Monday, November 15, 2010

DFG State Game Refuges Closures—“Review and Evaluate”

(“Closing” opens them up to hunting)

ALERT: This is an urgent request to all who appreciate and value wildlife to submit comments to oppose any California Department of Fish and Game’s (DFG) proposal(s) to close CA State Game Refuges.


A public “opinion poll” is being conducted by CA’s DFG re the elimination of CA State Game Refuges (SGR) where currently no hunting is allowed. Reportedly, based on public input (no scientific studies), DFG will “review and evaluateexisting State Game Refuges and consider “closing” them (which would then allow hunting and carrying firearms in those designated areas). DFG is accepting public comments up to December 1, 2010, and must submit “...a description of the public education and outreach effort...and a summary of any information provided by the public that is relevant....” to the legislature by January, 1, 2011.[i]

For information from DFG’s perspective and/or to participate in the survey, visit .

Comments may also be submitted via email:

“Evaluation” of the Status of Existing State Game Refuges

In 2008, DFG proposed a legislative change to eliminate the State Game Refuge status in some areas. With the passage of SB 1166, the California Legislature directed DFG to undertake appropriate education and outreach regarding the current location of existing game refuges...and the potential closure....” of 19 of the state’s 21 refuges. On or before January 1, 2011, DFG is mandated to prepare and submit a summary of public input that is “relevant.” DFG claims the proposed change in status would open these lands to public and private use, consistent with adjacent properties, and consistent with other refuges managed by the state and federal government.

Lack of public outreach and/or education:

1—Little-to-no public outreach or education has taken place, and there are no scientific studies for the public to review—DFG has provided opinions only which indicate a bias toward closing.

2—The DFG website survey contains an irrelevant and inappropriate multiple choice option as to the public’s “perspective on hunting” (Item 4). The information may create even more prejudice with regard to the submitter’s responses, and thus risk cursory dismissal. Also, there may be hunting perspectives that are not reflected in the three limited choices. Thus, DFG’s perspective summary may be erroneously interpreted to indicate a population that is more supportive of hunting than actually exists.

3— The survey states that the legislature directed DFG to “review and evaluate” the existing SGR system. If this were true, scientific studies should be provided. As a matter of fact, SB 1166 (Cox 2008) mandates (1) that law enforcement agencies may carry firearms in SGR and (2) that education and outreach be focused on the location of existing game refuges, agency contacts, and the potential closures. Somehow the very minimal public opinion poll on the proposed closure locations is being misconstrued as a valid review and evaluation of those locations with no evidence to support any closure proposals.

4—DFG claims to provide information via the website for the public to learn about each SGR. However, each game refuge description would be appropriate for a title company for deed recording or for someone trained as a surveyor; they are not meaningful or understanable for the general public.[ii] Where are the topographical and habitat descriptions or images? What is the acreage size of each refuge? How much of each SGR is public and/or private lands? None of this information is provided.

Reasons to OPPOSE and submit comments by December 1, 2010 deadline:

The DFG website and links appear to fully favor the closing of the SGR and use faulty logic to support this position.

1—DFG claims that elimination of the SGR no firearms and no hunting status would make them “consistent with adjacent properties.” There is no rationale or necessity for a “consistency-with-adjacent-properties” argument (all disparate zones are at some point inconsistent with adjacent properties). Applying an adjacent properties “consistency” requirement to game refuges would mean there could never be a game refuge, unless the entire state were a SGR area.

2—DFG claims that eliminating the SGR would make them consistent with other state and federal refuges. The fact that SGR are not managed in the same manner as other refuges is irreleveant. A better argument can be made that the other areas are not consistent with the word “refuge.” Additionally, national forests and parks have always been managed differently from state forests and parks. DFG’s argument that hunting creates and fufills an illusive “consistency” critera lacks merit.

3—Even if other agencies manage refuges differently, an important lawsuit should lead to changes that DFG would be prudent to incorporate. On August 31, 2006, in The Fund for Animals vs U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ruled that the FWS violated the law by opening up new hunting programs without analyzing impacts on refuge visitors, migratory birds, sensitive resources, and threatened and endangererd species. Later, in 2007, the court allowed the lawsuit to expand to include more than 24 additional refuges. [iii] In light of this case, DFG should not proceed with any proposals to close any SGR. Instead, it should create more no-hunting refuges and expand existing SGR areas.

