By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The department makes its presence felt at public hearings for timber sales, and its biologists generally espouse a more environmentally oriented stance than those in the BLM or the U.S. Forest Service.
That Game and Fish has a national reputation won't necessarily save it. Symington used to write letters proclaiming that the Weights and Measures petroleum lab was the best west of the Mississippi River. Still, he closed it down because it was doing its job and finding violations at gas stations and used-oil recyclers, and that was bad for business.
He could do the same for Game and Fish's police powers. Enforcing depredation laws and mediating elk-foraging issues might suddenly become bad for the state's ranching "customers." Its presence at timber-sale hearings might be bad for timber "customers." Research on nongame species might conveniently fall to tax-saving "budget cuts" as did the Weights and Measures investigative unit.
Cost-cutting and efficiency were the issues that Speaker of the House Mark Killian brought up while discussing the governor's evolving plan for consolidating state agencies.
"The fundamental question is whether there should be a natural-resources agency," he tells New Times. "What's the best dollar for the taxpayer? If consolidating all those agencies will save the taxpayers money and it's sound public policy, then we ought to pursue it."
Killian knows full well, however, that Game and Fish is not funded by the taxpayer's dollar. It is funded by the Heritage Fund, by hunting and fishing license fees and by federal monies tied to the sale of hunting and fishing equipment.
As for public policy, the Game and Fish Department recently commissioned its own survey to ask if the state should transfer the Game and Fish Commission's authority to an administrator appointed by the governor. Of 513 people questioned, 69 percent were opposed and 14 percent unsure. Only 17 percent of the respondents were in favor of the idea.
With his stand on takings, the governor has already shown that he doesn't care what the people of Arizona want.
Mark Killian and Fife Symington do not yet see eye to eye on how this proposed Department of Natural Resources should be structured. Symington sent his draft legislation to Killian in January, and Killian sent it back.
"He wanted me to sponsor it," Killian says, "but I told him no, because no homework had been done yet. You just don't go throw that bill out there without doing your homework."
Killian's chief of staff, Jeff Grant, indicated that the 78-page document would need at least another 75 pages worth of amendments before it would make sense.
"The speaker had a few more agencies in mind than the governor did," Grant adds--the State Parks Department, for example, and the Department of Water Resources.
But the idea is not dead. "My suggestion to the governor," says Killian, "is to create a committee and go around the state this spring and summer and have public testimony and hearings and listen to people and get the good, bad and ugly--and then come back next year and see if that's something we have to pursue."
Symington's draft already contains at least one potentially expensive error. Current state Game and Fish laws require the department to deposit hunting and fishing license fees into a Game and Fish Fund. Symington's new draft legislation abolishes that fund, and requires that the license fees be deposited into the state's general fund. Overlooked, however, is that the Game and Fish Fund is tied to federal monies the department receives from federal excise sales taxes on hunting and fishing equipment.
"You are only eligible for that money if all the hunting and fishing license-fee money is used for hunting and fishing programs," says Rich Stevenson of the Game and Fish Department. "Any diversion of that money to other purposes or even commingling it with monies from other purposes makes you ineligible for the federal funds." Last year, those federal monies totaled nearly $7 million--which would be lost in the name of saving money.
No homework, indeed.