Category Archives: Endangered Species

Joint Release of Federal Recovery Plan for Salmon and Steelhead and Conservation Strategy for California’s Ecosystem Restoration Program

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SACRAMENO, Calif. – NOAA Fisheries and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) today jointly released two plans to restore populations of salmon and steelhead in California’s Central Valley: NOAA Fisheries’ Chinook Salmon and Steelhead Recovery Plan and CDFW’s Ecosystem Restoration Program (ERP) Conservation Strategy.

The two plans are complementary in that CDFW’s conservation strategy presents a broader framework for restoring aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems throughout the Central Valley, while the federal recovery plan focuses on the recovery of endangered Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, threatened Central Valley spring-run Chinook salmon, and threatened Central Valley steelhead.

A shared goal of both plans is to remove these species from federal and state lists of endangered and threatened species. The recovery plan provides a detailed road map for how to reach that goal. It lays out a science-based strategy for recovery and identifies the actions necessary to restore healthy salmon and steelhead populations to the Central Valley.

“Establishing clear priority watersheds, fish populations and actions is essential to achieve recovery,” said Maria Rea, NOAA Fisheries Assistant Regional Administrator for California’s Central Valley Office. “Implementation of this plan will depend on many parties working collaboratively to pool resources, expertise and programs to recover Chinook salmon and steelhead populations that are part of California’s natural heritage.“

Recovery plans required by the Endangered Species Act are guidance documents, not regulatory requirements, and their implementation depends on the voluntary cooperation of multiple stakeholders at the local, regional, state and national levels.

“The Sacramento Valley joins together a world-renowned mosaic of natural abundance: productive farmlands, meandering rivers that provide habitat and feed salmon and steelhead, wildlife refuges and managed wetlands, and cities and rural communities,” said David Guy, President of the Northern California Water Association. “The recovery plan is a positive step forward–through efficient management of the region’s water resources, water suppliers throughout the Sacramento Valley will continue to work with our conservation partners to help implement the recovery plan and improve ecological conditions in the Sacramento River for multiple species and habitat values.”

The ERP conservation strategy was developed by CDFW collaboratively with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries to help guide environmental restoration and establish adaptive management to improve restoration success in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and its watershed. The approach of conservation strategy is to restore or mimic ecological processes and to improve aquatic and terrestrial habitats to support stable, self-sustaining populations of diverse and valuable species.

“It is critical we make strategic investments in our natural resources,” said Charlton H. Bonham, Director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “The funding of these high-priority restoration projects is not only an example of the coordinated effort between state and federal governments, but an example of California’s continued efforts to minimize the effects of drought on fish and wildlife. Central Valley salmon and steelhead deserve nothing less.

California Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr.’s 2014-15 budget provided CDFW with $38 million to implement enhanced salmon monitoring, restore sensitive habitat, improve water infrastructure for wildlife refuges, expand the fisheries restoration grant program, and remove barriers for fish passage. Some of that money will be used on projects recommended by the federal recovery plan.

Dick Pool of the Golden Gate Salmon Association said, “We thank and congratulate the scientists of NOAA Fisheries for their outstanding work in developing the Central Valley Recovery Plan. GGSA and the salmon industry particularly appreciate the fact that the plan includes both short range and long range actions that can reverse the serious salmon and steelhead population declines. GGSA has identified a number of the same projects as needing priority action. We also commend the agency for its diligent efforts to engage the other fishery agencies, the water agencies and the salmon stakeholders in the process. We look forward to assisting in finding ways to get the critical projects implemented.”

The federal recovery plan and state conservation strategy work together as a blueprint of how at-risk species can be restored to sustainable levels.Restoring healthy, viable salmon and steelhead runs will preserve and enhance the commercial, recreational and cultural opportunities for future generations. As the fish populations grow and recover, so too will the economic benefits and long-term fishing opportunities for everyone.

