California’s National Forests Temporarily Close Due to Wildfires; Hunters and Recreational Users are Urged to Stay Away

On Wednesday, Sept. 9, the U.S. Forest Service announced the temporary closure of all national forests in California due to unprecedented and historic fire conditions. These properties are closed to the public, effective immediately, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is urging hunters to follow the order and keep away.

“We know that hunting opportunities will be impacted throughout the state, but no hunting opportunity is worth a human life,” said Chief David Bess, Deputy Director and CDFW Law Enforcement Division Chief.

California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 708(2)(b) prohibits CDFW from refunding deer tag application fees, but refunds may be issued for select elk, pronghorn antelope and bighorn sheep tags. Additionally, some premium deer, elk, pronghorn antelope and bighorn sheep tags may be returned to CDFW with a request to have preference points reinstated and one preference point awarded for the species for the current hunt year. Tag return and preference point eligibility requirements and additional information may be found on CDFW’s website.

CDFW will continue to monitor and close areas as needed. National forests and evacuation zones will remain closed until authorities allow them to re-open. Because the situation is rapidly changing, CDFW strongly encourages hunters to use the following links to research closures and open areas prior to leaving for any hunt:

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Media Contact:
Peter Tira, CDFW Communications, (916) 215-3858

Wildlife Officers Protect Pismo Clams from Poachers

  • Wildlife officers with seized undersize clams
  • Seized undersize clams in back of wildlife officer's pickup truck
  • Undersize clams with gauge

Since the beginning of the year, CDFW wildlife officers have seized more than 12,000 undersized Pismo clams and issued 116 citations to suspected poachers in San Luis Obispo County for unlawfully harvesting Pismo clams. In Santa Cruz County, wildlife officers have issued 60 citations and seized more than 5,000 undersized Pismo clams. Many of the citations involved extreme overlimits and about 90 percent of issued citations were for harvesting clams without a fishing license. When possible, wildlife officers will attempt to document where the undersized clams were taken and return those clams to the wild.

In past decades, Pismo clams were an important recreational sport fishery in California. A steep decline in the statewide Pismo clam population resulted in a dramatically reduced fishery and minimal recreational harvest. Pismo clams may still be harvested in California, in compliance with season, bag limits and size restrictions.

Despite a significant resurgence in the Pismo clam population in much of its historic habitat, most Pismo clams are still too small to legally harvest. Pismo clams are slow-growing animals and the majority are still in the growth stage. Marine biologists expect it will be at least another five to 10 years before any legal-size clams are present on most beaches.

“The central coast is seeing a resurgence of Pismo clam populations and our wildlife officers will continue to protect them from poachers,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “The vast majority of these clams are still undersized, and we need to give them an opportunity to become a robust recreational fishery for the future.”

Recreational clam harvesters with a valid fishing license may take the maximum bag limit of 10 Pismo clams per day, as long as they meet the minimum size of 5 inches north of the San Luis Obispo/Monterey county line and 4.5 inches south of the county line. Sub-legal sized clams must be immediately reburied. In Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, the season for Pismo clams starts Sept. 1 and ends April 30. In all other counties, the season is open year-round. The current regulations are in place to allow for limited recreational take but prevent a depletion of the Pismo clam resource.

If a member of the public witnesses a poaching, wildlife trafficking or pollution incident, or has information about such a violation, immediately dial the toll free CalTIP number, (888) 334-2258, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Tips may also be submitted anonymously to CDFW using tip411. Anyone with a cell phone may send an anonymous tip to CDFW by texting “CALTIP”, followed by a space and the message, to 847411 (tip411).

Tips can also be reported through the free CalTIP smartphone app, which operates similarly to tip411 by creating an anonymous two-way conversation with wildlife officers. The CalTIP app can be downloaded via the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.

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Numerous Environmental Crimes Discovered at Illegal Cannabis Grow in Tehama County

Evidence of Poached Wildlife Also Uncovered

On May 21, wildlife officers at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) served a search warrant in Tehama County for illegal commercial cannabis cultivation on a remote parcel approximately 30 miles west of Red Bluff.

Commercial cannabis cultivation is banned in Tehama County. The suspects had allegedly brandished firearms at nearby residents, which forced CDFW and local authorities to take immediate action.

Support was provided by CDFW Environmental Scientists, Tehama County Sheriff’s Department, State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) and Investigators from the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).

Approximately 28,733 illegal cannabis plants were eradicated, 165 lbs. of processed cannabis destroyed and three firearms seized. Onsite officers found evidence of at least 10 poached wildlife species including deer, pig, ducks and fish. CDFW is conducting further investigations before it is decided how to proceed with the additional charges.

“Wildlife officers continue to work with our allied agency partners to combat and shut down illegal cannabis cultivation sites,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “Too often illegal growers move into vacant private lands, take up residency and setup unlicensed large-scale operations, which can severely impact California’s native fish and wildlife.”

