Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — After six decades as the California Department of Fish and Game, the agency in charge of the state's wild animals has a new name — one that has many hunting and fishing organizations leery.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation recently replacing "Game" with "Wildlife," in a nod to environmentalists and animal-rights activists. Sporting groups fear the legislation signals a change in the department's traditional focus.
"Generally, that means a shift toward butterflies, endangered species and other stuff like that," said Mike Faw, spokesman for the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, an Ohio-based advocacy group that has seen similar efforts in other states.
Once the name change takes effect Jan. 1, only 12 other states will use the word "game" in the names of their wildlife agencies.
The name change grew out of a two-year effort to develop a strategic vision for the department. Hunting and fishing organizations say they didn't feel they were adequately represented during the department's makeover, which supporters say better reflects California's changing political and demographic landscape.
"We were outnumbered, there's no question about it," said Bill Gaines, president of the California Outdoor Heritage Alliance.
His organization was one of four representing hunters on the department's 51-member "stakeholder advisory group." Another six organizations represented recreational and commercial fishermen.
The name change "was far from a consensus, I can tell you that," Gaines said. "I think that what the proponents wanted to do was send a signal that we're changing the foundation of the Department of Fish and Game — and that's hunting and fishing."
Brown signed the name-change bill last week as he also approved a California ban on the centuries-old practice of using hounds to hunt bears and bobcats. It was a double blow for Josh Brones, president of California Houndsmen for Conservation.
"There's less of an appreciation for a rural way of life," Brones said. "We're moving more from rural to urban and from conservative to liberal."
Money from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses has generated hundreds of millions of dollars for the department over the decades and has gone to land purchases, species rehabilitation, habitat restoration and other programs.
Department spokesman Mike Taugher said the name change came from the Legislature, not his agency. Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who included the name change in AB2402, said it came from the department's advisory groups.
Both said the name change will not imperil hunting and fishing, even as expectations for the department's mission have grown to include habitat conservation and protecting endangered species.
"This department's been around under the same brand for over 100 years," Huffman said. "The resources of the department have not kept pace with its mission, which has become very broad. The trend not just in California but in the United States has been away from managing only for hunting and fishing, and managing broadly in a way that includes hunting and fishing."
The bill also beefs up the department's law enforcement role and its use of science to guide policies that will be designed to protect entire ecosystems instead of individual species. It also allows it to increase and broaden its collection of fees beyond the money raised through hunting and fishing licenses.
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