Dangerous Encounters Increased in 2013
In 2013, wildlife officers at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) ensured public safety, protected California’s natural resources and saved lives. Many of the situations that officers faced put them in harm’s way, but it did not stop them from successfully doing their job.
“Our wildlife officers represent the best of the best of California law enforcement and I could not be more proud of my staff,” said CDFW Law Enforcement Chief Mike Carion. “Each day our officers come to work with courage, passion and dedication to protecting California’s valuable resources regardless of the dangers they may face.”
CDFW had several high profile criminal investigations and convictions this year for resource violations.
Fourteen people were arrested in Sacramento and the Bay Area for illegally harvesting and selling abalone on the black market. Many of the suspects had previous poaching convictions and are now facing additional charges.
In El Dorado County, two men shot, but didn’t kill a deer that they then put in their small SUV. The deer woke up and panicked inside the vehicle. The poachers then hacked the deer to death with a machete. They were both convicted and received jail time for poaching and animal cruelty.
In Southern California, wildlife officers filed several cases of lobster poaching, illegally selling fish directly to restaurants and one case in which a diver attempted to catch fish by squirting rubbing alcohol into the rocks forcing fish into open water where he then netted them. Most of these cases are currently pending.
While responding to a spotlighting suspect at night in rural in Santa Barbara County, one wildlife officer rolled his patrol truck off of a small mountain road. His truck rolled 20 times. He is still recovering from his injuries.
In Nevada County, a wildlife officer was able to apprehend two bear poachers through an in-depth investigation that revealed an abundance of criminal activity including drug trafficking, stolen vehicles and violence. The primary suspect, Jason Wilkison, baited and killed a bear out of season with a military style rifle with no tags and no license. Wilkison, a convicted felon, was sentenced to two years in state prison for his part in the crime.
Wildlife officers also demonstrated their courage to assist the public on several occasions, and their direct action saved lives of California citizens. A Madera County wildlife officer jumped into the cold, swift current of a slough, twice, to save the lives of two small children clinging to a branch. With no equipment, life jacket or help, he brought each girl safely to shore. In Monterey, a wildlife officer took off his boots to help save a drowning woman in the ocean then gave her the boots so she could walk across rocks to the waiting ambulance. In five separate incidents wildlife officers along with local agencies prevented people from committing suicide.
In a case that brought national attention, wildlife officers and San Bernardino County Sheriff deputies spotted, pursued and exchanged gunfire with former Los Angeles Police Officer and murderer Christopher Dorner. In Big Bear, a patrol truck was hit with several shots but the two wildlife officers and one K-9 inside escaped major injury. While Dorner evaded capture at that particular moment, law enforcement teams continued to pursue him. He was found dead later that day at a nearby cabin, but not before taking the life of one San Bernardino Sheriff’s Deputy and severely injuring another.
Other gunfire incidents occurred in three marijuana growing operations in northern California. In a Shasta County incident, shots were fired during a marijuana raid. Two men were then arrested, both after being apprehended by a CDFW K-9. In other rural counties wildlife officers were shot at and returned fire as suspects fled from illegal grow sites as officers entered for eradication purposes.
More than 350 wildlife officers are responsible for patrolling 1.8 million acres of land in California. The overwhelming majority of contacts are with law abiding citizens. Wildlife officers are there to respond to the small percentage of people who break laws in place to protect California’s natural resources and keep the public safe.