California Fish and Game Commission Meets Remotely

At its April meeting, the California Fish and Game Commission acted on several issues affecting California’s natural resources. The following are just a few items of interest from yesterday’s meeting.

The Commission welcomed newly appointed Commissioner Erika Zavaleta and acknowledged the reappointments of Jacque Hostler-Carmesin and Samantha Murray as commissioners. See the governor’s office press release for more information.

During his regular report, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division David Bess announced Warden Jonathan Garcia as Wildlife Officer of the Year.

The Commission adopted changes to waterfowl hunting regulations for the 2021-22 season. These changes include an increase to 101 day seasons in most zones to accommodate the January 31, 2022 closing date and an increase in the brant season length to 37 days. The Commission and CDFW discussed partnerships with stakeholders to conserve waterfowl habitat on public, private and agricultural lands.

The Commission received one-year status review reports on petitions to list three species – Clara Hunt’s milkvetch, upper Klamath-Trinity River spring Chinook salmon and northern California summer steelhead. The Commission will consider listing these species under the California Endangered Species Act at its June meeting.

The Commission granted CDFW six-month extensions to deliver the one-year status review reports on petitions for two species – mountain lion and Shasta snow-wreath.

The full commission – President Peter Silva, Vice President Samantha Murray, and Commissioners Jacque Hostler-Carmesin, Erika Zavaleta and Eric Sklar – was present.

The agenda for this meeting along with supporting information is available at www.fgc.ca.gov. An archived audio file will be available in coming days. The next meeting of the full Commission is scheduled for May 11, 2021.

As a reminder, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Commission meetings through June 2021 will be held via webinar and teleconference.

Media Contacts:

Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

Excellent Water Skills Help Stop Marine Aquaria Poacher

The California Fish and Game Commission recently revoked commercial marine aquaria fishing privileges for David W. Hornbaker due to unlawful take of marine aquaria species. Hornbaker was charged with using an unlawful anesthetic substance to collect in an area in which he was directly warned not to do so, then failed to cooperate with wildlife officers by attempting to destroy evidence.

In Nov. 2013, while on patrol along the frontside of Santa Catalina Island off Emerald Bay, Wildlife Officers Spencer Gilbert (now retired) and Rob Rojas from the patrol boat Thresher, skippered by Lt. Eric Kord, noticed a sailboat anchored offshore. The wildlife officers knew from a prior contact that the boat belonged to Hornbaker, a commercial marine aquaria collector. It is unlawful to collect marine aquaria at Santa Catalina Island. As they approached, they could see that Hornbaker was not on the boat but was underwater on a SCUBA dive. They searched for, and located, tell-tale SCUBA bubbles on the water’s surface. Warden Rojas doffed his uniform and with nothing more than a mask, fins, swim trunks and a breath of air, dove down to observe Hornbaker in 20-30 feet of water. He watched Hornbaker squirt a substance into the reef, resulting in stunned fish exiting the safety of the reef’s hiding places. Hornbaker then scooped the fish with a small aquarium net and placed it into a container strapped to his side. Marine aquaria collecting by use of a chemical liquid substance is unlawful, due to the damage it causes to the reef.

The fish he had taken from the reef were blue-banded gobies, vibrantly colored blue and orange fish that are highly sought after by marine aquaria collectors due to their high resale value. 

With probable cause that Hornbaker was engaged in unlawful activity, and while still holding his breath, Warden Rojas identified himself underwater as a wildlife officer with a cloth badge and motioned for Hornbaker to surface. While surfacing, Hornbaker attempted to discard two plastic containers that contained the unknown liquid substance used to incapacitate the fish. Warden Rojas took another breath at the surface and dove back down to retrieve the discarded items, containing what had then become evidence. He also seized the container attached to Hornbaker’s side.

Blue Banded Gobies in the container possessed by the suspect

During the subsequent inspection of Hornbaker’s vessel, Warden Gilbert noticed a second container on the ocean floor under the boat. He also doffed his uniform, swam down and retrieved another container containing gobies, 172 in all.

Upon further analysis by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Water Pollution Control Laboratory, the unknown chemical liquid substance was analyzed and identified as quinaldine, a known fish anesthetic that is illegal to use for marine aquaria collection off California.

CDFW’s Marine Enforcement District (MED) has some extraordinarily talented and dedicated wildlife officers who go to great lengths to protect California’s marine resources,” said MED Asst. Chief Mike Stefanak. “It takes time for the criminal and administrative processes to work to bring criminals to justice, but the meticulous efforts of Wardens Gilbert and Rojas ultimately resulted in removal of a bad actor from the commercial marine aquaria trade.”

Wildlife officers cited Hornbaker for unlawful take of marine aquaria species off Santa Catalina Island, unlawful use of quinaldine to take fish and for the unlawful deposit of a deleterious substance into California waters. They properly documented the fish for evidentiary purposes then released them, alive, back into the water. Further investigation revealed that prior to the original contact, Hornbaker had been contacted by a different wildlife officer and was explicitly warned it was unlawful to take marine aquaria species off Santa Catalina Island. Because the Commission revoked Hornbaker’s commercial fishing privileges he is permanently prohibited from collecting marine aquaria.

Media Contacts:
Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 508-7095

Online Grant Program Workshop on April 19

Who: The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) Cannabis Restoration Grant Program (CRGP)

What: CDFW staff will host an online workshop to provide an overview of the WebGrants application process for the current Watershed Remediation and Enhancement Solicitation and to answer any questions. Please see CDFW’s CRGP page for more details about the workshop.

