Ten major wildlife and conservation organizations have called on President Reagan to drop plans to nominate as director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service a California veterinarian they call singularly unqualified for the job.
Dr. Normal C. Roberts, a long-time Reagan political supporter from San Diego, stirred a tempest among the professional groups after a get-acquainted meeting, set up by the White House, during which he told them he once attempted to cut the ovaries from a male cat.
As Roberts outlined them in what he said yesterday were intended to be "tongue in cheek" remarks, other high points of his career inlcuded finishing in the top four-fifths of his high school graduating class, pursuing a veterinary line that specialized in vaccinating and castrating hogs because anything more complicated led to "utter confusion," and furnishing the garden from which Reagan announced his candidacy for governor of California in 1965.
Roberts said yesterday that his remarks were not intended to be a statement of his abilities or his philosophy, but the comments angered many wildlife organization representatives at the meeting.
In their letter, the groups said that Roberts failed to meet the statutory requirement that the director of fish and wildlife have both education and management experience in the field.
The letter was sent after the American Fisheries Society and the Wildlife Society examined Roberts' background and found, among other things, that while his resume indicates he majored in zoology at San Diego State University in 1939 and 1940, the record showed that he took only a botany course.
Roberts emerged last month as the leading candidate for the Department of Interior position, which requires Senate ocnfirmation, even though Interior Secretary James G. Watt apparently had made another choice for the job. After interviews with various candidates, Watt had decided that Robert A. Jantzen, a professional fish and game official from Arizona, was the best qualified.
Interior's early personnel rosters list Jantzen as director-designate of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
But according to sources, after Watt made his selection the White House decided it had a more deserving candidate -- Roberts, who was Reagan's presidential campaign chairman in San Diego in 1976 and 1980 and a major financial donor.
At last week's meeting assistant interior secretary G. Ray Arnett, also a California Reaganite, introduced Roberts as "one of the first to come to the forefront when Roanld Reagan was hardly even known. . . . Now that may not impress some of you Democrats, but it impresses the hell out of me."
Roberts then took the floor and gave a lengthy description of his professional past -- a description that left most in attendance "stunned" or "angry," in the words of several who attended.
According to a transcript of his remarks, Roberts told the group he did not intend to make policy at the Fish and Wildlife Service. Reagan, Watt and Arnett, he said, would do that. "My function, when confirmed, will be to manage the organization. The policy will be dictated by them," he said.
He described in detail his early veterinary experiences, which included mistaking a male cat for a female and operating to remove its nonexistent ovaries.
He gave up veterinary work in 1958 and has worked since then as a financial analyst and investment counselor. Roberts said yesterday that the criticism has not diminished his interest in the fish and wildlife job. White House officials had no comment on the Roberts case yesterday.
Among the groups protesting his nomination to head the Fish and Wildlife Service are the American Forestry Association, the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, the Izaak Walton League of America, the National Wildlife Federation, the Society of American Foresters and the Sport Fishing Institute.