“The Recovery Plan provides a clear framework to better coordinate and align restoration projects in the Delta, the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries to achieve greater conservation outcomes,” said Jay Ziegler, Director of External Affairs and Policy for The Nature Conservancy. “We are pleased to see the integration of multiple habitat values in the Plan including the importance of expanding lateral river movements to enhance floodplain habitat and recognition of the importance of variable flow regimes to benefit multiple species.”

The development of a recovery plan is an important part in the successful rebuilding of a species because it incorporates information from a multitude of interested parties including scientific researchers, stakeholders and the general public. Since 2007, NOAA Fisheries has held 14 public workshops, produced a draft for public comment, and met with strategic stakeholders to guide the plan’s development and ensure a comprehensive and useful document.

CDFW will be investing considerable resources in improving water conservation on public wildlife refuges in the Central Valley and protecting important salmon stocks that contribute to the state’s fishery. The department has also recently released a restoration grant solicitation which includes salmon and steelhead watersheds in the Central Valley. The solicitation can be found here. Applications are being accepted until August 12, 2014.

More on the NOAA Fisheries Recovery Plan and the CDFW Ecosystem Restoration Program

Contact:
Jim Milbury, NOAA Fisheries Communications, (562) 980-4006
Clark Blanchard, CDFW Communications, (916) 651-7824

Yolo County Jury Convicts Sturgeon Poachers

A Yolo County jury convicted a repeat sturgeon poacher and his accomplice of multiple felonies and poaching charges stemming from a 2010 poaching investigation. They were convicted June 19, with sentencing scheduled for Aug. 1.

In Feb. 2010, Nikolay Krasnodemskiy, 41, of North Highlands, and his partner Petr Dyachishin, 54, of Citrus Heights, were observed catching and retaining oversized sturgeon and processing their eggs into caviar. An extensive investigation conducted by California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) officers from the Delta Bay Enhanced Enforcement Project and the Special Operations Unit proved the two were selling the sturgeon and their eggs on the black market for personal profit. Sale of sturgeon, their parts, or any fish caught with a recreational fishing license is illegal.

Krasnodemskiy and Dyachishin were each convicted of two felonies related to conspiracy, in addition to multiple counts of commercial sales of sturgeon, possession of oversized sturgeon, failure to tag sturgeon and possession of sturgeon over the annual limit.

California’s sturgeon population is on the edge of sustaining a recreational fishery. As a result, sturgeon anglers must adhere to strict size, limit and tagging requirements to help wildlife officers distinguish between honest anglers and poachers, and to help CDFW biologists maintain adequate scientific data on the fishery and protect the larger breeding adults.

“Taking these poachers out of business will help ensure a healthy sturgeon population into the future,” said CDFW Captain David Bess, who participated in the investigation.

Nikolay Krasnodemskiy was the subject of multiple sturgeon poaching investigations including Operation Delta Beluga II in 2005, which culminated in a conviction and revocation of his fishing license. Soon after his fishing license was reinstated in 2009, he became the subject of another sturgeon poaching investigation. By Feb. 2010, wildlife officers had observed him continue his sturgeon poaching activities, including commercial sales.

Wildlife officers will seek a permanent revocation of Krasnodemskiy’s fishing license and forfeiture of all fishing gear seized during the investigation.

CDFW appreciates legitimate sturgeon anglers for their patience with sturgeon tagging and recordkeeping requirements, which were integral to making the case as well as the long-term management of the sturgeon fishery. CDFW also thanks the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office for their dedication and successful prosecution of the case.

Media Contact:
Lt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement, (916) 508-7095

California Fish and Game Commission Votes to Add Gray Wolf to State Endangered List

Media Contacts:
Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 201-2958

The California Fish and Game Commission has voted to move forward with listing the gray wolf as an endangered species under California law.

