Game Warden Staffing Levels Undeniably Worst In North America Compromising Public Safety, Salmon And Natural Resource ProtectionFor the first time in the state’s history, California completely banned commercial and sport fishing of salmon. While scientists, policy makers, and politicians scratch their heads and point fingers at everything from ocean conditions to global warming, the California Fish and Game Wardens Association (CFGWA) has been predicting this calamity for the past two years.

Few have listened. Salmon populations have been pressured by water diversions, loss of habitat from dams, sedimentation from development and agriculture, pollution, and a reduction in timber and riparian overgrowth which moderate water temperatures. In addition to these stressors, salmon face pressure from a human activity that could easily be curtailed and controlled – POACHING.

The CFGWA produced two Exposes’ chronicling these predictions in 2006 and 2007 (available online at www.californiafishandgamewardens.com.) These Exposes’ document the rapid decline of California’s fish and wildlife resources due to massive increases in poaching and blackmarket trade. These increases in fish and wildlife crime have a direct cause: California’s deplorable failure to support the individuals who enforce the laws that protect salmon – Game Wardens.

This document includes the results of a study by James Swan, PhD, on the environmental enforcement staffing levels of all 50 states and Canadian provinces. Dr. Swan compiled this information in the process of filming a documentary focusing on California’s Fish and Game Wardens. The study reveals and the documentary will show that California ranks not only last in North America for natural resource law enforcement, but far behind all other states. For a progressive state that prides itself on protecting the environment, California seriously fails its citizens and its resources when it comes to ensuring its laws are enforced.

Game Wardens protect all wildlife, fisheries, waters and habitats in the state. They patrol the ocean, investigate pollution incidents, and provide the only public safety in some of the most rural parts of the state. The plummet in the number of Game Wardens parallels the crash of the $120 million salmon industry, and CFGWA believes the sturgeon and abalone fisheries follow closely behind for the same reasons. Without even adequate numbers of Game Wardens to patrol and protect, these two species will continue to crash. California’s blackmarket trade in wildlife is an annual $100 million illegal venture, second only to the drug trade. Most alarmingly the poaching and drug trades have merged.

Shockingly, though statewide Warden staffing levels are less than 200 field officers – down from 280 – the current Administration proposes to eliminate an additional 38 positions in the new budget.

Such a significant cut in LAW ENFORCEMENT personnel heralds the devastation of many more fish and wildlife populations; pollution of our land, lakes, rivers, and streams; the obliteration of commercial fisheries; and destruction of habitat. Eliminating these Game Warden positions guarantees that salmon will not recover.

California is a poor example of natural heritage protection, demonstrating to all of North America that making fish and wildlife laws means nothing if a state cripples the team needed to enforce those laws. The investment of $20 million in Game Wardens may have saved some of the tens of millions of dollars in relief funds provided to businesses and local economies suffering from the salmon loss. Economists predict hundreds of millions of dollars more will be needed to ease further economic hardships.

Decline in Game Wardens equals loss of salmon – not just a claim – here are the facts:

From the mouth of the Klamath nearly 200 miles to Yreka and including its tributaries, no Game Wardens live along the river as they have in the past. Poachers routinely snag and ravage salmon and sturgeon with little fear of being arrested.

The Department of Fish and Game’s 58-foot Patrol Vessel Marlin out of Berkeley sat idle for the past five months as no funding existed to replace its engines, leaving the Bay Area and parts of the ocean without patrol. Even with new engines, it only has 50 percent of the Warden staff needed to board vessels at sea. Inland Wardens must fill the void, leaving other areas unprotected. The recently enacted Marine Life Protection Areas (MLPA) calls for additional Wardens to staff and protect them. The Governor’s proposed budget reduction cuts these positions even before there is a chance to fill them. The MLPA that purported to be a safeguard and protection for our coastal waters has become an illusion – a great idea, now just a dream without the Game Wardens to enforce it.

On the north coast in Eureka, the long range 65-foot Patrol Vessel Albacore has no permanent crew, so spends its time swaying in its moorings. The Albacore provides vital enforcement of commercial and sportfishing laws up to 200 miles at sea. Without the Albacore on patrol, criminals routinely violate fishery regulations and deplete critical salmon and offshore stocks.

Within 10 miles of the State Capitol in Sacramento, a single Game Warden made 130 arrests for salmon poaching in the period of three months. In a call for aid, fellow Wardens joined him resulting in more than 400 salmon poaching arrests. Still, thousands of poachers escape because there aren’t enough Wardens to arrest or deter them.

Each night, even now, Game Wardens make arrests for the massive illegal take of baby salmon migrating back out to sea. Salmon fingerlings are used as illegal bait for catching sturgeon, which are illegally caught and stripped of their roe for blackmarket caviar sales.

Closing the salmon season means nothing to poachers. Only the ethical anglers will respect the law, but without the Game Wardens to enforce the closure, poaching will continue and the salmon will suffer.

The California Grizzly Bear became extinct in 1932, at a time when the state had one-tenth of the human population and the same number of Game Wardens as we have today. California has lost one-third of its officers in the last seven years, and the trend continues. Soon the Game Wardens will join the California Grizzly.

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