Category Archives: Environmental Science

Wildlife Officers Remove Cannabis Grow Site from CDFW Wildlife Area

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Law enforcement officers with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recently conducted a successful outdoor raid on a black-market marijuana cultivation site in the White Slough Wildlife Area in San Joaquin County. In all, wildlife officers removed approximately 1,700 plants at the site.

In the late summer, wildlife officers received information regarding a possible cultivation site. On Sept. 21, K-9 assisted teams from CDFW’s Marijuana Enforcement Team (MET) arrested Fernando Garcia-Lizea, 25, of Lodi. The suspect was armed with a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol. He was booked into San Joaquin County Jail on multiple felony charges.

After securing the site, officers from other CDFW Special Operations, as well as San Joaquin County Sheriff’s deputies, assisted in the eradication and cleanup of the site. MET officers discovered a bottle of toxic chemicals, along with a face mask and latex gloves used by the suspects. Though the label was mostly removed, officers determined the bottle likely contained cufuran, which is part of a family of banned, highly toxic poisons that are increasingly found at illegal grow sites and are lethal to wildlife even in the smallest doses.

CDFW established MET in 2013. The team’s primary duties include detection and apprehension of transnational criminal organization cartel suspects whose illegal cultivation of black-market marijuana poses an ever-growing public safety and environmental threat. The teams then work to rehabilitate the sites and attempt to restore the damaged habitat.

“These grows threaten the public, destroy habitat, pollute our lands and waterways, illegally divert water, and put unsafe and untested cannabis products on the black market that are frequently grown using toxic chemicals,” said David Bess, Deputy Director and Chief of the CDFW Law Enforcement Division.

CDFW collaborated with the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office and the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office on the mission. CDFW would like to remind the public to be aware of their surroundings and report poaching and pollution information to the CDFW 24/7 CalTIP hotline at (888) 334-2258.

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Media Contacts:
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937
Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement, (916) 651-6692

California Sea Otter Numbers Take a Slight Dip From Last Year, but Average Count Exceeds 3,090 for Third Consecutive Year

Southern sea otter numbers have declined off the coast of California since peaking in 2016, but the average population count remains above 3,090 for the third consecutive year. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southern Sea Otter Recovery Plan, the population average count would have to exceed 3,090 for three consecutive years for southern sea otters to be considered for delisting under the Endangered Species Act.

Despite the recent dip in numbers, the population average count this year has reached this three-year threshold.

According to data just released by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), this year’s average count of 3,128 was 58 sea otters lower than the 2017 survey. Southern sea otters, Enhydra lutris nereis, are designated as threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

“Reaching this threshold is a milestone in southern sea otter recovery, but it will be important to review all factors influencing the population to determine whether or not delisting is appropriate using the best available science,” said Lilian Carswell, southern sea otter recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “For the southern sea otter, those factors include ongoing threats such as shark bite mortality, lack of range expansion, and changes in prey.”

In part, this year’s dip reflects a 2.2 percent decrease in the three-year average count of the sea otter’s mainland population, which stretches from about Point Año Nuevo in San Mateo County to a few kilometers west of Gaviota State Beach in Santa Barbara County. In contrast, the small sea otter population at San Nicolas Island continues to increase.

“Surface kelp canopies were abundant this year within the otter’s mainland range compared to last year when they were very sparse,” said Brian Hatfield, the USGS wildlife biologist coordinating the annual range-wide survey. “This may have influenced sea otter distribution and contributed to the higher count in the center of their range.”

Scientists from CDFW, USGS and the Monterey Bay Aquarium have conducted this range-wide census of southern sea otter populations every year since the 1980s, except for 2011, when poor weather conditions prevented completion of the field research. Researchers compute the annual population index and evaluate population trends, providing the USFWS and other resource agencies with insight into southern sea otter abundance and distribution.

The mainland population of sea otters was largest in the central part of the species’ range, which is between Seaside and Cayucos; it increased slightly in the southern part of the range. North of the central region, however, the five-year trend in sea otter populations continued to drop. Changes at the range ends have implications for the long-term outlook for sea otter recovery.

“We continue to recover high numbers of shark-bitten sea otters along the northern and southern ends of the range. These are the same areas we’ve documented a decrease in abundance. This trend is concerning and is likely impacting population expansion and recovery,” said Mike Harris, senior environmental scientist with CDFW.

In addition to the sea otter population along the mainland California coast, USGS and partners also survey the sea otters at San Nicolas Island in the Southern California Bight. This population, established by introducing sea otters back into the area in the late 1980s, struggled at low numbers through the 1990s. However, over the last decade, the population has grown rapidly at an average rate of about 10 percent per year.

