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."
Tom Woods is president of the Heritage Alliance, which oversees distribution of the lottery-generated funds that support the Game and Fish and State Parks departments; he is also a conservative Republican and former chief operating officer of Arizona Public Service Company, one of the state's largest utilities.
"I assure you, there's one thing behind it," he says of the proposed restructuring. "It's to reduce regulation of any kind against business and to give business this unfettered advantage to proceed and contribute to the economy of the state."
Fife Symington used to call himself "the environmental governor," and probably considers himself an environmentalist in the way ranchers consider themselves "stewards of the land."
A poster commissioned for this year's inaugural ball shows elk and cattle peaceably grazing across adjacent grassy hillsides rendered in Cowboy Romantic style. It's a perfect image for the Wise Use Movement, this updated Garden of Eden in which Man lives off the sustainable bounties of Nature. People for the West, a mining lobby that calls itself a grassroots organization, recently presented a "Conservation Leadership Award" to Symington, which is as oxymoronic--perhaps just moronic--as being named "Classiest Man at K mart."
"At the mining rally in Globe," the commendation reads, "Governor Symington said to the cheering crowd, 'There's been some confusion in Washington as to who the endangered species is. I don't believe it's the spotted owl. . . . I'm absolutely dedicated to preserving the mining, logging and cow industry in this state.'
"This is the kind of leadership that America needs to protect jobs, families, communities and the environment."
In his State of the State address, Symington took another shot at the Endangered Species Act by telling the touching story of a Snowflake man who had lost his job at the mill. "Governor," the man told Symington, "I care about animals and I care about the environment. I want to protect them. But I want to protect my children first."
The notion that the Endangered Species Act destroys rural communities is a favored clich of the far right, but it's blatantly untrue. Between 1988 and 1994 in Arizona, 3,183 projects--mines, timber sales and such--were reviewed for compliance with the Endangered Species Act, but no violations were found and no projects were stopped.
Still, the ESA has become a symbol of federal interference in the economy of the state. Only 17 percent of Arizona is privately owned, after all, with another 13 percent owned by the state government, whereas 28 percent is Indian land and 42 percent is controlled by federal agencies: the Forest Service, the Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Those federal agencies control most of the raw materials that fuel the state's extractive industries, and this has been a sore point for more than a century.
To set matters right, last April, Fife Symington sent out invitations to state and county officials; agriculture, timber and mining lobbies; legislative committee heads; businesses; and environmental groups to attend his "Land Policy 2000" forum, a platform he'd cooked up to take back control of Arizona lands from the federal agencies that manage them.
Symington didn't have "the intestinal fortitude" (as they say in the state legislature these days) to try to wrest control of the parks or the Indian land--both sacred cows in Washington, D.C. But "Land Policy 2000," the draft document he circulated to potential forum attendees, was so bold as to suggest that the Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife and BLM holdings in Arizona be put under his control, along with the State Land and Game and Fish departments.
His stated intention was to cut down on duplication among the state and federal agencies and to make sensible decisions on land management. But the subtext, as usual, was all business. The first page of the document states, "This proposal is consistent with the Governor's philosophy of providing customer-focused governmental services and fulfills his desire to empower government employees to provide the most efficient, effective and responsive service with taxpayers' money."
The environmental groups, for the most part, boycotted the meeting. The Sierra Club's letter to the governor read, "Overall this appears to be simply a grab for control of public lands with the goal of gutting enforcement of environmental programs. It is essentially the same as the 'Sagebrush Rebellion' of several years ago, in which antienvironmentalists like James Watt tried to get ownership of our public lands turned over to Western states at the urging of timber, mining and grazing interests."
Nevertheless, in mid-May, 70 or so state officials and industry representatives gathered in Flagstaff for the forum. They greeted the governor with a standing ovation when he scolded the environmentalists for having closed minds.
The federal agencies, meanwhile, were not exactly sure how to respond to Symington's proposal--so they didn't. The regional heads of the Forest Service passed on the proposal to Washington, D.C., because it was beyond their authority to comment on it. Not to mention pointless.
Although the Republican right wing loves to quote the Constitution as if it were Scripture, Symington had blundered into an area of questionable constitutionality.
Art Briggs is director of Ecosystem Management Planning for the Forest Service at its Southwest regional office in Albuquerque. "In the proposed agency command structure," he says with polite understatement, "the governor would be placed between the federal executive branch and the current federal land administrators, and we wondered about the constitutionality of that, because it goes beyond powers granted to the state by the Constitution."
"Land Policy 2000" never made it past the first draft, but, like most bad ideas, it didn't completely die. Rather, it became Symington's environmental Mein Kampf.
