Category Archives: Endangered Species

Threatened Green Sturgeon Rescued from Fremont Weir, Returned to Sacramento River

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Biologists from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recently saved a Sacramento River green sturgeon trapped in the Fremont Weir. The five-and-a-half-foot long fish was stranded in the nearly two-mile-long concrete weir when Sacramento River floodwaters receded. Sturgeon in this area are migrating up the Sacramento River to spawn above Red Bluff.

Sacramento River green sturgeon were listed as threatened by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the Endangered Species Act in 2006.

“Rescuing adult fish is always important, but because this year’s high flow conditions are optimal for sturgeon, every sturgeon saved is in a good position to spawn,” said CDFW Fisheries Branch Chief Kevin Shaffer. “Every rescue contributes to a brighter future for the species.”

Captured on March 15, the sturgeon was estimated at more than125 pounds and over 50 years of age. Its large size required biologists to encircle it with a net rigged to poles. It was caught by slipping a hoop net over its head and unraveling a sock-like netting down the length of its body to subdue it. The fish was then placed in a specially-designed cradle for transport back to the main channel of the Sacramento River. Biologists took DNA samples, surgically implanted a sonic tracking tag and measured it prior to releasing it.

Rescuing breeding adults is vitally important to the future of the green sturgeon population. This individual’s opportunity to spawn in the future supports the genetic diversity and integrity of the population. Over the last few years, a number of green sturgeon have been acoustically tagged in the greater Sacramento-San Joaquin River system and are being tracked to better estimate population size, distribution and migration patterns.

Recent efforts to assist green sturgeon appear to be helping, according to NOAA green sturgeon recovery coordinator Joe Heublein. He recently stated that he is “cautiously optimistic” that production may start to increase with improvements to spawning habitat accessibility.

Under Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.’s “California Eco Restore” initiative, a $4.5 million construction project to improve Fremont Weir is slated to start this summer. The changes will improve fish passage back to the Sacramento River as bypass flows recede, reducing the risk of stranding for endangered and threatened salmon and sturgeon.

Recent rescue efforts have saved green and white sturgeon, young fall-, winter- and spring-run Chinook salmon, young and adult steelhead, a lamprey, two species of bass and a host of other native fish.

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Media Contact:
Harry Morse, CDFW Communications, (916) 323-1478

CDFW Releases First Million of Evacuated Fish into Feather River

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) in cooperation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released one million state and federally listed threatened spring-run Chinook salmon into the Feather River on Monday, March 20.

These were the first fish to be released that were evacuated from the Feather River Hatchery in Oroville on Feb. 9, when the water became dangerously murky following the failure of the Oroville Dam spillway. The fish were moved to the Feather River/Thermalito Annex Hatchery and held there until conditions improved.

“Based on the weather forecast and current reservoir storage, we are anticipating high flows in the Feather River for some time,” said CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist Colin Purdy. “Releasing these fish now should allow them to imprint on Feather River water and move downstream before flows drop back down to normal levels.”Annex release 2

Central Valley spring-run Chinook are a state and federally listed species and their abundance has declined considerably during the recent drought. The Feather River Fish Hatchery plays a key role in the state’s efforts to propagate this unique run of Chinook salmon.

“Today’s fish release marks the success of federal and state agencies coordinating and managing valuable resources while ensuring public safety during a crisis situation,” said Howard Brown, NOAA Sacramento River Basin Branch Chief. “NOAA Fisheries remains deeply concerned with the damage of the Oroville spillways and is committed to reducing further threats to California communities and ecosystems.”

“This is another example of the extraordinary multi-agency effort to respond to this unfortunate incident,” said California Department of Water Resources Acting Director Bill Croyle. “We will continue to work closely to protect the Feather River and its fisheries.”

Of the fish that were evacuated, another million spring-run Chinook and three million fall-run Chinook remain at the Annex Hatchery. CDFW and NOAA fisheries staff will continuously evaluate the remaining salmon and begin planting them in northern California Rivers when the fish are mature enough.

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Media Contacts:
Andrew Hughan, CDFW Communications, (916) 201-2958
Jim Milbury, NOAA Fisheries, (562) 980-4006

 

2017 Invasive Species Youth Art Contest Kicks Off with “Don’t Let it Loose” Theme

Young artists and future biologists are invited to enter this year’s California Invasive Species Art Contest, sponsored by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). This year’s theme is “Don’t Let it Loose!”

