Wildlife Officers Shut Down Illegal Cannabis Operation on CDFW Property

Armed Growers Stopped From Cultivating Thousands of Plants

Wildlife officers with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) Marijuana Enforcement Team (MET) conducted a raid of a clandestine cannabis grow on the North Grasslands Wildlife Area, Gadwall Unit in Los Banos.

The property is home to dozens of species of nesting waterfowl, migratory birds, rabbits, pheasants, birds of prey, small rodents and native plants. Over 1,500 hunters and outdoor enthusiasts visit the property annually.

Nestled in the closed zone of the property, the growers constructed five hoop houses made from PVC pipe and wood that was covered with plastic tarps. The hoop houses were filled with 185 immature cannabis plants and the site had been prepared to plant several thousand more.

“This brazen attempt to hide in plain sight on CDFW property is a perfect example of the lengths people will go to grow illegal cannabis,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “This type of activity is a huge public safety threat and detrimental to the extensive bird populations that rely on the natural resources of this property.”

On Feb. 25, MET officers carefully entered the grow site and apprehended two men. One of the suspects was armed with a loaded semi-automatic .22 rifle and the other was armed with a loaded Beretta-style CO2 pellet pistol.

Several dead birds, including one Western Meadowlark were discovered within the grow site. Thousands of feet of black polyethylene pipe were stretched across the property and was siphoning water from the permanent wetlands in the closed zone. Officers also discovered dozens of dangerous pesticides and chemicals.

Over 2,560 lbs. of waste, chemicals and infrastructure was removed and taken to the landfill.

The two suspects were arrested and are being charged with eight felonies and 15 misdemeanors with the Merced County District Attorney’s office.

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

Aquarium Moss Balls Threaten to Spread Invasive Mussels

A zebra mussel on an aquarium moss ball. Photo courtesy of Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is asking retailers and consumers to help stop the spread of a dangerous invasive mussel that has been found in aquarium moss balls sold in California and nationwide.

CDFW was notified last week that zebra mussels, highly invasive freshwater mussels which are illegal to possess in California, were found on aquatic moss balls at a national pet supply retailer. Investigators traced the origin of the mussel-contaminated moss balls to a distributor in Southern California. CDFW’s Law Enforcement Division worked with the distributor to immediately cease outgoing shipments and prevent the receipt of additional importations. State and federal law enforcement agencies continue to investigate the potential supply chains associated with this product, and have since identified several additional suppliers to California and nationwide.

“If zebra mussels escape from aquaria and into the environment, they pose the risk of causing enormous environmental and economic impacts,” said Martha Volkoff, CDFW environmental program manager. “Once introduced to rivers, creeks, lakes and canals, mussels multiply quickly, encrust surfaces and disrupt ecosystems, water delivery systems and recreational opportunities. It is imperative that pet suppliers and aquarists take action to prevent these mussels that have entered the aquarium trade from reaching our waterways.”

California law prohibits possession, importation, shipment and release of zebra mussels in any waters within the state. Possession of zebra mussels in California, live or dead, and whether intentional or not, is a violation of California Fish and Game Code section 2301.

CDFW is calling upon pet supply retailers and home aquarium enthusiasts to prevent the spread of mussels from aquariums.

Retailers:

  • Immediately pull moss balls from your shelves and store in a secure location until they can be destroyed. Also inspect all other moist and aquatic plant products. All moss balls, and any other products found to be contaminated with mussels should be placed in a bag, frozen overnight and disposed of in the municipal trash.
  • Immediately inspect all fish tanks and filtration systems for mussels. If mussels are found, cease sale of all products from those tanks. Remove all mussels and live plants, place in a bag, freeze overnight and dispose of in the municipal trash. Clean and disinfect all aquaria, filters and decorations.

Consumers:

If you have added moss balls to your aquarium or fish bowl in the past year, assume that you may have introduced zebra mussels and take one of the following actions:

Alternative 1. If you observe mussels in your aquaria, per U.S. Fish and Wildlife recommendations, empty and disinfect the aquarium and all of its contents: fws.gov/fisheries/ANS/zebra-mussel-disposal.html. Even if you do not observe mussels consider decontaminating your tank and all of its contents. (Considering the significant investment many aquarists make in establishing and maintaining their aquaria, disinfecting and reestablishing a system per these recommendations may not be a realistic expectation. If so, please adhere to Alternative 2.)

Alternative 2. Quarantine and monitor your aquarium for at least six months. Complete instructions for quarantining your tank, and an observation log to assist you with monitoring your tank, are available on CDFW’s website: wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Invasives/Aquarium-Moss-Balls. The quarantine would end six months after no mussels are observed.

For additional information and guidance, please call CDFW’s Invasive Mussel Hotline at (866) 440-9530 or visit wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Invasives/Quagga-Mussels.

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Media Contact:
Ken Paglia, CDFW Communications, (916) 825-7120

Newest Warden Stamp Commemorates 150 Years of Wildlife Conservation and Management, Now Available for Purchase

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has released its 2021 Warden Stamp, a decal sticker that is an annual tradition for the department and collector’s item for many Californians.

The 2021 stamp commemorates the 150-year anniversary of both CDFW and the California Fish and Game Commission. The stamp features the sesquicentennial CDFW wildlife officer badge and silhouettes of California conifer trees along with the CDFW bear that has been used on badges and department logo shields for decades. The 2021 stamp can now be purchased at the CDFW website for just $5.

“After a year like 2020, we knew the 2021 stamp should celebrate the essential work our department and wildlife officers have been doing for 150 years,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “The purchase of this stamp will show continued support for CDFW’s efforts to manage and protect California’s diverse fish, wildlife and plant resources.”

The Warden Stamp Program was started in 2010 to address the need for better equipment and training for the state’s wildlife officers (formerly called wardens) and to provide funding for special law enforcement programs. Since 1871, wildlife officers have been dedicated to being CDFW’s “boots on the ground” when it comes to maintaining the balance of the state’s many plants and animal species. During the first several decades, they worked to keep species such as tule elk, sturgeon, pronghorn antelope and bighorn sheep from going extinct in California.

The first two full-time wardens in 1871 were appointed to patrol San Francisco Bay and the Lake Tahoe area. Patrolling on foot, horseback or sailboats (because the internal combustion engine was still decades away from being used), wardens patrolled with very little resources or support.

In 2021, there are now approximately 465 wildlife officers that protect California’s 159,000 square miles and 200 miles out to sea. Though their primary function is to enforce California’s Fish and Game Code, they may be called upon to enforce any of California’s laws. They also collect and report information on the conditions of fish and wildlife and their habitat for management decisions, and represent CDFW at local schools, meetings of hunting and fishing clubs, along with other community events. They also help promote and coordinate various hunter education programs.

Wildlife officers still patrol on foot and on horseback, but now also by plane, boats and in a variety of vehicles. Although their main objectives of protecting California’s plants and animals remains the same, threats to native species are always evolving. From the growing threat of wildfires, internet wildlife traffickers and learning to navigate through a global pandemic – CDFW wildlife officers remain committed to being the stewards of the Golden State’s natural resources. Please continue to support wildlife officers and their mission by purchasing the 2021 Warden Stamp.

To view an image of the 2021 Warden Stamp, please visit wildlife.ca.gov/warden-stamp.

To purchase the stamp, please visit wildlife.ca.gov/licensing/online-sales.

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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