San Jacinto Wildlife Area management plan is finally done, and environmental document is nearly comp


By JIM MATTHEWS

www.OutdoorNewsService.com

Scott Sewell and Eddy Konno, two middle management supervisors for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, have joked in recent years that the Protrero Unit of the San Jacinto Wildlife Area would never be opened to the public in their lifetimes. Since they were in charge of the process that could open this public land to the public, it was destined to be a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Surprise! Apparently, the pair may soon be spinning in their graves.

After nearly two decades of empty promises from unaccountable managers like Sewell and Konno, the San Jacinto Wildlife Area -- including the Protrero Unit -- actually has a working draft management plan and the Environmental Impact Report that accompanies and guides the plan is nearing completion. The public is finally being invited to look at the drafts and provide comments on the plans in this process that will finally open Protrero to public access -- something that realistic could happen as early as 2017.

But don’t hold your breath. The DFW could still screw this one up.

At Wednesday’s first public hearing on the draft management plan, Tom Paulek, one of the lawyers for the Friends of the Northern San Jacinto Valley and a former manager of the San Jacinto Wildlife Area when he worked for the DFW, put the DFW on notice that if the management plan environmental document was “inadequate” they would be sued to make sure public’s resources were protected at this increasingly important piece of ground.

“The easiest way for the state Fish and Wildlife to avoid an environmental lawsuit is to prepare a good environmental document,” said Paulek, pointing out the agency has a poor track record in this regard. “It’s too bad [a lawsuit] is the only way to get our public agencies to respond to real public concerns.”

For over a decade, the DFW said it lacked staff time to compile both documents. So approximately $480,000 in grant money was authorized in 2007 and 2010, and the environmental consulting firm of DUDEK was contracted to create both documents -- the management plan and environmental impact report. Both have been essentially done since at least 2013, but the DFW staff has been dragging its feet on releasing the documents for public review.

The first of the two -- the management plan -- is available now, and the environmental document should be available in a matter of weeks.

Hunters, bird watchers, and other outdoor enthusiasts who visit the wildlife area need to look at the draft land management plan.

Hunters need to make sure hunting is not restricted without scientific justification, and even non-hunting access should not be denied to any areas on the two units of San Jacinto without solid scientific justification.

Most importantly, all hunting and wildlife groups need to study the water usage sections of the document. Unfortunately, it falls to the public to make sure the DFW does not allow for a reduction of historically guaranteed water rights. Water is critical to the habitat restoration and creation that has been accomplished at the Davis Unit, and DFW staff was about to quietly give away a large portion of its allocated water rights to the East Valley Municipal Water District. For any of the proposed wetland and wet soil management programs proposed in the long-term management draft, the DFW cannot give away any of its historic allocations. If San Jacinto is managed to its full wetlands potential, it will use all of its historic water allocation -- and more.

The draft management plan and notice of preparation document is available on the DFW’s website at this address: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Lands/Planning/San-Jacinto-Valley-WA. The 30-day comment period for the draft management plan began June 6 and comments will be accepted until July 8. Comments may be submitted by mail or via e-mail. Hunters and hunting groups should be vigilant about submitting comments and make sure they also request an that e-mail copy of the draft environmental impact report is sent to them as soon as it is completed.

We already know the middle management staff of the DFW cannot be trusted regarding the San Jacinto Wildlife Area. This draft management plan and EIR are two more big opportunities for them continue to violate the public’s trust.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service withdraws

overreaching boating management plan

for the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge

Proof that the public can affect positive change, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has withdrawn its vastly overreaching draft Havasu National Wildlife Refuge Recreational Boating Compatibility Determination (CD) “for further consideration and deliberation.”

The Compatibility Determination would have drastically restricted boating on much of the upper end of Lake Havasu, throughout Topock Gorge, and Topock Marsh. The new CD would effectively create a vast no-wake zone throughout the refuge -- from the Interstate 40 bridge south almost to Lake Havasu City. On Topock Marsh, boats would also be restricted to having motors of 30 horsepower or less, as if having a boat with 75 horsepower motor restricted to no-wake speeds was somehow more damaging to the environment than a 30-horse engine.

The document was riddled with the words “may” and “could” in relation to how certain boating “might” have impacts on wildlife, even though the most substantive “document” of an impact was a supposed observation of a nest getting wet from a boat wake. Not that there was harm, mind you, that a wave got it wet briefly. But there was not a drop of scientific documentation, not one biological study cited, or even a single survey of users blotted onto the pages of the new restrictive rules.

There was not a single justification for the rule changes except that the USFWS staff “thought” they were good ideas for a wildlife refuge. First mistake. The feds also apparently just thought the fishing and boating public would roll over and play dead, acquiescing to the senseless rules. They were wrong on both counts.

Not only was the public savvy that rule changes like these had to be justified with documentation about why changes were needed, their avalanche of comments also set the stage for a lawsuit if the feds followed through with the invalid rule making. Lastly, the fishing and boating community is pretty plugged into the political process, and when local, state, and federal politicians started calling to demand explanations and meetings -- well, the wheels just fell off this rule-change proposal.

Oh, be assured some of the stupid changes will reappear in future proposals, while others will be shined up and made more palatable. The feds might even find valid justification, or at least some user support through public surveys, for seasonal limited no-wake areas where they “are” impacts (but certainly not the whole refuge, for the whole year).

This whole proposal was like suddenly deciding that Interstate 40 was going to have a five-mile-per-hour speed limit in Mojave National Preserve because a speeding car might hit a tortoise.

END

[Jim Matthews is a syndicated Southern California-based outdoor reporter and columnist. He can be reached via e-mail at odwriter@verizon.net or by phone at 909-887-3444.]

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