The vote took place at the regularly scheduled Commission meeting in Fortuna on June 4. Commissioners Richard Rogers, Jack Baylis and Michael Sutton voted for listing, while Commissioner Jacque Hostler-Carmesin voted no. Commissioner Jim Kellogg was not present.

“No land animal is more iconic in the American West than the Gray Wolf,” said Sutton, who is also president of the Commission. “Wolves deserve our protection as they begin to disperse from Oregon to their historic range in California.”

The new regulatory language will take several months to complete and approve. However, today’s decision provides permanent protection for the gray wolf, and immediate protection under the California Endangered Species Act. That protection will remain in place throughout the required regulatory process.

The gray wolf is already federally listed as an endangered species and is therefore protected by the federal Endangered Species Act in California. The federal Endangered Species Act makes it unlawful to take any listed wildlife unless permitted by regulation. The term “take” means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, collect or attempt to engage in any such conduct. The protection provided under federal law overlaps, but does not supersede, protection provided by listing under California law.

At this time, there are no gray wolves known to be in California. A male wolf that originated in northeastern Oregon – known as OR7 – has crossed the Oregon/California state line several times since December 2011. At this time, OR7 is in southwestern Oregon, where he has found a mate. On Monday, June 2, biologists from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife captured photographs of two wolf pups in the vicinity.

For more information about gray wolves, including OR7’s travels in California, please visit www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/nongame/wolf/FAQ.html.

 

Recognizing California’s Heroes in a Half-Shell: Our Resident Turtles and Tortoises

A pond turtle with a small transmitter on its back, in someone's hand
Head-started western pond turtle with radio-transmitter at Sycuan Peak Ecological Reserve. Laura Patterson photo
a desert tortoise blends in with rocky ground
Threatened desert tortoise. Laura Patterson photo

Today is World Turtle Day, created to celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) takes this opportunity to remind people that all our native wildlife have their own intrinsic value, even the species that seldom make headlines.

“Oftentimes reptiles like turtles and tortoises don’t get as much attention in the media as their furry and feathery counterparts do, but aside from their intrinsic value, they play a critical role in ecosystem health by their position in the food web,” said Laura Patterson, CDFW statewide coordinator for amphibian and reptile conservation.

Pond turtles, for example, eat aquatic invertebrates and vegetation. In turn, they and their eggs are eaten by raccoons, coyotes and skunks. Hatchlings are eaten by bullfrogs, largemouth bass and large birds such as herons and egrets. A lucky pond turtle can live 70 years in the wild.

The western pond turtle, a Species of Special Concern found primarily west of Sierra-Cascade crest, is California’s only native freshwater turtle species. Once widespread in California, Oregon and Washington, they are now especially uncommon in Southern California due to habitat loss resulting from development and water diversion for urban and agricultural uses. Their populations have also been decimated by invasive, non-native predators like bullfrogs and largemouth bass that devour the tiny hatchling turtles. The introduction of non-native, aggressive “dime store turtles” such as red-eared sliders may also contribute to the western pond turtles’ decline because they occupy similar ecological niches, but the red-eared sliders get much bigger and produce many more offspring, making them superior competitors for limited habitat and food resources.

Many non-native species of turtles are imported and sold as pets when they are very small. When they grow larger, they require a lot more space, they can lose their attractive coloration, and they can become aggressive, leading some people to set them free, assuming they will be fine in the wild. Many die, but enough survive to establish wild populations here that now compete with our native pond turtles.

For that reason, if you have a fishing license, there is no bag or possession limit for the legal take of any subspecies of pond slider (red-eared, yellow-bellied and Cumberland sliders), painted or spiny soft-shelled turtles, all of which are non-native.

Most western pond turtles travel a long distance (546 yards) to upland habitat to lay eggs and even farther sometimes to overwinter. People may encounter turtles during these travels and think they are lost or sick, since they are quite some distance from water. CDFW receives many phone calls from well-meaning people who report that they have found and collected what they believe to be a sick turtle, when in reality the turtle was traveling to upland habitat. People must understand that these turtles do travel away from water during a portion of their life cycle and should be left alone.

