A new wolf pack, a massive oil spill, wildlife encounters, restoration projects, nonlead ammunition and more were among the top issues that kept staff on their toes at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) in 2015.
“Protecting California’s natural resources takes commitment, passion and dedication 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “I am so honored to be leading this department and am extremely proud of what we’re accomplishing as a team with our staff and volunteers.”
The following is a snapshot of what was accomplished, watched and widely covered in 2015.
Refugio Oil Spill
On May 19, a line owned by Plains All American Pipeline ruptured, releasing more than 100,000 gallons of oil near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County. CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) arrived on scene to coordinate the cleanup and conduct wildlife rescue operations. More than 300 birds and mammals died and another 169 animals were treated and released. Several months later, the response is in the final stage of environmental monitoring. OSPR and other agencies are currently conducting a Natural Resource Damage Assessment to identify how to compensate for the harm and what damages should be paid by the responsible party to fund restoration projects. More information on how to participate in the restoration process can be found here.
Shasta Wolf Pack
Loved by some and feared by others, wolves were historically a key component of California’s ecological landscape. After nearly a century of absence, wolves have returned to California. In August, CDFW released photographs of a gray wolf pack ¬¬– five pups and two adults. Called the Shasta Wolf Pack, the announcement was cheered by environmentalists, while others, including ranchers, expressed concern. In December, CDFW released the draft Gray Wolf Conservation Plan for public comment. The plan is the product of years of collaboration between wildlife experts and a diverse stakeholder group who spent many hours on its development. In early 2016, informational workshops were held to review the plan and incorporate public comment. More details on California’s gray wolves can be found here.
The Ongoing Drought
As California struggled through the fourth year of drought, many species faced a battle for survival, particularly native fish and hatchery fish. Three state-run hatcheries were evacuated because the water they used from lakes was too warm to support the fish. All of the hatchery rainbow trout, including some of the large broodstock fish, were transported by truck to nearby lakes, where they could thrive in cooler waters and provide opportunities for local anglers. Governor Brown’s emergency drought funds supported the construction of several temporary holding systems for threatened and endangered fish that were rescued from degraded and drought-impacted habitats. These recirculating aquaculture systems kept the fish safe until environmental conditions improved and they could be released. A $1.3 million permanent filtration and water chilling plant was completed at American River Hatchery east of Sacramento. The plant will raise Lahontan cutthroat trout, a threated species, and will help counteract the drought’s effect on Chinook salmon, a vital species to California’s history and economy.
In Sonoma County, CDFW worked closely with rural land owners in four priority watersheds of the Russian River to voluntarily reduce water usage to benefit coho salmon and steelhead that were trapped in streambeds as the waters dried up. Wineries also stepped up to assist, and in October CDFW recognized a collaboration led by Jackson Family Wines that included other grape growers, agencies and non-governmental organizations to develop voluntary drought agreements designed to save water and protect local fish species in the watershed.
In November, CDFW enacted an emergency rulemaking to delay the opener of the commercial Dungeness crab season and closed the commercial rock crab fishery. In similar action, the Fish and Game Commission voted to delay the recreational Dungeness crab opener and closed the recreational rock crab fishery. The decisions followed a health advisory issued by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and a recommendation from the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) due to elevated levels of domoic acid along the California coast. Domoic acid is a potent neurotoxin that can cause sickness and death at the highest levels of exposure. The closures remained in place throughout December while testing of Dungeness crab and rock crab continued on a weekly basis. On Dec. 31, CDPH announced that crab caught south of Piedras Blancas Light Station in San Luis Obispo County no longer posed a significant human health risk. Then OEHHA recommended that the recreational fishery south of that point could be opened. CDFW coordinated that partial opening. More information on the current state of closures can be found here.
Bears, Mountain Lions and Coyotes
Throughout the last 12 months, California’s wildlife officers and biologists were called to respond to bear attacks in the cities of Mariposa and Magalia, a wayward bear in Tracy that was immobilized on live television, a bear running through the streets of Chico and numerous other high-profile encounters. Several young mountain lions also made headlines as they were transported to the CDFW Wildlife Investigation Lab for observation. For reasons unknown, these felines were in distress and needed help. Other adult cats throughout the state were darted and released to suitable habitat. Coyotes in Southern California made their presence known with a series of attacks and sightings throughout the region. Researchers speculate that access to human food sources, including garbage, played a role in their aggressive behavior. CDFW hosted numerous “bear aware” and “coyote aware” community meetings throughout the state to answer community questions and educate the public on CDFW’s “Keep Me Wild” program. For more information on living with wildlife, please visit www.keepmewild.com.
