CDFW assumes different roles and responsibilities in the CEQA process. CDFW is always a trustee agency when projects may affect fish, wildlife, or their habitats (CEQA Guidelines 15386(a)). CDFW may also assume the role of responsible or lead agency if CDFW is proposing one of its own projects or issuing a permit for a project with no other agency approvals (CEQA Guidelines 15050).
Trustee Agency Role
CDFW has jurisdiction over the conservation, protection, and management of wildlife, native plants, and habitat necessary to maintain biologically sustainable populations. As a trustee for these resources, CDFW provides the requisite biological expertise to review and comment upon environmental documents and impacts arising from project activities, as those terms are used in CEQA. (Fish and Game Code Section 1802).
CDFW is one of four trustee agencies. The others include the State Lands Commission, the Department of Parks and Recreation, and the University of California. As the trustee agency for fish and wildlife resources, CDFW must be notified when a CEQA project involves fish and wildlife of the state, rare, and endangered native plants, wildlife areas, and ecological reserves. Lead and responsible agencies are required to consult with the trustee agencies, however must limit their comments to those activities and impacts that fall within its area of expertise (15086(c)),
Lead Agency Role
A CEQA lead agency is the California government agency with principle responsibility for carrying out or approving a project, and therefore is principally responsible for preparing a CEQA document. The lead agency determines whether a negative declaration or environmental impact report (EIR) will be prepared (CEQA Statutes, Sections 21080.3 and 21104.2; Guidelines, Sections 15050 and 15367). CDFW functions as a lead agency when it proposes to carry out its own projects. These often include projects in state wildlife areas, state fish hatcheries, and habitat or stream restoration projects. Additionally, CDFW is the lead agency when it is the only agency issuing a permit or approval, as is sometimes the case with a Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreements or a California Endangered Species Act Incidental Take Permit.
Responsible Agency Role
A responsible agency is an agency other than the lead agency that has a legal responsibility for carrying out or approving a project. A responsible agency must actively participate in the lead agency's CEQA process, review the lead agency's CEQA document, and use that document when making a decision on the project. The responsible agency must rely on the lead agency's environmental document to prepare and issue its own findings regarding the project (CEQA Guidelines, Sections 15096 and 15381). CDFW takes on the role of a responsible agency when a lead agency’s decision will result in a project that is issued a permit by CDFW, such as a Lake or Streambed Alteration Agreement or California Endangered Species Act Incidental Take Permit. CDFW staff must rely on the environmental document prepared by the lead agency to make a finding and decide whether to issue an ITP.