Living up to its name

The Department of Fish and Wildlife needs to be aggressive in protecting Delta fisheries

No sooner had the California Department of Fish and Game officially changed its name on Jan. 1—to the Department of Fish and Wildlife—than it announced that six imperiled fish species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta were continuing their slide toward extinction.

The species include Delta smelt, a protected finger-size fish, and striped bass, an introduced species that is a popular sportfish. All six have steadily declined since 2002, with the single exception of 2011, when a wet winter improved their habitat. This year, the count was back at 2002 levels.

There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on as to the cause of the decline. The big agricultural and urban water agencies blame it on pollution, habitat losses and invasive species that eat native fish or displace their food. Conservationists, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, Indian tribes and family farmers say it’s because too much water is being diverted from the Delta and sent south.

The mission of the DF&W remains the same: “to manage California’s diverse fish, wildlife, and plant resources, and the habitats upon which they depend, for their ecological values and for their use and enjoyment by the public.” To fulfill its mission, however, the department will have to be much more aggressive in protecting fish and wildlife—including confronting other state and federal agencies whose policies have led to such environmental disasters as the collapse of the Delta fisheries.

Otherwise, as environmental writer Dan Bacher has stated, it might better be named the “California Department of Species Extinction.”