Youths in grades 2 through 12 are eligible to enter. Entries should depict invasive species that might be released into California’s waters, parks and wildlands, along with appropriate messaging such as (but not limited to) the following:2017 CISAW Youth Poster Contest Announcement Flier

  • Releasing invasive species into the wild can harm the environment and California’s native plants and animals
  • Description(s) of one or more species that are commonly released into waters, parks or wildlands
  • Explanations or illustrations showing other ways to rehome unwanted pets or plants

All types of media are welcome and encouraged – drawings, paintings, animations, comic strips, videos, public service announcements, etc. Submissions must be received no later than May 5, 2017, and may be submitted by email or regular mail.

Winners will be chosen in three age divisions: grades 2-4, 5-8 and 9-12. Winners from each division will receive awards and have their posters displayed on CDFW’s Invasive Species Action Week webpage. The submission judged to be the best overall will also receive the “Invasive Species Program Choice” Award.

The entry form and a pdf of the contest announcement flyer can be found online at www.wildlife.ca.gov/CISAW.

The contest is sponsored by CDFW’s Invasive Species Program as part of the 2017 California Invasive Species Action Week, June 3-11. The goal of the Action Week is to increase public awareness of invasive species issues and encourage public participation in the fight against California’s invasive species and their impacts on our natural resources.

Many people don’t realize the potential implications of very simple acts. For example, the release of non-native crayfish used as fishing bait has likely resulted in the decline of California’s native crayfish and impacted other species dependent on the habitat. The dumping of aquarium plants can ultimately end up destroying the quality of our waterways and lands. Red-eared sliders, aquarium fish, and Nerodia watersnakes are other examples of released species that can become invasive and negatively impact native species.

California Invasive Species Action Week activities around the state will include presentations on aquatic and terrestrial invasives, guided outings to observe and assess infested areas, invasive species removal efforts, habitat restoration projects and the announcement of the winners of the youth poster contest. Opportunities for youths and adults to participate or volunteer will be available across the state through participating agencies, organizations and volunteer groups, with information and details to be provided on the Action Week webpage.

More information about CDFW’s Invasive Species Program, including examples of invasive species currently affecting California’s wild lands, can be found at www.wildlife.ca.gov/conservation/invasives.

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Media Contacts:
Rachael Klopfenstein, CDFW Invasive Species Program, (916) 651-3122
Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8988

Tax Donations Help to Prevent Wildlife Extinction

Extinction is forever, but you and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) can join forces to prevent it. Help save California’s native plant and animal species when you file your state income tax return by making a voluntary contribution to the Rare and Endangered Species Preservation Program (RESPP) and/or the California Sea Otter Fund.

Just enter any dollar amount you wish on line 403 for rare and endangered species and on line 410 for southern sea otters. Money donated by California’s taxpayers supports programs that benefit these at-risk species.

“Taxpayers’ donations make more of a positive difference than one might think,” CDFW Wildlife Branch Chief T.O. Smith said. “Voluntary contributions also help CDFW acquire federal matching funds, increasing the actions we can take for threatened and endangered species and their habitat.”

California has 219 species of plants and 83 species of animals listed as rare, threatened or endangered. Money raised through the tax donation program helps pay for essential CDFW research and recovery efforts for these plants and animals, and critical efforts to restore and conserve their habitat. Endangered species face many different threats, such as the unprecedented tree die-off occurring in the Sierra Nevada mountains due to a combination of past forest management practices, warming climate, severe drought and bark beetles capitalizing on the dying trees.

Past donations to the RESPP have enabled biologists to analyze data on the Tricolored blackbird (Agelaius tricolor) – North America’s most highly colonial land bird – to assess factors that may be affecting the species’ ability to survive and reproduce. Ninety-nine percent of the world’s Tricolored blackbird population lives within the State of California and statewide surveys have revealed that the species has declined by more than 60 percent in the past decade.

CDFW has been working with multiple stakeholders to study the current distribution and status of the Giant garter snake (Thamnophis gigas) – a highly aquatic threatened species – and to improve habitat suitability and stability in areas hardest hit by the drought.

Staff have participated in the California tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense) Science Advisory Committee’s efforts to recover the threatened species, beginning with tackling the issue of how to reduce their hybridization with non-native tiger salamanders.