It is illegal to capture, collect, intentionally kill or injure, possess, purchase, propagate, sell, transport, import or export any native reptile or amphibian, or part of one, with very few exceptions in the law. That includes western pond turtles and desert tortoises. (California Code of Regulations Title 14, Section 40)

The desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), California’s only native tortoise, is listed as threatened under both state and federal Endangered Species Acts. It is the California state reptile. As with most endangered species, habitat loss and degradation has led to their decline. In addition, desert tortoise populations have been severely impacted by Upper Respiratory Disease Syndrome, which is contracted through contact with people. The best thing you can do to help conserve our desert tortoises is leave them alone, unless you see one trying to cross a road. In that case, you can help by gently moving it to the side of the road in the direction it was going. As with our native pond turtles, don’t ever remove a tortoise from the wild, and never release one that has been a “pet” into the wild. It also helps to dispose of all trash in appropriate receptacles because if left lying around, it attracts animals that eat small tortoises and turtles. A desert tortoise can live to 150 years.

There are also four species of sea turtle that spend at least part of each year in our waters: Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), Loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), Olive (Pacific) Ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), and the Leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). They are all listed as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. In October 2012, the leatherback was designated the official state marine reptile and given its own special day last October 15.

Last year CDFW biologists worked with U.S. Geological Survey, the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Association of Governments to reintroduce western pond turtles to Sycuan Peak Ecological Reserve. A video is posted at www.youtube.com/watch?v=VEShMdU4L2E.

To learn more about California’s turtles and tortoises, visit www.californiaherps.com/.

Media Contacts:
Laura Patterson, CDFW Wildlife Branch, (916) 341-6981
Dana Michaels, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-2420

Endangered Species Day, a Time to Reflect

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) notes Endangered

a flock of sandhill cranes feeding in wetland, all colored a pinkish-coral by sunrise
Greater sandhill cranes in central California. Bob Burkett photo

Species Day with both optimism and concern. This is the ninth year this special day has been recognized around the world with related workshops, restoration projects, exhibits and even a festival at the U.S. Botanic Garden in our nation’s capitol.

It is important to notice and take preventive action when a plant or animal species’ population has declined so much that extinction in the foreseeable future is possible. As the great naturalist John Muir said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

“It’s easy to think nobody will miss one kind of bug or fish,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “But every living thing is either a predator or prey that feeds another. We might not miss mosquitos, but the bats that eat them by the thousands certainly would.”

California was one of the first states to enact statutes protecting rare and endangered animal species (in 1970 – the year of the first Earth Day) and remains a world leader in environmental protection. In 1984 the State Legislature consolidated and expanded the 1970 laws, creating the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). CESA was written to parallel the federal Endangered Species Act, and made CDFW the lead state agency to implement it. The statute is in Chapter 1.5, section 2050 of the Fish and Game Code.

CESA makes it illegal to import, export, “take,” possess, purchase, sell or attempt to do any of those actions to species that are designated as threatened or endangered or are candidates for listing, unless permitted by CDFW. “Take” is defined as “hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill, or attempt to hunt, pursue, catch, capture or kill.” There are 156 species, subspecies and varieties of plants and 80 species of animals that are protected as threatened or endangered under CESA.

Under CESA, CDFW may permit the take or possession of threatened, endangered or candidate species for scientific, educational or management purposes, and may also permit take of these species that is incidental to otherwise lawful activities if certain conditions are met. Some of the conditions for incidental take are that the take is minimized and fully mitigated, adequate funding is ensured for this mitigation and the activity will not jeopardize the continued existence of the species.

Endangered species lists and related information –including the full text of CESA – can be accessed online at www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/nongame/t_e_spp/.

