24. Setting the FOX to Guard the Chickens in the
Source: THIS WORLD, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE (reprinted from
The Recorder, 8/11/93),
Date: 9/19/93, Title: "Fishy Deals," Author:
SSU Censored Researcher: Tim Gordon
SYNOPSIS: If California is a national trendsetter, as is often
said, the rest of the nation had better become aware of the latest environmental
trend underway there.
Pete Wilson's strong support, the California Department of Fish and Game has decided
that it can best protect endangered wildlife by turning them over to commercial
interests. This privatization of the Department's traditional watchdog role has
essentially defanged it.
In brief, California has adopted a new environmental
policy where it has turned over the responsibility for protecting endangered species
to private corporations and developer-friendly local governments.
involves ARCO, the oil company that owns or leases about 500,000 acres stretching
from Santa Barbara to the Central Valley. As environmental reporter Todd Woody
points out, "Not only is the land a prime oil and gas production area, it
is home to more than two dozen rare and endangered species."
laws normally require a company to obtain permits each time it plans to disturb
a protected plant or animal. But under the new program, that is no longer necessary.
The solution devised by ARCO and the state agency calls for the company to dedicate
6,000 acres of its land as a preserve to compensate for any habitat lost through
oil and gas operations.
But then, in an unprecedented move, the Department of Fish and Game
made ARCO a game warden, transferring day-to-day responsibility for
protecting any imperiled wildlife to the company. According to the agreement,
ARCO can be removed as manager of the preserve only for gross negligence.
ARCO can sell "mitigation credits" to other companies that want to use
the preserve to replace habitat they've destroyed elsewhere and, in fact, has
already sold some 700 acres worth of credits to three energy companies.
department lawyers and biologists have attacked the agreement. One Fish and Game
staff attorney wrote that he had "substantial problems" with ARCO's
proposal to manage the preserve itself, noting that Fish and Game could not legally
delegate that responsibility to others when it could perform such duties itself.
environmentalists criticized Fish and Game for permitting ARCO to continue existing
oil and gas operations on the preserve and to lease land to other companies. According
to the agreement, "The department acknowledged that oil spills and leaks
might result in the death-called 'take'-of the very wildlife the preserve was
meant to protect."
Another case involved the endangered species laws
protecting the imperiled Swainson's hawk. While developers usually must acquire
land to replace habitat they destroy, and endow a trust fund for its upkeep, Fish
and Game eliminated that requirement for the Dana Corp. It allowed the company
to build its plant on the hawk's home in exchange for a one-time, no-strings-attached
payment of $46,299. State officials acknowledge that no new habitat has been dedicated
nor is there a deadline to do so. Environmentalists called this deal "cash
COMMENTS: Todd Woody is an environmental reporter for The Recorder,
a daily legal newspaper based in San Francisco. Woody said that "Mainly
because of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's embrace of the concept,
The New York Times and other major media have covered the broad strokes
of Governor Pete Wilson's biodiversity approach to saving species while
permitting development. Although the Los Angeles Times has done more
than other major media, scant attention has been paid to the individual
deals brokered under this scheme and the subsequent winners and losers.
"For instance, when the state took the unprecedented
step of turning over primary responsibility for protecting species on a Central
California wildlife preserve to an oil company, only the local media ran stories.
And few, if any, mentioned the fact that ARCO Corp. not only would act as game
warden but would be allowed to continue drilling for oil and gas on the preserve.
while a few outlets noted the agreement that allowed a truck manufacturer to build
a factory on the habitat of an imperiled hawk-focusing on the jobs created-none
reported the `cash for critters' component of the deal or the fact that the state
was allowing the hawk's home to be destroyed without a deadline for acquiring
"And the political machinations in the California
Fish and Game Department have received little coverage by the networks or papers."
feels that the public needs to know what is happening so that it can better judge
whether these deals truly will help preserve the fragile ecosystems while allowing
economic development. And he warns of the national implications of this effort.
"Given the fact that Babbitt has hailed this approach as a national model
and has applied it elsewhere, it's crucial that the public know the behind-the-scenes
politics of this concept-at least as practiced in California."
to Woody, one of the people benefiting from the limited coverage of this issue
is Pete Wilson. "As the (California) election year approaches, Pete Wilson
has been able to portray himself as a `green governor' who has helped solve some
of the more intractable environmental problems facing California. While his approach
is indeed innovative, Wilson also has been able to reward some of his top campaign
contributors and supporters-including Southern California developers, agribusiness,
and oil companies. These interests in turn can also assume the mantle of environmental
sensitivity without disclosing the economic and political benefits they reap."