CDFW is in the final stages of completing a conservation strategy for the state-listed Mohave ground squirrel (Xerospermophilus mohavensis), which will guide conservation and research projects to help ensure recovery of the species.

With the assistance of biologists from other agencies, CDFW biologists have been monitoring endangered Desert pupfish (Cyprinodon macularius) populations and water quality in natural and artificial habitats. Pupfish have been rescued from natural habitats that have dried during summer months and have been relocated to other areas. Recovery actions have included identification of habitat in need of restoration.

RESPP funds supported the review of Livermore tarplant (Deinandra bacigalupii), which informed the Fish and Game Commission’s decision to protect the species under the California Endangered Species Act. Funds were also used to monitor several endangered plant species, including the critically endangered Slender-petaled mustard (Thelypodium stenopetalum), found only near Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains.

The past five drought years have put endangered species at even greater risk as rivers and creeks have been impacted and seasonal and some permanent aquatic habitats dried up. CDFW has documented extremely low numbers and/or reproductive rates for winter-run Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), Delta Smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus), Mohave ground squirrel, Giant kangaroo rat (Dipodomys ingens), Giant garter snake, Santa Cruz long-toed salamander (Ambystoma macrodactylum croceum; drought rescue story on our website), California tiger salamander and Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (Rana sierrae), among others.

There is no upper limit to voluntary contributions; any dollar amount is welcome. These plants and animals are part of our heritage and need your support to survive and thrive.

Donations to the California Sea Otter Fund are split between CDFW and the State Coastal Conservancy. CDFW’s half supports scientific research on the causes of mortality in sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis). In addition to working on a large analysis of 15 years of mortality data, CDFW scientists are conducting research on little-known viruses, parasites and biotoxins that may be harming sea otters. Through a better understanding of the causes of mortality, it may be possible to work more effectively to recover the sea otter population here. The Southern sea otter is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and “fully protected” by the State of California.

“This voluntary contribution program provides important funding for understanding sea otter health and implementing programs to help recover the Southern sea otter population,” said CDFW Sea Otter Program Manager Laird Henkel. “Our team and collaborators are currently in the final stages of summarizing 15 years of sea otter post-mortem investigations, largely supported by this tax check-off program. We’re excited that we’ll have this information to share later this year.”

CDFW is also collaborating with Friends of the Sea Otter and others on the ‘Sea Otter Savvy’ program. Also supported primarily by tax check-off contributions, this program is designed to reduce human disturbance to sea otters.

In 2016, $5,000 of the fund was offered as part of a larger reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) who shot four sea otters near Santa Cruz. Unfortunately, CDFW has not yet received such information.

CDFW biologists have achieved important recovery milestones and protected vulnerable species, thanks to California taxpayers. More information about how CDFW uses funds in the Rare and Endangered Species and Sea Otter programs is available at www.wildlife.ca.gov/tax-donation and at www.facebook.com/seaotterfundcdfw.

If someone else prepares your state tax return, please let him or her know you want to donate to the California Sea Otter Fund on line 410 or the RESPP 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.

green and brown plant with small yellow flowers in a gold field of dead grass and weeds
Livermore tarplant, of the sunflower family, only exists in a few locations in Alameda County. Jeb Bjerke/CDFW photo
A brown and yellow-striped giant garter snake in grass and dirt
Giant garter snake. Courtesy of Eric Hansen
A California tiger salamander, brown with yellow spots, standing in mud
California tiger salamander. Courtesy of Jack Goldfarb Photography
Two sea otters with head and shoulders visible ablve water
California sea otters

Media Contacts:
Jeb Bjerke, Habitat Conservation Planning Branch (plants), (916) 651-6594
Russ Bellmer, Fisheries Branch, (916) 327-8850
Esther Burkett, Nongame Wildlife Program, (916) 531-1594
Laird Henkel, Sea Otter Program, (831) 469-1726
Dana Michaels, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-2420

Volunteers Needed for Bighorn Sheep Survey

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep (SCBS) are seeking volunteers to assist biologists on Feb. 25 and 26, 2017 (Saturday evening and all day Sunday).

No survey experience is necessary to participate but volunteers must attend an orientation on Saturday, Feb. 25, 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 CDFW, USFS or SCBS. Participants must be at least 16 years old and capable of hiking one mile in rugged terrain, although most 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.

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.

Volunteers can sign up online at www.sangabrielbighorn.org or call (909) 584-9012 to request a volunteer packet.