By: Amanda Artz
When I think of government agencies that deal with conservation, I think of similar authorities with equal goals, powers, and expectations. This, however, is far from the case. Each agency has their own responsibilities, and the regulatory powers they possess vary greatly between them. Collectively, they act like a system of conservation checks and balances that allow and sometimes hinder one another to accomplish their stated goals.
There are four main roles of state and regional agencies. Trusteeship, in which agencies are responsible for a resource that requires direct management or ownership authority; regulatory authority, in which agencies grant permits, approve plans, and regulate behavior; planning authority, in which agencies coordinate amongst multiple agencies; and funding, in which agencies give and get money and assistance where needed. There are many great local examples of agencies that possess and play each of these roles. Armstrong Woods State Park is managed by California State Parks. They have trusteeship and are responsible for managing the various biological resources of the park, such as the black-tailed deer population, old-growth redwood trees, and non-native, invasive plant species out-competing the native ones. Although California State Parks manages resources, they have no regulatory authority over those said resources. All regulatory authority regarding these resources is possessed by the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG). For example, say the black-tailed deer population of the park was exploding due to the absence of large predators in that ecosystem, so much so that the deer over-grazed the park’s vegetation to the point that their population and those of other, lower trophic levels were experiencing massive die-offs due to starvation. California State Parks could write a black-tailed deer population management plan that proposed the use of injectable contraceptives, but could NOT enforce this plan unless it was approved by the CDFG.
Another great example of a specific agency role is that of the Coastal Conservancy, which provides grants, funding, and assistance to agencies and non-profits that need it. Let’s say that a large ranch connecting Armstrong Woods to the Jenner Headlands just went on the market. The parcel is privately owned and contains sections of the Russian River and surrounding watershed, and valuable potential public coastal access. Armstrong Woods is a state park and therefore has no budget to purchase this land (Proposition 21 was a nice thought!), but can work together with a non-profit conservation group such as Save the Redwoods League, and the Coastal Conservancy, a state agency dedicated to protecting and enhancing the coast. By working together, the land could be obtained and eventually Armstrong Woods could be expanded. The Coastal Conservancy could give Save the Redwoods League a grant to purchase the land, and then the League could donate the land to Armstrong Woods State Park. It bothers me that it takes the cooperation of so many agencies in order to meet a main conservation goal, because the longer it takes for the agencies to come together and agree on a plan, the more likely certain land parcels could be bought by private parties for development or other, non-conservation purposes. With that being said, I still like the way that different roles of government agencies create this system of checks and balances, because I feel that this way, no agency can get too powerful and make decisions without the approval and agreement of other agencies, and this creates better conservation decisions in the long run.
If I magically got a job in a government agency, I would without a doubt choose the California Department of Fish and Game. I love that this agency has both the responsibility of managing resources AND has regulation authority to grant permits, approve plans, and regulate behavior. My dream position there would be a mixture of both roles. I would manage the California mountain lion population, with my ultimate goal being to GPS collar every lion in California so that the entire state’s population could be studied and tracked in great detail. This would be extremely useful in determining how the lions move throughout their ranges using corridors of what’s left of the habitat in the state and monitoring their behaviors and actions, especially when a human-predator conflict occurs. To accompany this wildlife management role, I would also oversee the issuance of depredation permits, which are the only approved means of mountain lion hunting besides self-defense as regulated by the California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990. Since all mountain lions would be collared, I could locate and move any mountain lion involved in a conflict with humans (such as causing a rancher grief) to a different, uninhabited range, far away from humans (and livestock) so that the problem was solved and this important species wouldn’t have to be killed. I feel that this dream position is the perfect way to interrelate both roles of the CDFG, and by working with other government agencies that possess other, different but equally important roles, we could truly make a positive difference for the California mountain lion population.