'You lie and I'll swear to it'
By JIM MATTHEWS
The day after Christmas, my wife Becky and I were having dinner with a group of friends we don’t see very often. If you are friends with the Matthews, you have to be able to tell stories well and cause belly laughs (or tears), or we get bored pretty fast. (Hey, I’m just being honest here.)
One of the many wonderful stories told that evening revolved around one of our friends’ favorite nieces who was obviously a chip off his family tree. The girl knew how to embellish her tales and she appreciated her uncle’s stories and his keen mentoring. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember the story, but I remember the nieces’ line to her uncle after they had teamed up and completely befuddled someone:
“You lie and I’ll swear to it,” she told him.
Oh, I laughed and laughed. I laughed at that line every time I’ve thought about it for the last week. I knew that my wife’s brother and I have used that tactic a time or two ourselves, but never put it so succinctly or perfectly.
But this week, looking back through the year’s outdoor news before I started to write that seemingly perfunctory column that looks back over the past year’s biggest stories, I was struck by one thing. That one thing is that all politics and government today adhere to the niece’s line: They lie, and then have others swear the lie is true.
Then the bulk of the media buys it (or is another liar in the scam).
Then we hear it repeated again and again, and pretty soon we believe the deception. We buy into the idea that perception is reality.
Well, there are still facts out there -- simple, glaring facts that when presented without spin tell you the important part of the story. Let me illustrate that with a recap of some of the outdoor news stories from this year.
-- San Bernardino County Parks is planting about 60 percent fewer trout in these public facilities than last year. Sixty percent! That wasn’t the lead in my story on the cuts. I didn’t know the total cuts until two weeks later by extrapolating the numbers that were filtering in. The county also started the trout stocking program nearly two months later than normal. The bottom line is that anglers got screwed because of what appears to be simply incompetence. I can make that judgement now that I finally have all the “facts”.
The initial two-month delay was caused by the inexplicably late submission of bids to growers, the rejection of the only bid, resubmitting requests for bids, and then taking the only bid that came in that was even higher than the first rejected bid. Because of that, we lost the first two months of trout season here and paid more for the trout. The county press release never mentioned how much stocking was reduced, but said their fish costs were going up 40 percent this year, and the delay was caused by them trying to get a better deal for anglers. That is called spin. The truth is the cuts have been about 30 to 40 percent per week from last year, but when you add in the two months when there were no plants, the cut is 60 percent.
I don’t know about you, but that math doesn’t add up. I still haven’t been able to get the County’s trout stocking budget for the past three years so I can see if the amount of money allocated has been reduced. They have also never provided the fishing revenue for the past three years, so we can see how much money they have lost as the program has worsened. There’s a lie out there and they’re swearing to it.
-- Two or three times in the past two years, I have written about how the U.S. Forest Service’s public access closures of burn areas are completely arbitrary and capricious. One burn is closed to the public for two years while an identical burn in identical habitat of nearly the identical size isn’t closed at all. They can’t provide scientific documentation why the public should be kept out of burns. I repeatedly ask for this documentation and nothing comes my way. Why? Because there is no reason to keep the public out. The closure orders always say the same things: The forest must be closed for resource protection and public safety. So surely there must be documentation the backpackers or fishermen or hunters damage burned areas. Surely, there must be documentation on how burns cause a danger to the public that is so great -- and so much greater than simply hiking or facing falling pine cones from live trees -- we must keep them out of burned areas. If so, why is one area closed and not all of them?
Bottom line is there isn’t any data to support closures, but we acquiesce because when they lie, they all stick to it.
-- The National Park Service has, after nine years, stopped the volunteer restoration of desert water sources for wildlife on the Mojave National Preserve. The volunteers are working under an agreement between the NPS and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. I wrote a long story on this recently explaining why the Park Service’s new superintendent has stopped the work. But I never really hammered on the big question: If this work is now illegal, why isn’t the NPS prosecuting the administrators who allowed it to go on for nine years.
Why? Because the work is not illegal! In fact, it is mandated in the Preserve’s current Management Plan and through a memorandum of understand with the state wildlife agency. The two reasons given to stop the work are thin spin, smoke screens to change things without going through the process. They have not contacted the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to say they are breaking the MOU, they are just bossing around the volunteers. Of course, the spineless, do-nothing DFW hasn’t said anything. The new Superintendent is listening to someone’s lie and buying into it. So now he’s lying and has someone swearing it’s true.
The list goes on and on. Virtually every major outdoor story the last couple of years have been lies – or at least partial facts with the bottom line never spit out.
-- How many trout did the whirling disease outbreak in Northern California claim, and what percent of the state’s stocking was that? Never did get that information.
-- Did you know that production at least one DFW hatchery stopped this year because of drought? I recently found out about that by accident. How did that affect trout production? You would think that is a fairly major news story the DFW PR staff would want to get out there.
-- What was really behind the DFW’s near giveaway of the San Jacinto Wildlife Area’s water rights? I’m pretty sure I have this one figured out, but the actions are criminal, and I have to get factual more documentation.
-- And why is the Protrero Unit of the San Jacinto Wildlife Area still closed to the public. The management plan has been done for at least two years but never released for public comment. That is simply incompetence.
And do we want to talk about the Fish and Game Commission? Major policy has been set by Commissioners who had a flagrant conflict of interest that should have precluded them from voting, but when brought up to the state agency regulating this activity, the watchdog became the second liar by not investigating. Commissions are set up to write rules under the state law, not to change state law. But this past year, the Fish and Game Commission has effectively co-opted the legislature’s job by banning trapping of bobcats. The Commission’s job in this case should have been to take the DFW’s scientific data and determine bobcat harvest levels and rules governing trapping. They tell the lie that banning trapping is indeed their job, and the legislature backed up the lie (with a little, mostly unheard whining).
When my oldest son was very young, before he was talking, he would sometimes stand and launch into a long, indecipherable verbal tale with lots of hand gestures that would ultimately end with him laughing and slapping his leg. Of course, it was so cute all of us would laugh right along with him even though we had no idea what he’d just said. He’d imitated and manipulated us for the end result, which was laughter.
We can be amused with this behavior when it comes from infants or nieces, but it’s not so cute and it’s not so funny when it comes from government.