SYMINGTON'S PLAN TO GUT GAME AND FISH

Representative David Farnsworth stepped to the microphone of the Arizona House of Representatives to deliver the opening prayer.

"Father, there is a great battle that rages in the hearts of many of those who are really concerned about our environment," he droned. "We pray that Thou wilt touch their hearts that they might have increased compassion for those families that have suffered because of the loss of jobs, especially in the rural areas. We pray that Thou wilt bless us all that we might recognize the truth," he continued, the drama building in his voice, "that we might balance our concerns between individuals and families and their employments and protect the beauties that Thou hast created."

Of course, Farnsworth was referring to environmentalists, those who would "put spotted owls above people's jobs," as rural rhetoric goes. And that Farnsworth was calling on the Lord to beam some sense and compassion into those misguided sinners shows the religious fervor that the antienvironmental struggle has taken on.

Farnsworth may not need to pray much longer--he'll be able to call on Fife Symington to right the environmentalists' wrongs. If the governor has his way, he will be installed as a veritable Lord of the Land, making godlike decisions about Arizona's natural resources.

While the governor was noisily rattling the Attorney General's Office by trying to usurp its powers, while he was loudly stating his intent to contradict the electorate's vote on takings, he was orchestrating another, more silent power grab.

Symington appointees in the State Land Department were plotting to take over state environmental agencies that are beyond the governor's direct control. The special target is the Game and Fish Department, whose proactive environmental activities have long been a thorn in the sides of the timber, ranching and mining industries.

The plot seemed no more than legislative gossip, an unsubstantiated rumor floating around the Game and Fish and State Parks departments. No one had seen the actual proposed bill.

No one, that is, but House Speaker Mark Killian and his staff. Killian provided for New Times a copy of the rough draft he had received from the governor in mid-January.

Symington's bill would fold the Game and Fish Department, the Geological Survey and the Department of Mines and Mineral Resources into the State Land Department. The new entity would bear the title Department of Natural Resources, and its director would serve at the pleasure of the governor.

Currently, the Game and Fish Department answers to a five-member commission appointed by the governor, one per year, and the commission, in turn, hires the department director. Although the governor can make suggestions to the commissioners, he, by law, cannot dictate policy to the department or its employees.

The Department of Mines and Mineral Resources answers to a similarly appointed board of governors, though its objectives are less antagonistic to Governor Symington's. The Geological Survey oversees oil and natural gas conservation; the State Land Department sells and leases state lands. Both are currently run by gubernatorial appointees.

Under the proposed legislation, however, all four departments would answer to a director of natural resources whom the governor could hire and fire at will--meaning that the governor would have total control over those departments and the natural resources they control. In effect, it would provide one-stop shopping for developers and the extractive industries--while controlling those pesky preservationists at the Game and Fish Department.

Speaker Killian just as quietly sent the draft legislation back to Symington, suggesting that he do more "homework." Although he agreed with the bill in principle, Killian felt it did not go far enough; the State Parks Department--another board-run entity--and the Department of Water Resources should be included, as well. And to ensure its passage, the speaker, evidently a more patient man than the governor, wants to build support for the restructuring of so many departments rather than just springing it on the legislature.

Killian couches everything in terms of "saving taxpayers' money," ignoring that the Game and Fish and State Parks departments are funded from sources other than taxes. Clearly, Symington's intent with the draft bill is not cost-cutting. Rather, it is yet another deregulation tactic, aimed largely at the Game and Fish Department. Symington has already gutted the Department of Weights and Measures, replaced its professional administrators with politicians and bureaucrats, closed its petroleum lab and curtailed its investigative units while claiming that supermarkets and gas stations could police themselves ("Scaled Back," November 10, 1994).

Now the governor could also remove regulatory obstacles for ranchers and miners and timber companies and developers by having wildlife decisions made by business-friendly politicians instead of by professional biologists. He could skirt the federal Endangered Species Act, for example, and ignore the state depredation laws.

"It's very clear where the governor wants to take natural-resource management," says Rob Smith of the Sierra Club, "which is into the boardrooms of the timber and grazing industries. This is not someone who is simply restructuring government and is a moderate environmentalist who is going to balance interests.

"He is looking at a takeover, at gutting the good laws and allowing the regulated interests to have much more direct political effect on the agencies that force them to balance the public interests in the environment."

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