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Michael Sutton, FGC president, says legal hunting is a bigger problem than poaching

By JIM MATTHEWS It’s time for Fish and Game Commission president Michael Sutton to go. In an online web conference organized by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) about poaching, Sutton said this week that California's wildlife faces other more serious threats. He then said that he believed legal, scientifically-managed hunting of wildlife may cause greater overall problems. The exact quote: "I actually believe legal hunting that's not sustainable may be a more pervasive problem in California," said Sutton, according to a story on KCET's web site. Huh? Sutton is president of the Commission that sets hunting and fishing seasons annually, and it would be the Commission's responsibility NOT to set any seasons that were NOT sustainable. So what is Sutton saying? Is he saying the Commission, which he heads up, has been violating its responsibility? Is he saying the Department of Fish and Game is providing the Commission with scientific data that is flawed to maintain hunting? Is he saying no hunting seasons are sustainable? Does he believe that legal hunting is causing problems for populations of wildlife? What proof does he have? Or was he simply pandering to the Humane Society, that believes all hunting is wrong and should be stopped? The truth is that DFW scientists have reams of scientific research and volumes of data, including annual environmental reports, documenting the value and sustainability of hunting seasons for all hunted species. Human hunters are no different than coyotes or hawks, except we have the foresight and data not to overharvest a species. So, this anti-hunting rant is simply Sutton’s off-base opinion. There is no science to back up this belief -- in fact, the truth is that he’s blowing smoke when he makes unsupportable claims like that. So the fundamental question is simply this: How can someone who doesn’t believe in scientifically managed hunting programs head the Commission that sets these seasons each year? If he is so biased that he doesn’t believe the science, how can he be allowed to serve? It would be like having a homophobe who doesn’t believe that AIDS exists in charge of a statewide AIDS program. It would be like putting a vegan in charge of a Beef Nutrition Board. There’s a point where bias become a hindrance to doing the job. But there’s even more about Mike Sutton that has been swept under the table in the past and probably will be again. Sutton is again being charged with “conflict of interest” as a member of the Fish and Game Commission. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) filed a complaint with Kamala Harris, the California attorney general, this past week. The NSSF complaint points out that Sutton is on the payroll of Audubon as one of its vice-presidents. Audubon co-sponsored last year’s AB 711, the statewide lead ammunition ban, and the Fish and Game Commission has been charged with implementing the legislation. “His employer lobbies the Commission on governmental decisions which he makes and/or participates in, contrary to the letter and spirit of California laws proscribing incompatible activities,” the complaint says. In a follow-up last Monday. Lawrence Keane, the NSSF’s vice president and general counsel, wrote to Harris, “I believe that Commissioner Sutton’s participation in the discussion of these proposed regulations is contrary to both the letter and the spirit of California’s conflict of interest and incompatible activities laws, regulations, and policies. This is the precise type of scenario these rules were developed to prevent -- a public official who has a private interest that makes it impossible to impartially carry out his or her official duties.” In 2009, Sutton was also accused of conflict of interest after taking part in the Marine Life Protection Act implementation while working as director of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Center for the Future of the Oceans. He was drawing a paycheck from the aquarium, which is funded largely by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, which also funded the writing and passage of the MLPA legislation. This investigation was simply quashed and swept under the table, and Sutton voted solidly with the most extreme implementation of this law, needlessly (in that the rules were unsupported by science) impacting sport and commercial fishing. Sutton didn’t return an email or a phone call to the Commission office on Friday seeking comment and clarification on his statement during the webinar. He did write an open letter saying he supported regulated sport hunting, and said, “I am unaware of any legal, managed hunting today in our state that contributes to the decline of our native wildlife.” Well, duh, that is settled science. Then what was he saying during the webinar? He was simply saying what he believed? Well, he didn’t deny he made the statement so it’s pretty clear the follow-up letter was simply damage control. Sutton should be removed from the Commission immediately and sportsmen throughout the state should call their legislators and the Commission office (916-653-4899) and ask that he be removed. The very same thing happened to another Commissioner, Dan Richards, two years ago. Mountain lions are not legal game in California because of state law passed by Proposition (not scientifically determined by biologists), and it’s now the law here. However, hunting lions in other states is still allowed by their state laws (and managed by science instead of emotion). Dan Richards was removed from the Fish and Game