Watt using sportsmen as advisers?
Washington — Interior Secretary James G. Watt may be meeting secretly with several leaders of sportsmen's organizations, seeking their advice on matters that include national park issues.
The secretary has formed this special-interest group in violation of federal law, charges A. Destry Jarvis, director of federal activities for the National Parks and Conservation Association. (The association is a 63-year-old nonprofit public-service organization that seeks to protect the national parks.)
Mr. Jarvis says he has reliable information that the secretary twice last year invited 10 representatives of sportsmen's organizations to meet with him and with G. Ray Arnett, his assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, at the Department of the Interior. And last February, Mr. Watt wrote to the group, which is called the Secretary's Resource Roundtable, asking their advice concerning two environmentally controversial national park issues.
One of the issues reportedly discussed involved opening a wilderness area in Florida's Everglades National Park to hunters in airboats and for general recreation use. The other would allow the issuance of five-year special-use permits to individuals running ''squatter camps'' for hunters on public land within Florida's Big Cypress National Preserve.
A spokesman for Secretary Watt says that no record could be found of Mr. Watt's having invited a group of sportsmen's organization leaders to meet with him. Nor is there any evidence of such a group as the Resources Roundtable having been formed by the secretary, he adds.
''The secretary's actions violate the Advisory Committee Act by not giving public notice of the meetings and by seeking advice from a group that is not balanced in its representation,'' Jarvis says. ''And the secretary has ignored bringing these matters before his statutory National Park System Advisory Board, which met at Everglades a month after Watt had asked the sportsmen for advice on these issues,'' Jarvis adds.
The Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972 requires that committees organized by federal agencies in the interest of obtaining advice or recommendations must be either authorized by statute or agreed to by the President's Office of Management and Budget after timely notice in the Federal Register. The law requires such committees to be ''fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented'' and to be open to the public, with advance public notice of meetings.
Thomas L. Washington, executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs, whose members are largely sportsmen, confirms the existence of a group of 10 representatives from sportsmen's organizations, called the Secretary's Resource Roundtable, which had been asked by Watt to advise him and Mr. Arnett on resource matters.
''I went to Washington in July and September last year to meet with Secretary Watt and Ray Arnett at the Interior Department in a group the secretary had invited,'' Mr. Washington said in a telephone interview.
''At the second meeting, he added, we discussed wilderness things, the coyote poisoning situation, offshore drilling in California, Indian commercial fishing in the Great Lakes, and some political matters. The secretary indicated that from time to time he would be referring things to us for our advice.''
''In February I received a letter from the secretary enclosing a half-inch packet of materials on Big Cypress and Everglades and asking me to send my recommendation on two issues by the end of March,'' Washington said. ''Hunting camps in Big Cypress was one issue. The airboat trail in Everglades was the other.''
Washington said he sent his recommendations to Secretary Watt as requested but has not heard anything since.
Asked if the Resources Roundtable had a chairman, Washington said he presumed the secretary was the chairman, because he had personally called the people to the meetings.
Dr. Robin Winks, chairman of the secretary's National Park System Advisory Board, says he has heard only unofficially about such an group of sportsmen being asked for advice by the secretary on national park matters. Dr. Winks says that when he met with Watt last week on other matters, the secretary acknowledged only that a ''study group'' of resource-related people existed, but it definitely had not been asked for advice on issues relating to national park areas.
''While it might be appropriate to ask sportsmen's representatives for their advice on questions that relate to hunting, the Advisory Board objects to not being consulted on the Big Cypress hunting permits and the Everglades wilderness airboat trail issues and also not being notified that advice was being sought from another group on changing regulations or boundaries dealing with two units of the National Park system,'' Dr. Winks says.