous debits to the states finances!

#1 Task force to study the caloric content of fast food restaurants (stupid, stupid monetary out flow)

#2 Department Of Pesticide Regulation (more stupid outflow) what do we have the CA. E.P.A. for?

#3 Department Of Noise Abatement ( Where are all the good neighbors these days?)

The list could reasonably grow exponentially from here, my point being that there is astronomical amounts of waste in this state, and we really need to tighten the belts of our elected officials a little more.
This, being so that the saved money could be spent for more wardens !!

Good and thought provoking post Josh :-)

Josh said...

Thanks for the comments, Native!

One proposal I was working on was to eliminate all agencies and boards (except Cal EPA). That's right, all the appointed boards, and agencies like Resources. They are added gunk that get in the way of departments doing their work, and give inappropriate cover to the governor and legislature over the really big issues. It is really interesting to see furloughs for all sorts of front-line workers, while keeping six-figure salaries for appointed positions.

Anonymous said...

former california resident, non-hunter, but hunter supporter - and want to congratulate you on a thoughtful and well-articulated POV regarding the issue of leadership in conservation that good citizen hunters and outdoorsmen have traditionally taken.

Recently - here in washington - we had to close down commercial shellfish beds because of the human waste and refuse left behind by sportsman who didn't take their role of citizenship as important as you advocate here.

Thanks. I listen very well to those who have a POV that differs from mine on issues where we both want the same outcome.

Freedoms to enjoy the resources for which we have responsibility of stewardship. I think narrow positions are, too often, lacking in insight and respect.

Your post on this issue certainly gave me the impression that you have both.

Josh said...

Thanks, CB! And if you ever want to try hunting, shoot me an email.