Officers arrested four suspects for felony cannabis cultivation, conspiracy, possession of a firearm while committing a felony along with an additional 20 counts of various environmental crimes. Violations included unlawful stream diversions, use of restricted pesticides, sediment and petroleum product pollution, and depositing litter where it can enter waters of the state. The State Water Board and CDFA also documented numerous crimes.

CDFW encourages the public to report environmental crimes such as water pollution, water diversions and poaching to the CalTIP hotline by calling (888) 334-2258 or texting information to “TIP411” (847411).

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

California Fish and Game Commission Holds June Meeting Remotely

At its June remote meeting, the California Fish and Game Commission took action on a number of issues affecting California’s natural resources. The following are just a few items of interest from this week’s meeting.

The Commission acknowledged the sesquicentennial of the beginnings of the Commission and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). Staff had long been preparing celebratory activities throughout the year, but due to the global pandemic, those events were canceled. A video was shared at the Commission to honor the past 150 years of protecting and conserving fish and wildlife in the state.

After conversations with the petitioner and other stakeholders, the Commission continued to its August meeting the consideration and potential action on the petition to determine whether listing western Joshua tree under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) may be warranted.

The Commission and CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division David Bess announced Adam Kook as 2019 Wildlife Prosecutor of the Year. Kook is a Deputy District Attorney in Fresno County District Attorney’s Office.

The Commission voted unanimously to notify the public of its intent to amend inland sport fishing regulations. The simplification of statewide inland fishing comes after immense effort by CDFW Fisheries Branch to clarify overlapping and often confusing regulations.

The Commission adopted commercial Pacific herring eggs on kelp regulations to implement the Pacific Herring Fishery Management Plan.

The Commission received CDFW’s evaluation of the petition submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network to list the Pacific leatherback sea turtle as endangered pursuant to CESA. The Commission will consider the petition, CDFW’s evaluation and public input at its August meeting to determine if it will accept the petition for consideration.

Given the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting budget gap in California, the Commission agreed that the remainder of this year’s meetings will be held via webinar and teleconference.

Commission President Eric Sklar, Commission Vice President Samantha Murray and Commissioner Peter Silva participated in the meeting. Commissioners Jacque Hostler-Carmesin and Russell Burns were absent.

The full Commission agenda for this meeting along with supporting information is available at fgc.ca.gov. An archived audio file will be available in coming days. The next meeting of the full Commission is scheduled for Aug. 19-20, 2020.

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The California Fish and Game Commission was the first wildlife conservation agency in the United States, predating even the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. There is often confusion about the distinction between the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the Commission. In the most basic terms, CDFW implements and enforces the regulations set by the Commission, as well as provides biological data and expertise to inform the Commission’s decision-making process.

Judge Holds Landowner Liable for Cultivation-related Environmental Crimes

A California judge recently ordered a Calaveras County property owner liable for damages after their tenant committed environmental crimes in conjunction with a cannabis operation.

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Under Fish and Game Code section 12025, civil penalties can be levied against a landowner or occupant who has violated one or more environmental laws in conjunction with commercial cannabis cultivation. The code applies to both licensed and unlicensed operations and the civil penalties are added to any criminal fines.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) had its first 12025 case in front of a judge in September. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge ordered a Calaveras County landowner liable for over $680,000. The ruling was significant because the judge determined that the landowner was ultimately liable for the environmental violations despite the landowner’s claim that he was not directly involved in the activity. The decision can be found here.

During the investigation, CDFW and local authorities eradicated over 6,200 plants at the unpermitted cannabis grow, which was linked to 10 separate sites where discarded vehicles, garbage and human waste were dumped in or near a stream.

“CDFW uses this authority on egregious environmental cases that threaten fish, wildlife and the habitats they depend on to survive,” said David Bess, Deputy Director and Chief of the CDFW Law Enforcement Division. “Our staff have documented properties with mounds of garbage near waterways, dewatered streams and banned pesticides, all of which were detrimental to the environment.”

Since October 2016, CDFW has filed 10 administrative complaints under section 12025 against landowners and tenants in Calaveras, Humboldt, Mendocino, Sonoma, Tehama and Trinity counties. Some of the parties were registered agents of limited liability companies. Of the 10 complaints, the majority were settled with terms that included remediation of the impacted property. This complaint filed in Calaveras County led to a week-long hearing and resulted in the decision above.

The total amount of civil penalties ordered to date is nearly $2 million. While all the cases to date have been on unlicensed cannabis sites, the focus is on environmental impacts from the cannabis cultivation, not the legality of the operation.

See more details on state compliance.

To learn more about CDFW’s cannabis program, please visit wildlife.ca.gov/cannabis or email askcannabis@wildlife.ca.gov. To report environmental crimes, such as water diversions, pollution and poaching, please call the CalTIP hotline at (888) 334-2258 or text information to “TIP411” (847411).

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