Wildlife Criminal Cases
In 2015, CDFW recognized three county prosecutors for their exemplary handling of wildlife criminal cases in 2014. Selected individuals from Santa Barbara and Yuba counties demonstrated above-and-beyond efforts to ensure not only successful prosecutions but outstanding fines and penalties that will serve as a deterrent for future poaching activity. While the results of each case vary significantly, CDFW continues to see improved handling and filing of wildlife criminal cases throughout the state and remains optimistic for further progress. More information on the county awards can be found here.
In 2015, CDFW biologists and enforcement staff began operations for the newly formed Watershed Enforcement Team (WET). The program’s goal is to reduce the environmental impacts associated with illegal marijuana cultivation. Staff and local enforcement agencies inspected more than 200 marijuana cultivation sites on properties in Humboldt, Trinity, Mendocino, Shasta, Tehama and Butte counties. At least 500 violations of the Fish and Game Code were documented, including unauthorized water diversions, streambed alteration, water pollution and trash deposition in streams. CDFW scientists also published a groundbreaking study on marijuana’s effect on the environment, titled “Impacts of Surface Water Diversions for Marijuana Cultivation on Aquatic Habitat in Four Northwestern California Watersheds.” The study confirmed that diminished stream flow from water-intensive activity is likely to have lethal impacts on state and federally listed salmon and steelhead trout as well as cause further decline of sensitive amphibian species. The report can be found here.
July 1, 2015 marked the beginning of a three-tiered phase-out of lead ammunition for hunting in California. Nonlead ammunition is now required when hunting on all CDFW wildlife areas and ecological reserves and for all bighorn sheep hunts anywhere in the state. Further phase-out of lead ammunition for hunting in California will continue on July 1, 2016, when nonlead ammunition will be required when hunting with shotguns for upland game birds (except for dove, quail and snipe), small game mammals, fur-bearing mammals and nongame birds except for when hunting at licensed game bird clubs. Nonlead ammunition will also be required when taking wildlife with shotguns for depredation purposes anywhere in the state. Starting July 1, 2019, hunters must use nonlead ammunition when taking any animal anywhere in the state for any purpose. More information on the phase-out of lead ammunition for hunting in California can be found here.
CalTip (Californians Turn in Poachers and Polluters), a confidential witness program that encourages the public to provide factual information on poachers and polluters, saw an expansion and improved success in 2015. The program introduced two new features. The first was “tip411” (numerically: 847411), which allows the public to anonymously text messages and/or photographs to wildlife officers directly. The second was “CALTIP App”, a smartphone app that similarly enables the public to share anonymous tips and/or photographs with wildlife officers via an anonymous two-way conversation. The program reported nearly a nine percent increase in received calls when compared to 2014. More than 1,500 people were contacted in the field, ultimately resulting in 167 citations, 10 arrests and 87 warnings. More information on the CalTip program can be found here.
Grant Restoration Projects
In 2015, CDFW implemented several grant programs that were administered by the newly formed Watershed Restoration Grants Branch. The first is the Wetlands Restoration for Greenhouse Gas Reduction Grant Program, which is focused on projects that restore or enhance wetlands and mountain meadow ecosystems to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. CDFW awarded $21 million to 12 projects that will restore over 2,500 acres of sensitive habitat across coastal wetlands, the Delta and mountain meadows. The second program is referred to as the Proposition 1 Restoration Grant Programs, which was in response to the Water Quality, Supply and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014. Under Prop 1, the program encompasses the Delta Water Quality and Ecosystem Restoration Grants, which will fund approximately $6.8 million in projects that benefit the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and the Watershed Restoration Grants, which will fund approximately $24.6 million in projects outside of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. In 2015, CDFW received 190 proposals for more than $218 million in response to the Prop 1 program. Approximately $31 million in funding will be distributed for the first grant cycle. Awards for these programs were announced in January. More information CDFW’s grant programs can be found here.
Media Contact: Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8988