Elk, bighorn sheep environmental documents up for review, revision


By JIM MATTHEWS

www.OutdoorNewsService.com

The hunting of elk and bighorn sheep in California is authorized by the legislature and the programs are managed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Each year, the politically-appointed Fish and Game Commission evaluates the DFW’s recommendations and adopts the hunting regulations for those species.

Within this framework, the DFW completed programmatic environmental impact reports for each species addressing the benefits and impacts of a hunting program. The DFW is in the process of writing additional or supplemental environmental documents because the agency is proposing “making changes to the existing regulations, outside of the scope of the current EIR/EIS documents,” according to Regina Vu with the DFW’s Desert Bighorn Sheep Program in Sacramento.

Because of those changes, the California Environmental Quality Act requires public opportunity to comment and identify issues regarding the hunting of bighorn and elk. To that end, the DFW has scheduled two scoping meetings in Sacramento before the final draft documents are released for public review.

This is all a little baffling because it is unlikely the DFW is proposing anything outside of the current scope of current regulations (it’s still a mystery what they are proposing). This is especially true for bighorn sheep and the elk document has great latitude in what the agency can adopt in way of hunting programs.

For those of us who have been around this agency for many years and watched changes take place that have basically forced hunters and anglers and their programs into the back of the bus, even though we still pay the brunt of the bills, this process is disconcerting.

“Essentially, the meeting is for the public to provide comment on what issues or changes should we consider in regards to the project, which is hunting elk and bighorn sheep.” Said Vu. “From there, we prepare the documents and release them for public review. We estimate these docs will be available in late December.”

The two scoping sessions are both just one hour long (noon to 1 p.m. for elk and 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. for bighorn, both held Friday, Nov. 30, at the DFW offices in Sacramento, pretty much assuring the only ones who will attend are the anti-hunting organizations and the one or two National Rifle Association and California Rifle and Pistol Association representatives in the capitol.

I am terrified this is the first step in having hunting seasons banned for these two species by the newly refurbished DFW. I’m sure the anti-hunting environmental community will be some of the only ones to attend the scoping meetings. There they will argue that we can’t have elk hunting any longer because they are needed for the “new” population of wild wolves in California. They will say bighorn sheep numbers are too low and disease issues have led to population declines in recent years so hunting should be banned – even though Nelson desert sheep numbers are at near all-time highs.

The DFW press release on the subject was so muddled and confusing and never explained what the DFW wanted to do that required the new documents.

I suppose I could be optimistic and hope the DFW actually wanted to start the process of delisting the peninsular bighorn sheep from the list of threatened species now this sub-species has recovered. If numbers remain the same or continues to grow, it could be declared recovered and off the list in eight years -- allowing for hunting of this species under the law and giving the DFW far more money to devote to this species because it could then use the big pots of money dedicated to hunted species. But that process could have started two years ago without a modification to the EIR/EIS for sheep. So I’m not holding my breath.

The hunting community needs to watch what happens here very closely over the coming weeks and months.

BLM setting up DUI checkpoints

Thanksgiving weekend in desert

The Bureau of Land Management law enforcement officers will be operating DUI checkpoints on public lands in Imperial County, including Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area (Glamis), Wednesday through Sunday (Thanksgiving weekend). The hours of the checkpoints will be from noon to 2 p.m. each day.

The checkpoints will be at locations where DUI and collision statistics have been shown to be problem areas in the past. In addition to checking for alcohol and drug impairment, the officers will be checking for proper vehicle registration and licensing where required.

The BLM said research shows that crashes involving an impaired driver can be reduced by up to 20 percent with well-publicized DUI checkpoints.

Pot-growing permit workshops

to be held by DFW, SWRCB

You can’t make this stuff up.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife and State Water Resources Control Board are hosting a trio of free workshops in pot-growing hotbeds of Southern California. The workshops detail how to get permits for growing the weed, pot, cannabis. They will be held in Palm Desert, Adelanto, and Needles in early December.

This comes on the heels of the DFW shutting down a major -- illegal -- marijuana-growing facility in Trinity County. The clear message: Get your permits and pay our ransom or we’ll shut you down.

Now that pot is legal in California, the state wants to make sure that everyone grows pot legally so it can get its sizeable cut. How big is that cut expected to be?

Well, once the program is fully up and running, it should generate about $10 to 12 million a year just in application fees and annual licenses and -- wait for this -- nearly $1 billion per year in excise taxes. While not a huge chunk of a $270 billion annual state budget, it’s not chump change either, especially when you consider the DFW’s budget is about $200 million annually, or one fifth of what legal weed will be worth to the state.

Just in case you’re interested, the application fees range from $135 (up to 25 plants) to $8,655 (10,000 to 22,000 square feet of growing space). Your annual license will cost $1,205 up to $77,905, respectively. (The application is 44 pages long.) And that is on top of the county and city’s getting their cut. And you thought hunting and fishing licenses were expensive.

Representatives from the DFW, SWRCB, California Department of Food and Agriculture's CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing Division, along with county permitting and planning departments will all be available to answer questions at these workshops. They are expecting big crowds: The workshop in Adelanto will be held in a stadium.

“So wait,” you may ask. “Why is Fish and Wildlife involved?”

Well, it’s because a lot of the illegal pot grown in California in the past was grown on remote public lands and irrigation was done by diverting water from small streams and creeks. Not just illegal, the toll on fish and wildlife has been horrible. DFW wardens were spending a lot of their time on these cases -- and that money came from hunting and fishing license dollars.

Now, the extra money you pot smokers are going to pay in state taxes for your increasingly expensive weed will help fund the DFW -- and least we can hope that is the case. Don’t exhale.

DONATE TO DFW/FISHING LICENSES AVAILABLE NOW: If you want to give money to the DFW, 2019 fishing licenses are on sale now. You can buy them as gifts for Christmas presents. The annual licenses are valid Jan. 1 through Dec. 31. We’re not going to talk about what you get -- or don’t get -- for those license dollars.

FEDS SELLING OUT PUBLIC LANDS OR NOT?: A press release from the U.S. Department of Interior brags about how the “economic output of Interior's federal lands and resources increased by $400 million to $292 billion,” in the past year, “and the number of jobs supported increased by 230,000 to 1.8 million jobs.”

The gains are due to increased energy production and revenues, regulatory reform, changes to land uses and access, infrastructure projects, and a host of other factors. Most of the monetary gains came from increased oil and gas production on public lands, but the Interior reduced the semi-annual regulatory agenda by more than 50-percent and initiated 21 deregulatory actions, resulting in a savings to the economy of $3.8 billion over the coming years, according to a report released this week by the Interior.

But what about public access, natural resource protection, and environmental quality?

The agency boasted about increasing deferred maintenance spending in National Parks, approving $256 million in funding to rebuild critical national park infrastructure supporting both construction jobs and higher visitation. The NPS completed over $650 million in maintenance and repair work in Fiscal Year 2017.

The report shows that recreation is nearly as big a money-maker for federal lands and the economy as extractive industries, but that is downplayed.

The report is available on-line at https://doi.sciencebase.gov/doidv/.

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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