Name Change Won't Alter Resources Agency's Dark Mission

Friday, 06 February 2009 14:53 By Dan Bacher, t r u t h o u t | Perspective | name.

Name Change Won
Fish populations in the California Delta have declined significantly under the Schwarzenegger administration. (Photo: Dan Bacher)

    The Resources Agency on January 1 adopted a new name, the California "Natural" Resources Agency, to give the agency a more "green" veneer. Unfortunately, nothing has changed at the agency that has presided over the collapse of the state's salmon, steelhead and other fish populations.

    A press release from the agency in late December claimed that the name change was adopted to "better reflect its mission."

    "Since 1961, the Resources Agency has been responsible for the safeguarding and stewardship of California's precious natural resources," according to the release. "From water and wildlife management and conservation to wildland fire protection, energy, ocean and coastal policy, land stewardship, climate change adaptation, sustainable living, and the promotion of outdoor recreation, the agency oversees most all of the state's functions designed to protect California's natural resources."

    In July, Gov. Arnold "Fish Terminator" Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 1464 (Maldonado) authorizing the Resources Agency to change its name. "The new Agency logo will remain largely the same and the change will be phased in gradually as new supplies are ordered," the release stated. "In this way there will be little or no cost to the Agency or any of its departments, boards or commissions save for any replacement costs that would normally be incurred."

    California’s Natural Resources Agency is responsible for the state’s natural resource policies, programs and activities. It has 17,000 employees and oversees 25 departments, commissions, boards and conservancies, including the Department of Fish and Game, Department of Water Resources, CALFED Bay-Delta Program, California Conservation Corps, Department of Boating and Waterways, Department of Conservation, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and Department of Parks and Recreation.

    However, wouldn't it be more appropriate for the Resources Agency to adopt a name that truly reflects its REAL primary mission? Based on my years covering California fisheries, this mission appears to be engineering the collapse of Central Valley salmon fisheries, driving the California Delta's pelagic fish populations to the edge of extinction, building a peripheral canal, constructing more dams, slashing funds for salmon and steelhead restoration, and instituting massive closures of public trust fisheries throughout the state's ocean waters.

    Considering all of this, wouldn't "the Natural Destruction Agency" be a more appropriate name for the agency? Other potential names for the agency could be "Bureau of Corporate Greenwashing," "Raping of Natural Resources Agency," "No More Natural Resources Agency," "The Fish Termination Agency," or the "Water Exports Agency." Readers of my articles have also suggested the "Final Legislative Usurpation of Significant Habitats, FLUSH," and "The Death Star" as more appropriate names for this agency with such a legacy of environmental destruction behind it.

    More recently, Karuk Tribe Vice Chair Leaf Hillman proposed that the name of one of the agency's member departments, the Department of Fish and Game (DFG), be changed more accurately to reflect its "mission" after DFG Director Donald Koch rejected a petition by the Tribe, California Trout and Friends of the North Fork to restrict suction dredge gold mining in order to protect salmon and steelhead populations. "I guess DFG really stands for Department of Frontier Greed," Hillman quipped.

    While the name of the agency has changed, pelagic (open water) fish populations of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta continue to collapse. There is nothing "natural" about this unprecedented and catastrophic species decline.

    The delta smelt population has declined to its lowest level ever, according to the latest data from the DFG's fall midwater trawl survey. The DFG studies the health of these populations by compiling an "index" - a relative measure of abundance. The index declined to 23 in fall 2008, down from the previous low level of 28 in fall 2009.

    American shad also reached a record low level in 2008. The index was 271, compared to 533 in 2007 and 9,360 in 2003. Threadfin shad also declined to a record low population level, down to 450 from 3,177 in 2007.

    The Sacramento splittail, a native minnow, declined to the lowest-ever level this fall. In fact, no splittail were observed in the fall survey, while only one fish was documented the previous autumn.

    Only the striped bass and longfin smelt showed an increase, though the population levels are still precariously low. The striper index rose to 220 in 2008 from 82 in 2007, both alarmingly low numbers. In contrast, the index was 9,500 in 1971, when the population was still healthy before the fish-killing state and federal pumps went into full operation. The longfin smelt abundance index rose from a record low of 13 in fall 2007 to 113 this fall. By comparison, the index was 6,654 in 1998.

    These fish populations have declined to unprecedented low population levels because of the deplorable water and fishery management policies of the California "Natural" Resources Agency under the Schwarzenegger administration, combined with extremely bad management by the federal government. State and federal fishery biologists have pinpointed three major causes of the fishery decline - increased water exports, toxics and invasive species. More recently, increases in ammonia discharges from sewage treatment plants have been cited by scientists as a possible factor.

    Record water export levels occurred in 2003 (6.3 million acre-feet, or MAF), 2004 (6.1 MAF), 2005 (6.5 MAF) and 2006 (6.3 MAF). Exports averaged 4.6 MAF annually between 1990 and 1999 and increased to an average of 6 MAF between 2000 and 2007, a rise of almost 30 percent, according to the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

    The crisis in Delta fisheries will not be solved by changing the agency's name - or taking more water out of the Delta through the peripheral canal proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Department of Water Resources, Sen. Diane Feinstein and the Nature Conservancy as a "solution" to the Delta's problems. The canal and more dams that Schwarzenegger and Mike Chrisman, resources secretary, are campaigning for will only exacerbate the imperiled status of these fish populations, driving them over the precipice of extinction.

    The only way the Resources Agency can live up to its new "natural" name is to abandon the mad campaign for a peripheral canal and more dams, mandate water conservation by corporate agribusiness, adopt tough agricultural water pollution standards and require the retirement of toxic selenium-filled soil in the Westlands Water District.

Last modified on Saturday, 07 February 2009 09:31