Commission because he didn’t agree with California state law and hunted lions legally in Idaho. Then the same standard should apply to Sutton. It’s his right to say that hunting is wrong or believe the settled science is bogus, but hunting is legal under state law and scientifically managed. So if Sutton doesn’t agree with state law, he should be removed from the Commission just like Richards. No double standards. The conflict of interest charges are just bonus reasons to dump Sutton. So let’s call his statement against hunting a third strike and get rid of him from the Commission forever. San Bernardino County pays $550,000 to have concessionaire run Lake Gregory In an agreement that will save San Bernardino County money and potentially improve public services at Lake Gregory, San Bernardino County Parks has entered into a contract with Urban Park Concessionaires (which also runs Diamond Valley marina) for the management of the popular lake in the San Bernardino Mountains. The new operators took over the day-to-day management of Lake Gregory and all the county facilities there beginning Jan. 1 this year. The agreement extends through Dec. 31, 2016 with an option to enter into a long-term lease agreement at that time. The company will manage and be responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the park facilities, collect and retain all recreation and event fees, provide food and beverage concessions, and expand services and events available for the public. In return, the county will pay $550,000 over the first two years of the agreement for “management fees.” In the final year of the contract, the county will receive 10 percent of all revenue or $100,000, whichever is greater. This revenue sharing portion of the agreement is expected to continue into the future after Urban Park Concessionaires signs a long-term agreement after 2016. It cost the county just under $1 million to operate the facilities at Lake Gregory during the last fiscal year and revenue was $550,000. In the two previous years, costs were over $1 million and revenue was even less. The new concessionaire promises to enhance the fish program like it has at Diamond Valley Lake with an enhanced fishing and stocking program. There is an open house Monday, February 17, at the San Mortiz Lodge at Lake Gregory when the concessionaire will announce its plans for Lake Gregory. No fee increases are expected, at least initially, because the fees are set by the county Board of Supervisors. New Bakersfield-region chapter of Quail Forever to repair Carrizo guzzlers A new Quail Forever Chapter has formed in the southern San Joaquin Valley with a stated mission of repairing small game guzzlers and other water sources throughout the region. The primary focus will be in the Temblor and Caliente mountain ranges that line the Carrizo Plain. There were a pair of formation meetings Jan. 28 and 30 in Bakersfield and the fledgling group delivered 650 gallons of water to a pair of guzzlers in the Carrizo region this past weekend. That's hitting the ground running! The next meeting of the new South Valley Chapter of Quail Forever will be 7 p.m. Thursday, February 20 at the Sugarmill Restaurant on Chester Ave., Bakersfield. If you need more information or want to be involved but can't make the meeting, contact Rusty Stone at 661-549-3359 or via e-mail at Please let your hunting buddies in this area know about the new club. To help get membership, the club is offering copies of a special issue of the Western Birds hunting newsletter with the locations of all the guzzlers in this area. Everyone who joins the new club will get a copy. Volunteers needed for bighorn count in San Gabriel Mountains Three groups working to survey bighorn sheep in the San Gabriel Mountains are seeking volunteers to assist in the annual sheep count March 1 and 2. The survey is conducted annual by the Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and the Society for Conservation of Bighorn Sheep. No survey experience is necessary to participate but volunteers must attend a mandatory orientation 6 p.m., Saturday, March 1 at the Angeles National Forest supervisor’s office in Arcadia. The count will take place on the following day. Volunteers will hike to designated observation sites in the San Gabriel Mountains early Sunday morning to count and record bighorn sheep. Volunteer groups will be led by a representative from either CDFW, USFS or the Society. Participants must be at least 16 years old and capable of hiking one mile in rugged terrain, although some survey routes are longer. In general, hikes will not be along trails and accessing survey points will involve scrambling over boulders, climbing up steep slopes and/or bush-whacking through chaparral. Volunteers are encouraged to bring binoculars or spotting scopes in addition to hiking gear. Mountain weather can be unpredictable and participants should be prepared to spend several hours hiking and additional time making observations in cold and windy weather. Volunteers will need to start hiking early Sunday morning. Surveys for bighorn sheep in the San Gabriel range have been conducted annually since 1979. The mountain range once held an estimated 740 sheep, which made the San Gabriel population the largest population of desert bighorn sheep in California. The bighorn population declined to less than 100 animals through the 1980s but appears to be on the increase with recent estimates yielding approximately 400 animals. Volunteers can sign up online at If you do not have access to the Internet, you may call either 909-627-1613 or 909-584-9012 to receive a volunteer packet. END

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