4—DFG has created a perception that the reason(s) for establishing the refuge/no hunting or no-firearm designated areas 100 years ago was to provide a supply of game animals for hunting. Thus, the claim is made that since SGR may no longer serve that purpose, they should be closed and hunting be allowed. However, this original “purpose” claim is as speculative as the claims that the refuges no longer serve that purpose.

a. The refuges have value for wildlife of many species and for citizens who wish to enjoy wildlife watching or other non-consumptive activities in nature without concerns for dodging errant bullets or arrows. Hunting by its nature kills the “trophy” animals—those with the strongest genetic elements—and deprives the non-consumptive public the experience of observing such magnificent animals.

b. Moreover, there are other wildlife species which may not be “game” in the sense of hunting that benefit from true refuge habitat. The very name, “Game Refuge” is an oxymoron and compromises what refuges are all about. These areas should more correctly be called “CA State Wildlife Refuges” and retain their no-hunting designations.

c. Both Assembly and Senate analysts of SB 1166, 2008, questioned the validity of the game refuge “purpose.” DFG states that the purpose in establishing the refuges 100 years ago was to protect deer from being overexploited during the period of early regulation and enforcement of game laws—the end of “market hunting” of game species and the beginning of active conservation. DFG also states that SGR were established to “enhance deer populations” which would result in herd migrations out into areas where hunting is allowed. However, SB 1166’s analyses question those stated purposes and suggest there were other valid reasons for establishing the Game Refuges.[iv]

5—Assuming DFG’s original purpose claim (refuges increase unmolested game that expands into adjacent hunting lands) is valid, DFG now claims that the refuges are not working, based on studies. However, we don’t know the nature or validity of the studies, let alone whether they exist or not. Neither studies nor any solid evidence to support such “not-working” claims, are presented or cited on DFG’s websites.

The public is forced to “trust” an agency to review and evaluate refuge closures without prejudice while it is being constantly pressued by hunters for “more hunt opportunities.” Evidence suggests that this egregious closure proposal was planned and formulated by DFG personnel for over 13 years (referring to SGR as “tragic waste” back in 1997[v]). This portends a conflict of interest and/or an unacceptable bias for DFG to potentially ignore valid science and/or public sentiment because simply closing the refuges and opening them to hunting will alleviate pressure from hunters.

6—DFG claims that “The scientific community's knowledge of wildlife ecology and behavior has increased since these refuges were created, and based on this information, DFG has developed significant regulatory processes to protect and enhance wildlife populations.” First, this is irrelevant because there are no scientific studies on the ecology of the SGR. Second, DFG acknowledges that herds are declining; so just how well are those “significant regulatory processes to protect and enhance wildlife populations” working? The referenced “regulatory processes” appear to be unreliable at best. The only conclusion to be drawn is that the processes are NOT working and cannot be trusted.

The fact is that wildlife is protected in a SGR at least from being killed, maimed, and/or wounded in that area. That’s a given, regardless of the merits, or lack thereof, of the “significant regulatory processes to protect and enhance wildlife populations.” By its own admission, DFG has concerns regarding declines in black-tail deer populations. In fact, DFG has initiated a study to try to find out why black-tailed deer populations have declined over the past 20 years. According to its website,[vi] DFG “...began a three-year study of habitat changes, predation and land use patterns affecting black-tailed deer in Mendocino County. The decline in the harvest of black-tailed deer over the past 20 years is well-documented.” The website goes on to state that statewide, the harvest of black-tailed deer bucks has declined from 27,846 in 1989 to 14,895 in 2009, a drop of 46 percent. In the counties in the study area zone, harvest numbers have dropped from 3,013 to 1,297, a 57 percent decline. If anything, DFG should be pressing for more, not less, game refuges.

7—DFG claims the removal of the SGR designation from the 19 areas will benefit DFG law enforcement operations and constituents who participate in hunting. First, it is our understanding that the California Game Wardens Association is opposed to the closings. One can only imagine the increased work load with poachers and quota violations refuge closures will create. Secondly, the work of a Game Warden should be much easier in a designated refuge: Anyone in possession of a firearm is violating the law and should be cited; period. There may/may not be other violations, but that citation should be automatic.