Media Contact:
Dana Michaels, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-2420

CDFW and NOAA Fisheries Introduce Voluntary Drought Initiative to Protect Salmon and Steelhead

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The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries announced a Voluntary Drought Initiative today designed to protect populations of salmon and steelhead from the effects of the current unprecedented drought.

“This is one of many measures we’re attempting to get us through this extreme drought and keep enough water in the state’s rivers and streams to protect our fish resources,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “I am thankful that water users and landowners came to our agencies with ideas about working together in northern California, which allowed us to take this immediate, voluntary action during this important spawning time and improve regulatory certainty for rural communities.”

The initiative provides a framework for water users to enter into individual agreements with the two agencies in an effort to maintain enough water for fish spawning in specific high priority streams, and implement other collaborative actions like fish rescue, relocation, monitoring and habitat restoration. The geographic focus includes some Sacramento River tributaries (Antelope, Deer and Mill creeks) and the Russian, Shasta and Scott rivers. In return, landowners and water users will benefit from greater regulatory certainty under the federal and state endangered species laws, and may receive incidental take authorizations for California Endangered Species Act (CESA)-listed fish in case a participant unintentionally takes listed fish species while withdrawing water.

Archie “Red” Emmerson, owner of Sierra Pacific Industries and the largest private landowner in California, was among the first to participate in the voluntary program. “This is one of the toughest water years in recent memory for people, cattle and fish,” Emmerson said. “We have learned a great deal about salmon spawning and rearing on our properties. This year we are volunteering to keep additional cold water in the creek to help salmon. We hope working with the fish agencies will give the salmon a better chance to survive this difficult drought.”

This is a temporary, voluntary initiative that is only being implemented during federal and state drought declarations or designations, with the goal of supporting agricultural activities while protecting the survival and recovery of federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) and CESA-listed salmon and steelhead during this crucial time in their life cycle.

“This initiative is a great example of how to we can respond, in a meaningful way, to the ill effects of a drought” said NOAA Fisheries West Coast Regional Administrator William Stelle, Jr. “Instead of fighting over scarce water supplies and possible regulatory violations, we are building partnerships with landowners and water users who value the salmon resources of California. The voluntary salmon protections coming out of these partnerships are significant.”

NOAA Fisheries and CDFW are aware that the State Water Resources Control Board is currently considering curtailing water rights to respond to current drought conditions. This Voluntary Drought Initiative, under the ESA and CESA, is limited to those authorities and responsibilities of NOAA Fisheries and CDFW. However NOAA Fisheries and CDFW are coordinating closely with the State Water Board. While this initiative is separate from the Board’s authorities and independent actions that it may pursue related to the drought, including emergency curtailments, NOAA Fisheries and CDFW intend to support any local cooperative solution formalized through an executed voluntary agreement before the State Water Board as an alternative to mandatory curtailments.

A description of the fish agencies’ Voluntary Drought Initiative can be found at www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/protected_species/salmon_steelhead/voluntary_drought_initiative.html.

Today, NOAA Fisheries and CDFW are also announcing the execution of the first set of voluntary agreements with key landowners in the Scott and Shasta river watersheds covering land access for fish rescue and providing critical flows to maintain suitable habitat. For copies of those agreements, please continue to check www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/protected_species/salmon_steelhead/voluntary_drought_initiative.html which will be updated as agreements are available.

Governor Brown has called on all Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent and prevent water waste – visit saveourH2O.org to find out how everyone can do their part, and visit drought.ca.gov to learn more about how California is dealing with the effects of the drought.