When: Monday, April 19 from11 a.m. to noon

Where: Online Zoom Workshop. Register in advance for this meeting:

https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZckce2rqDgoH9bt9Ubr6zJB26lOVSL3_Ew6

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Why: The application workshop is designed to help entities of all sizes navigate the WebGrants submission process. Grants through the CRGP are funded through California’s Environmental Restoration and Protection Account pursuant to Revenue and Taxation Code section 34019(f)(2), and may be used to fund the cleanup, remediation, and restoration of environmental damage in watersheds affected by cannabis cultivation and related activities, and to support local partnerships for this purpose.

Attendees are encouraged to view this online presentation to learn more about CRGP and available funding opportunities.

For questions on CDFW’s CRGP, please email canngrantprogram@wildlife.ca.gov.

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Media Contact:
Janice Mackey, CDFW Communications, (916) 207-7891

Two deer fawns

If You Care, Leave Them There: CDFW Urges Public to Leave Deer Fawns Alone

Late spring and early summer is the peak time for California’s deer herds to give birth to fawns, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is issuing a reminder to well-intentioned people to not interact with the baby deer – even if they find one that appears to be abandoned.

Adult female deer often stash their fawns in tall grass or brush for many hours while they are out foraging for food.

“It is a very common mistake to believe a fawn has been abandoned when it’s found alone, even if the mother has not been seen in the area for a long period of time,” said Joe Croteau, environmental program manager with CDFW’s Northern Region. “It’s actually a survival strategy for the doe to separate from her fawns so as not to attract predators to the whereabouts of her young.”

Each year, CDFW and wildlife rehabilitation facilities are called to assist with fawns that have been removed from the wild by concerned members of the public recreating outdoors. With limited long-term placement options in zoos or other wildlife sanctuaries, the animals often have to be euthanized since they lack the survival skills to be released back into the wild and can become dangerous and difficult to keep as they become bigger.

To report an injured, sick or suspected orphaned fawn, contact your local CDFW regional office directly.

Anyone who removes a young animal from the wild is required to notify CDFW or take the animal to a permitted wildlife rehabilitator within 48 hours. Only a limited number of wildlife rehabilitation facilities are licensed to accept fawns.

It is both illegal to feed deer and keep deer in your personal possession. Both crimes are misdemeanors, each subject to penalties of up to $1,000 and/or six months in jail. Learn more about the dangers and consequences of feeding deer in this CDFW video.

CDFW Announces 2020 Wildlife Officer of the Year

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Law Enforcement Division is proud to announce Warden Jonathan Garcia as 2020 Wildlife Officer of the Year. The Los Angeles County-based wildlife officer has led many notable investigations that resulted in successful prosecution of poachers over the past few years.

“Warden Garcia’s immense case load involved a wide variety of violations including illegal take of deer, take of lobster out of season, feeding bears, unlawful importation of restricted species, license fraud, take of mountain lions, take of bear out of season, use of throw nets and gill nets, and many others,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “For a wildlife officer who has only been with CDFW since 2018, that’s extraordinary performance. He’s an invaluable asset to us here at CDFW and the citizens of Los Angeles.”

The writing and serving of a recent search warrant for a man suspected of illegally trapping wildlife helped Warden Garcia earn the nomination. Warden Garcia found the suspect had trapped and killed two mountain lions and one bear using three large 9’x4’x4’ homemade traps that were baited with dead goats. The investigation revealed that one of the lions and the bear were neglected once caught in the trap and had ultimately suffered a slow death. The same investigation revealed a live gray fox in a different homemade trap that was subsequently released, and an additional 11 dead raptors on the property. Lastly, unlawful streambed alteration violations were also found on the property. After the case was filed with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, a felony arrest warrant for animal cruelty was issued for the suspect. Garcia and his squad mates arrested the suspect on the warrant on Mar. 29, 2021 and the case is pending prosecution.

Garcia has been very successful at finding violators who use methods of take that are most detrimental to our fisheries, throw nets and gill nets. An example is when Warden Garcia and another wildlife officer located a group of suspects who were poaching at night in the Malibu surf. They stopped the suspects in the act of using a 75’ long x 9’ wide gillnet. The suspects possessed 30 unlawfully taken fish, including three undersized halibut. Garcia has also made multiple throw net cases on the West Fork of the San Gabriel River, one of only a few streams that still hold wild trout in Los Angeles County.

While patrolling a remote area in the Angeles National Forest, Warden Garcia noted the odor of what he thought was an animal carcass of a possible poaching case. He followed the odor 100 yards to a decomposing human body. Upon further investigation with Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the body was identified as a victim of an extremely violent murder. The suspected murderer had been taken into custody but refused to reveal the location of where he dumped the decedent’s body. Warden Garcia’s contribution to the investigation was crucial to prosecution of the case and closure for the family.

Warden Garcia’s Spanish speaking skills have also greatly contributed to poaching investigations wherever needed and often well outside his normal patrol district. He is highly skilled at conducting poaching investigations via suspected poacher’s social media accounts, online auction forums, and other digital tools used to traffic in wildlife and wildlife parts. He was recently nominated to become a Field Training Officer where he will be entrusted to train and observe recent academy graduates during their first few months in the field.

CDFW wholeheartedly congratulates Warden Garcia on earning the title of 2020 Wildlife Officer of the Year.

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Media Contacts:
Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 508-7095
Capt. Kory Collins, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (310) 944-8182