It is disingenuous for DFG to claim that closing the refuges will “change in the general purpose for which Fish and Game Wardens patrol the areas.” Game Wardens patrol for violations. There should be NO change in that purpose of the patrols.

8—DFG states that an expected result of the closings will (1) be an influx of hunters. This alone should make anyone shudder, both from habitat impacts and public safety points of view; and (2) provide “recreational opportunities in new areas” for hunters. If hunters move in, non-consumptive users will be deprived. The safety and quietness of a refuge area will disappear. Hunters are not being deprived any rights to access the SGR. As citizens, they can always enjoy the serenity within the SGR, but they just cannot bring their lethal weapons.

It is the hunter’s responsibility to know the laws; it should not be the state’s policy to relax regulations to accommodate scofflaws. There are hundreds of thousands of public lands available for hunting. If the hunters are not certain of the boundaries, it is their responsibility to not hunt in that unfamiliar or unknown area. (If someone does not know the speed limit is 35 mph, we don’t take away speed limits to accommodate the ones who choose to drive 65 mph.)

With regard to legal impacts, the DFG statement that closure of SGR may ultimately result in issuance of fewer citations is a negative impact. A loss of fines is a loss of revenues. But more important, “lack of sufficient signage” is an attempt to excuse hunters from responsibility for knowing the boundaries. Anyone can remove a sign and then claim they were confused. If hunters can find hounds with GPS collars, surely hunters can avail themselves of GPS devices and know where they should and should not be. If they cannot perform such a rudimentary task, because they are in unfamiliar territory or for any other excuse, then they deserve to be both cited, fined, and educated. Another option is to expand the SGR areas widely so that the confused hunter won’t be as inclined to cross into off-limits territory.

9—DFG also claims that “Elimination of the ‘State Game Refuge’ designation will have no significant impact on the wildlife and ecosystems of these lands. However, no evidence, no proof, and no studies are presented to support this conclusion. An equally speculative claim can be made that possibly the game refuges are indeed enhancing wildlife, habitat, ecosystems, and are serving the so-called purpose of increasing herds/populations. It is more logical to conclude that elimination of the State Game Refuge designations will have significant negative impacts on wildlife and ecosystems and create even greater drops in black-tail deer populations. DFG supports “off limits” with its Marine Life Protection Act efforts; the SGR issues are very similar.

Additionally, the Pacific fisher, currently a candidate species for the US Endangered Species Act, is now absent from many of its previous habitats. One known problem contributing to the fisher’s demise is disease, and Parvo is one element. Parvo can be transmitted to fishers via dogs that hunters bring into the areas. Furthermore, fisher and other critical species can and do experience harassment or attack from loose dogs as well. Keeping the refuges closed to hunters will partially remediate these species’ issues which are at critical stages.

10—Motives for the unnecessary SGR closings may be found in the implementation of the SHARE program (Shared Habitat Alliance for Recreational Enhancement) which pays private landowners handsomely to allow hunting. A thorough “review and evaluation” should include the potential financial windfall that will open for the private landowners (up to $30 per acre per season), as well as the political implications and pressures brought on by this program, funded in part by taxpayers.

11—DFG does not anticipate any economic impact to the public or to DFG with the SGR closures. However, the Tehama County Fish and Game Commission stated otherwise, “...argued that allowing hunting in a state refuge, known as 1-G, would threaten the health of a large deer herd that supports an economically important hunting industry.”[vii]

FAQ’s & Additional Information Fallacies

It is stated that there is no risk of hunting having a detrimental effect on deer populations, especially because California is largely a “bucks only” hunting system. Hunting DOES have a negative impact on deer in that the trophy hunter takes genetically the very best, leaving the smaller, possibly weaker to procreate, and thus weakening the herds and contributing to population declines.

The SGR system is deemed to be a “complete” failure by DFG because herds have declined and unintended “refuges” have been created with the loss of “huntable lands.” This non sequitur would be laughable if were it not such a misleading statement. It may be true that loss of habitat has occurred due to land-use policies, contributing to herd declines, but it is more logical to conclude that man and management policies are no match for nature. DFG judges the SGR as failures with unsubstantiated claims that large numbers of deer have not migrated out into the killing fields. A more likely scenario is that deer are sustaining herd populations at optimal levels within the SGR. The “complete failure” accusation may be more appropriately directed at agency attempts to “manage” wildlife populations in order to accommodate hunter demands, with the result being ever-increasing declining deer populations.