MOUs:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife Shasta River and Parks Creek MOU (Emmerson)

California Department of Fish and Wildlife Antelope Creek MOU (Edwards Ranch)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Antelope Creek MOU (Los Molinos Mutual Water Company)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Mill Creek MOU (Los Molinos Mutual Water Company)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Mill Creek MOU (Nobmann Cattle LLC)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Mill Creek MOU (Peyton Pacific Properties)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Mill Creek MOU (The Nature Conservancy)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Scott River MOU (Murphy Family Trust)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Scott River MOU (Michigan Cal)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Scott River MOU (Barnes)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Scott River MOU (Gazzarino)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Scott River MOU (J. Fowle)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Scott River MOU (J. Spencer)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Scott River MOU (Morris)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Scott River MOU (Scott River Ranch)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Scott River MOU (Tobias Ranch)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Scott River MOU (K. Whipple)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Scott River MOU (Stapleton)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Deer Creek MOU (Deer Creek Irrigation District)
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Deer Creek MOU (Grant Leininger)

Media Contacts:
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937
Jim Milbury, NOAA Fisheries Communications, (562) 980-4006

Anglers Urged to Return Overdue 2013 Sturgeon Fishing Report Cards

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is reminding sturgeon anglers to return their 2013 Sturgeon Fishing Report Cards, as required by law. Although the deadline to report their catch was Jan. 31, so far only about 8,000 (or 15 percent) of the 55,000 report cards sold have been returned. The sport fishing regulations require that all sturgeon anglers return their Report Cards, even the sturgeon anglers who did not encounter sturgeon and who did not fish for white sturgeon.

Without the necessary data gleaned from the returned report cards, CDFW’s scientific understanding of the two sturgeon populations is incomplete. This makes it harder for scientists to recognize overfishing of the diminished white sturgeon population and to document accidental catch of the threatened green sturgeon. In this case, addressing the uncertainty could mean new harvest restrictions.

“Anglers who do not return report cards are complicating efforts to protect the fishery and rebuild both sturgeon populations,” said Marty Gingras, CDFW Sturgeon Taskforce member. “We’re asking anglers to send the information to us now, even though the deadline has passed. In this case, it’s truly better late than never.”

California’s white sturgeon and green sturgeon populations were substantially reduced by commercial fishing in the 19th century and the recreational and commercial sturgeon fisheries were (with minor exceptions) closed from 1901 through 1953. Only recreational fishing for sturgeon has been allowed since 1954, and that fishery has become increasingly restricted over time in an effort to rebuild the populations and protect the fishery. Without accurate reporting of the catch, additional sturgeon fishing restrictions may go into effect in the future.

In hopes that substantially more report cards will be submitted and to avoid possible duplication of effort, CDFW staff will postpone analysis of 2013 report card data. Anglers can use the CDFW website to login and report at www.ca.wildlifelicense.com/InternetSales/CustomerSearch/Begin, or can return the cards by mail to the address printed on the card.

Recreational fishermen may harvest white sturgeon between 40” and 60” and are required to purchase and return their report cards. Green sturgeon is a federally threatened species and may not be harvested under any circumstances.

White and green sturgeon are anadromous, meaning they move from the salt and brackish water to freshwater to spawn. They are both native California species and can live to be more than 100 years old.

Media Contact:
Marty Gingras, CDFW Sturgeon Program Manager, (209) 234-3486

Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8944

There’s Still Time to Help Endangered Species on Your Tax Return!

Media Contacts:
Laird  Henkel, Sea Otter Program, (831) 469-1726
Esther Burkett, Nongame Wildlife Program, (916) 531-1594
Dana Michaels, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-2420

a sea otter in greenish waters off California
Sea otter in California waters. CDFW photo
red fox pounces on something beneath the snow
Sierra Nevada red fox, in Sonora County. CDFW photo
bright orange, trumpet-shaped flowers on a green-stemmed shrub
Large-flowered fiddleneck. Susan Cochrane/CDFW photo
A California condor spreads its wings while standing atop a post
California condor at Pinnacles National Monument. Carie Battistone/CDFW photo
Desert tortoise on dry, rocky desert floor
Desert tortoise in southern California. Rebecca Barboza/CDFW photo
two yellow-legged frogs at the edge of a bubbling stream
Mountain yellow-legged frogs. CDFW photo
a flock of sandhill cranes feeding in wetland, all colored a pinkish-coral by sunrise
Greater sandhill cranes in central California. Bob Burkett photo
yellow flower on green stalk with green leaves on sandy Lake Tahoe beach
Tahoe Yellow Cress. © Aaron E. Sims and CNPS

A popular 1970s bumper sticker said, “Support wildlife…Throw a party!” Now you can support wildlife and throw a party. Just make a voluntary contribution on your California income tax return!  The April 15 due date for income tax returns is nearing, but if you haven’t filed yours yet, it’s not too late to use it to help wildlife.

