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Black-tailed deer. (Photo: wildlife.ca.gov)

California’s Three Fish and Wildlife Entities: What’s the Difference?

Fish and Game Commission was the first wildlife conservation agency in the United States

By Chris Micheli, September 4, 2020 6:37 am

California has three fish and wildlife-related entities: Fish and Game Commission, and Department of Fish and Wildfire, and Wildlife Conservation Board. What’s the difference?

Fish and Game Commission

First, we need to consult the California Constitution. Article IV, Section 20 states that the Legislature may provide for the division of the State into fish and game districts. Section 20 also creates the Fish and Game Commission that is comprised of five members who are appointed by the Governor and approved by the State Senate. The members serve six-year terms. In addition, the Legislature may delegate to the Commission any powers relating to the protection and propagation of fish and game as the Legislature sees fit.

Fish and Game Code Division 1, Chapter 1 concerns the organization of the Commission. Section 101 provides there is in the Resources Agency the Fish and Game Commission that is created by Article IV, Section 20.

In addition, Public Resources Code Division 20, Chapter 5, Article 2, Section 30411 provides that the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Fish and Game Commission are the principal state agencies responsible for the establishment and control of wildlife and fishery management programs.

According to the Fish and Game Commission, it was the first wildlife conservation agency in the United States. In 1870, the Board of Fish Commissioners, the forerunner of the modern-day Fish and Game Commission was established to provide for the restoration and preservation of fish in California waters. In 1909, the Board was changed to the Fish and Game Commission.

The Commission notes that “there is often confusion about the distinction between the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Fish and Game Commission. In the most basic terms, the Department of Fish and Wildlife is charged with implementing and enforcing the regulations set by the Fish and Game Commission, as well as providing biological data and expertise to inform the Commission’s decision-making process.”

The Commission has been provided numerous powers found in the Fish and Game Code. In addition, the Commission has regulations in Title 14, Natural Resources, of the California Code of Regulations. As a result, the Commission has a wide range of responsibilities.

Department of Fish and Wildlife

Fish and Game Code Division 2, Chapter 1, Article 1, Section 700 provides that there is in the Natural Resources Agency a Department of Fish and Wildlife that is administered through the director. The Department succeeds to and is vested in the powers and responsibilities of the prior Department of Fish and Game.

Public Resources Code Division 20, Chapter 5, Article 2, Section 30411 provides that the Department and the Commission are the principal state agencies responsible for the establishment and control of wildlife and fishery management programs and the Commission cannot establish or impose any controls with respect thereto that duplicate or exceed regulatory controls established by these agencies pursuant to specific statutory requirements or authorization.

According to the Department, its mission is 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.”

Wildlife Conservation Board

Fish and Game Code Division 2, Chapter 4, Article 2, Section 1320 provides there is in the Department the Wildlife Conservation Board, which consists of the president of the Commission, the Director of Finance, and four public members. These public members are appointed by the Assembly Speaker and Senate Rules Committee (one each), as well as two appointed by the Governor. Their terms of office are four years.

The public member must have demonstrated interest and expertise in land acquisition for conservation purposes. The Board was created in 1947 to administer a capital outlay program for wildlife conservation and related public recreation. The WCB is a separate and independent board with authority and funding to carry out an acquisition and development program for wildlife conservation. WCB’s three main functions are land acquisition, habitat restoration and development of wildlife oriented public access facilities, which are carried out through its programs.

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