Closing SGR in order to provide more “hunting opportunity” is unacceptable and unjustifiable. Furthermore, there seems to be a contradiction in DFG’s reasoning: If the SGR have been such “complete failures,” why would hunters be inclined to flock to the SGR? If they are complete failures, hunters should not be “focusing on these areas.” One can only conclude that because the SGR are such success stories, that’s where the trophies must be taking refuge, and that’s why DFG wants to close them as refuges.

One DFG website has stated that even if some SGR are closed, they may not open to hunting because of local ordinances. However, that argument will be moot if a bill similar to AB 979 is brought back (highly likely since it passed both houses but was vetoed by the Governor). This legislation allows the DFG to “wholly occupy” the field of hunting and fishing. Local ordinances and regulations cannot supersede DFG regulations if another version of AB 979 is introduced and passed. Thus, even though a community may not want hunting on lands located within its jurisdiction, the city or county regulations will not hold if DFG decides the area can be hunted. Any closed SGR will be exposed and vulnerable to hunting, regardless of local ordinances, if/when AB 979 or its clone is re-introduced.

In Closing

Refuges are still safe havens for wildlife and for people who wish to hike, bike, boat, observe, photograph, etc., without the threat of hunting and all its impacts. Closing refuges results in a loss for both the animals and the people who use the lands in peace.

With hunters representing less than 1% of the state’s population, the vast majority of citizens would not approve the closing any State Game Refuge. If a true study and poll were taken, with a genuine public outreach effort, the vast majority would vote for increasing wildlife refuge acreage (no hunting regardless of how it’s named), rather than eliminating or depleting it.

State Game Refuge closures must not be allowed to proceed without full disclosure of all impacts for every refuge. The public knows very little about this poll or proposal, and at a recent county Fish and Game Commission meeting, not one commissioner knew about the proposal (except one hunter member who was concerned and questioning the proposal). Thus, the “public outreach” mandate is not being fulfilled. DFG also should study the merits of increasing SGR designations throughout the state and especially in the Mendocino area where black-tail herd declines appear to be higher than the rest of the state and where few-to-no refuges exist.

We urge all to oppose the closure proposal and to submit comments to that effect immediately.

If there are any questions, please contact either Public Interest Coalition at .


[i] SB 1166, Cox, 2008, was created to address the issue that prohibited law enforcement agencies to enter game refuges in performance of their duties because firearms/weapons were not allowed. The first provision in SB 1166 permits law enforcement officers to enter a game refuge in the performance of their duties. A second provision requires that the DFG undertake “ and outreach efforts, including efforts regarding the potential closure of all state game refuges other than 2 specified refuges. The department would be required to provide an opportunity for public comment. The bill would require the department, on or before January 1, 2011, to prepare and submit to the Legislature a report on those efforts and a summary of any information provided by the public that is relevant to the potential closure of those state game refuges. For details on that legislation, go to:

[ii] For example, how does this excerpt help the public evaluate and review a refuge location:

“Beginning at the fork of the Puls Camp Road and the Poison
Lake-Harvey Valley Road near the quarter section corner between Secs.
33 and 34, T. 33 N., R. 8 E.; thence northerly following the
westerly side of said road by Dixie Springs and Puls Camp in Sec. 33,
T. 34 N., R. 8 E., to Shroder Lake in Sec. 19, T. 34 N., R. 8 E.;
thence southwesterly about one mile to the junction of said Puls Camp
Road and the Little Valley Road in Sec. 24, T. 34 N., R. 7 E.;”

[iii] “Wildlife Finds Refuge in the Courts” by Tanya Mulford, September 8, 2006. and and

[iv] According to the author's office [of SB 1166] wildlife biologists at DFG contend that the game refuge system no longer serves a purpose and should be abolished. However, there are some who believe that the refuges have value....

The author indicates that the refuges were established for the purpose of providing a steady supply of game animals for hunting, however, it is unclear from the legislative history that that was the only or specific purpose of the refuges. [bold added] From:

 [v] “Game Refuges:  A ‘Tragic Waste,” TRACKS, 1997.

[vii]State Quietly Studying Proposal to End Hunting Ban in Game Refuges,” Oakland Tribune, San Jose Mercury, and others, November 7, 2010:

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