By donating any whole dollar amount to the California Sea Otter Fund on line 410 of your tax return, you will help pay for research by scientists at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). They are studying premature deaths within our sea otter population and finding that there are many contributing factors, some of which are man-made. With enough funding, they should be able to determine the primary causes, then work to develop solutions that will allow the sea otter population to grow at the rate it should.

Another 80 species of animals and more than 200 plants are listed by the state as rare, threatened or endangered. Donations to the Rare and Endangered Species Preservation Fund on line 403 of your income tax form pay for essential CDFW research and recovery efforts for these plants and animals, and critical efforts to restore and conserve their habitat.

“We work with other organizations, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, UC and Cal State Universities, California’s state and national parks, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Forest Service, and many other organizations to stretch the donations as far as we can,” said CDFW Wildlife Biologist Esther Burkett. “In the Rare and Endangered Species Programs, we’ve leveraged those donations to receive federal matching funds so we can do even more for wildlife.”

If someone else prepares your state tax return, please tell him or her you want to contribute to the California Sea Otter Fund on line 410 and/or the Rare and Endangered Species Protection Program on line 403. If you use Turbo Tax, when you’re near the end of your tax return it should ask if you want to make a voluntary contribution to a special fund. Click “Yes” and go to lines 403 and 410.

These funds consist entirely of voluntary contributions from California taxpayers. There are no other dedicated state funding sources available for this important work. Please visit the website at www.dfg.ca.gov/taxcheck and Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SeaOtterFundCDFW for more information.

Warm Springs Hatchery Begins Spawning Operation for Russian River Steelhead

Ninety-six Russian River steelhead were spawned Feb. 20 at Warm Springs Hatchery, marking a strong but late start for the hatchery’s annual steelhead spawning operation.

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The Russian River and its tributaries comprise one of the most significant steelhead populations in the Central Coast area of California. The Russian River watershed also provides important habitat for endangered Coho and Chinook salmon. Although steelhead normally begin entering the river with the first heavy rains in the fall and can be found throughout the river and its tributaries through April, this year little rain fell from November through the first week in February, creating extremely low river conditions and few opportunities for steelhead to move into and up the river system.

Low water conditions in January also allowed the naturally occurring sandbar to form at the mouth of the river, blocking the migration of steelhead.

“Once the first rains hit in February, the sandbar blocking the mouth of the river washed out, allowing the steelhead to move in from the ocean into the river system,” said Brett Wilson, Senior Hatchery Supervisor for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). “Based on what we are seeing right now, we should be able to meet our goal of taking enough eggs to rear a half million young steelhead for release into the Russian River.”

Emergency regulations that went into effect Feb. 19 closed most of the Russian River to fishing, adding extra protection for migrating steelhead and salmon.

March is an excellent time to visit the hatchery and view the steelhead moving through the concrete fish ladder into the restored stream habitat leading to the hatchery. A visitor viewing area also provides excellent photographic opportunity.

“The new restoration stream habitat just outside the hatchery intake gives visitors a chance to see steelhead up close and in native type of habitat,” Wilson said.

Warm Springs Hatchery is the end of a lengthy migration for the hatchery produced steelhead. From the Pacific Ocean, they enter the Russian River at Jenner and travel 40 miles upriver to Dry Creek near Healdsburg before following the stream 14 more miles west to the hatchery. Steelhead are also spawned at Coyote Valley Fish Facility on the East Fork of the Russian below Lake Mendocino.