In his State of the State message, Symington vowed that he had not forgotten "Land Policy 2000." Rumors circulated that it would take smaller form, limited to state agencies. Symington had already appointed a former John McCain staffer named Ed Sanchez to look into agency consolidation. Sanchez was installed in the State Land Department, as he says, "spearheading the effort, accumulating information, looking at the different agencies and getting feedback from interest groups."
One wonders whom he talked to, because none of the directors of the affected agencies was consulted. None has yet seen the resultant draft legislation or even been told that it exists.
Duane Shroufe of Game and Fish, Ken Travous of State Parks and H. Mason Coggins of Mines and Mineral Resources all say that neither Sanchez nor the governor has talked to them about restructuring their departments.
Art Porter, chairman of the Game and Fish Commission--and a Symington appointee--says he has received one call from the Governor's Office in his four years as a commissioner, and that had to do with elk in Flagstaff. Porter and Shroufe did manage to catch a half-hour of Speaker Killian's time in the last two weeks, but they did not talk in depth about the proposed department restructuring.
Tom Woods of the Heritage Alliance claims that the Governor's Office will not even answer his letters.
Sanchez had scheduled an appointment with New Times to further discuss the matter, but then called back to say that "his boss," State Land Commissioner M. Jean Hassell, and the Governor's Office had ordered him not to talk to the newspaper. Hassell refused to return calls.
Milo Jean Hassell, so the rumor goes, would be Symington's choice for natural-resources czar in charge of the Department of Natural Resources he would create. His last job was as regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service in Albuquerque. He was first appointed State Land commissioner by Evan Mecham, and has been reappointed by every governor, including Symington, since.
Hassell is of the old school of foresters. According to a former colleague in the Forest Service, he was a devotee of "getting out the cut" to meet high-volume logging quotas. One Game and Fish employee jokes, "His idea of managing the forest was cropping them like wheat. We used to call him Mr. Even-Age Management," a reference to the since-abandoned practice of taking high numbers of same-size trees. "Environmentalists want to make waitresses out of all the loggers," Hassell once told a daily-newspaper reporter. And in a recent letter, he assured State Representative David Farnsworth that Arizona would still have plenty of trees to cut if it weren't for the interference of environmentalist groups.
Not surprisingly, the State Land Department that Hassell now presides over is a virtual clearinghouse for developers. Its charter requires that the State Land Department "maximize income from the sale and use of land," and since 1978, its emphasis has been on sales, especially for urban and commercial development. One need go no farther than north Scottsdale to see how pristine desert once owned by the state is being rapidly churned into golf courses and housing developments.
Last year, the State Land Department claimed $68.7 million in revenues from land sales and leases, money that, by law, goes to public schools. Before money can be similarly squeezed out of the rest of the state's resources, the Game and Fish Department needs to be harnessed. Hassell has hinted at his disdain for that department and what he considers its obstructionist appeals. Never mind that the last Game and Fish appeal to a timber sale occurred in 1990, during a period of record timber cutting. More and more, the department is pointed to as a stick in the eye of the extractive industries, as a symbol of environmentalist obstacles to a booming state economy.
Before 1929, wildlife management amounted to setting hunting and fishing seasons, and all decisions were made by the legislature. As a result, many big-game species--not to mention predators such as the Mexican wolf--had already vanished from the state.
Native elk and Rocky Mountain sheep had disappeared by the turn of the century, and desert bighorn sheep were vanishing rapidly.
So concerned sportsmen lobbied to form the Game and Fish Commission, a panel of five citizens from different parts of the state. The commissioners would then hire a professional director and oversee the workings of the department, shielding it from the direct influence of politics. But since the governor would appoint one new commissioner every year, and one would drop out, he could effect change over time.
In 1990, the general electorate voted to establish the Heritage Fund, $20 million to be split between the Game and Fish and State Parks departments. That neither the governor nor the legislature has control over that money has been a festering sore--not so much because of spending by the State Parks Department, which uses much of its share to help small communities establish local parks, but because of the Game and Fish Department's environmental work. The Arizona Game and Fish Department is widely recognized as one of the finest state wildlife-management agencies in the country. It not only sells hunting and fishing licenses, sets seasons and monitors sportsmen, but it also rides herd on the extractive industries. Game and Fish dictates which predators ranchers can kill, and generally forbids them to take elk and deer, which compete for forage with livestock. Furthermore, the department's biologists research and disseminate information on nongame animals, which include threatened and endangered species. The agency may also purchase sensitive habitat to ensure survival of those species.
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.
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.
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