© 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.
17 hours ago