The steelhead are generally held captive one week before the eggs are artificially taken. Spawning is open to the public and occurs throughout the entire season on most Thursdays at 10:30 a.m. The steelhead eggs spawned at the Hatchery and the Coyote Valley Fish Facility are incubated, hatched and reared at the hatchery for one year before they are released back into the Russian River to begin their migration to the sea.

Warm Springs Hatchery is located just below Warm Springs Dam on Lake Sonoma, approximately 14 miles above the confluence of Dry Creek with the Russian River at an elevation of 322 feet. The hatchery began operation in 1980 and is designed to produce a maximum of 161,300 pounds of salmonid fish annually. Although the hatchery is owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), it is operated by CDFW. CDFW also operates the Coyote Valley Fish Facility for trapping and spawning adult steelhead and imprinting steelhead destined for release in the Russian River. The Coyote Valley Fish Facility is located upstream on the east branch of the Russian River near the town of Ukiah.

Warm Springs Hatchery is a mitigation hatchery that produces steelhead to enhance the river’s natural steelhead population required due to the loss of natural spawning and rearing habitat associated with the construction of the Warm Springs and Coyote Valley dams. The mitigating agency is the USACE. The Warm Springs Hatchery is also home to the Coho Salmon Broodstock Program, which produces coho for release to 21 tributaries of the Russian River as part of a multi-agency recovery effort for this endangered species.

Media Contact:
Brett Wilson, Senior Hatchery Supervisor, (707) 433-6325
Harry Morse, CDFW Communications, (916) 323-1478

Steelhead swimming upstream to Warm Springs Hatchery
Steelhead swimming upstream to Warm Springs Hatchery

Volunteers Needed for Bighorn Sheep Survey

Three agencies working to survey bighorn sheep in the San Gabriel Mountains are seeking volunteers to assist in the annual sheep count.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), and the Society for Conservation of Bighorn Sheep are seeking individuals to assist biologists March 1-2, 2014 (Saturday evening and all day Sunday).

No survey experience is necessary to participate but volunteers must attend a mandatory orientation on Saturday, March 1 at 6 p.m. at the Angeles National Forest Supervisor’s Office in Arcadia.

Volunteers will hike to designated observation sites in the San Gabriel Mountains early Sunday morning to count and record bighorn sheep. Volunteer groups will be led by a representative from either CDFW, USFS or the Society. Participants must be at least 16 years old and capable of hiking one mile in rugged terrain, although some survey routes are longer. In general, hikes will not be along trails and accessing survey points will involve scrambling over boulders, climbing up steep slopes and/or bush-whacking through chaparral.

Volunteers are encouraged to bring binoculars or spotting scopes in addition to hiking gear. Mountain weather can be unpredictable and participants should be prepared to spend several hours hiking and additional time making observations in cold and windy weather. Volunteers will need to start hiking early Sunday morning.

For volunteers who wish to camp, complimentary campsites will be available on a first-come, first-served basis at the Applewhite Campground in Lytle Creek on the night of March 1, 2014.

Surveys for bighorn sheep in the San Gabriel range have been conducted annually since 1979. The mountain range once held an estimated 740 sheep, which made the San Gabriel population the largest population of desert bighorn sheep in California. The bighorn population declined more than 80 percent through the 1980s but appears to be on the increase with recent estimates yielding approximately 400 animals.

Please sign up online at http://www.sangabrielbighorn.org/San_Gabriel_Bighorn_Sheep_Home.html . If you do not have access to the internet, you may call either (909) 627-1613 or (909) 584-9012 to receive a volunteer packet.

Media Contacts:
Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8944
John Miller, USFS Communications, (909) 382-2788
Norm Lopez, Society for Conservation (805) 431-2824

A bighorn sheep ram on a hill overlooking desert
Bighorn sheep