The sea otter survey and stranding programs are just one part of a larger research program investigating sea otters and their role as predators in coastal ecosystems. As a “keystone” species, sea otters can give scientists clues on the health of Pacific nearshore ecosystems, which support diverse wildlife species and provide economic support for coastal communities. To keep a finger on the pulse of sea otter populations, USGS researchers monitor changes in the kelp forest ecosystems that provide sea otters with suitable resting and feeding habitat. USGS also collaborates with CDFW and the Monterey Bay Aquarium in running a sea otter stranding network. The findings from these coordinated efforts inform and support effective management of sea otter populations to guide them toward recovery.

Survey Methodology

  • The annual population index is calculated from visual surveys conducted via telescope observations from shore and via low-flying aircraft along the California coastline by researchers, students and volunteers from CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, Monterey Bay Aquarium, USGS, UCSC, USFWS and the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
  • This year, the surveyed coastline spanned from Pillar Point in San Mateo County, south to Rincon Point near the Santa Barbara/Ventura County line, and included San Nicolas Island.

About the Sea Otter

  • Sea otters were presumed extinct in California after the fur trade years, but they were rediscovered in the 1930s, when about 50 animals were documented near Bixby Creek north of Big Sur.
  • Sea otters are considered a keystone species of rocky sub-tidal ecosystems because they prey on sea urchins that, if left unchecked, can decimate kelp beds.
  • Scientists also study sea otters as an indicator of nearshore ecosystem health, since sea otters feed and live near the coast and often are the first predators exposed to pollutants and pathogens washed down from coastlands, such as the microbial toxin microcystin.
  • The public can report sightings of stranded sea otters to institutions listed on this webpage.

More detailed survey results and maps are available in the full report “Spring 2018 California Sea Otter Census Results,” which is available online.

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Media Contacts:
Steve Gonzalez, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, (916) 715-9072
Michael Harris, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, (805) 772-1135
Ashley McConnell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (805) 320-6225
Robyn Gerstenslager
, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (805) 701-5751

 

CDFW Awards $27.8 Million for Ecosystem and Watershed Restoration and Protection Projects Including Fire Recovery

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) today announced the selection of 24 projects to receive funding from its Water Quality, Supply and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014 (Prop. 1) Restoration Grant Programs.

The awards, totaling $27.8 million, were made under CDFW’s 2018 Prop. 1 Restoration Grant Programs Resiliency, Recovery and Response Proposal Solicitation Notice.

Of the $27.8 million, approximately $23.9 million was awarded through the Watershed Restoration Grant Program to projects of statewide importance outside of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and approximately $3.9 million awarded through the Delta Water Quality and Ecosystem Restoration Grant Program to projects that directly benefit the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The awarded projects represent priorities outlined in the 2018 Solicitation, as well as the California Water Action Plan. The 2018 solicitation included a specific focus on large-scale wildfire response and Central Valley salmon resilience and recovery.

“CDFW has maintained an adaptive priority-setting approach each year under our Prop. 1 grant program, and we are pleased to fund a number of projects this year that support fire recovery as well as continuing restoration actions,” CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham said. “We are proud to have funded over 100 on-the-ground projects in the four years since the implementation of Prop. 1. These are projects that will continue to deliver benefits to our fish and wildlife, and the habitats where they thrive.”

Projects approved for funding through the Watershed Restoration Grant Program include:

Implementation Projects 

  • Restoring Ecosystem Function in the Upper Salt River Watershed ($1,131,333 to Humboldt County Resource Conservation District
  • Upper Truckee River and Marsh Restoration Project ($1,700,066 to California Tahoe Conservancy)
  • Martis Wildlife Area Restoration Project ($3,280,656 to Truckee River Watershed Council)
  • El Capitan Creek Fish Passage Restoration Implementation ($1,179,473 to California Department of Parks and Recreation)
  • Rubber Dam No. 1 System Fish Passage Improvements Project ($5,000,0000 to Alameda County Water District)
  • East Creek Restoration Project ($316,803 to Plumas Corporation)
  • Reidy Creek Restoration and Beautification Project ($380,873 to The Escondido Creek Conservancy)
  • The Road to Recovery: Redwood Complex Fire Restoration – Implementation ($656,902 to Mendocino County)
  • Post Fire Forest Management and Sediment Reduction for Coho Recovery ($1,423,107 to Sonoma Resource Conservation District)
  • Grasslands Floodplain Restoration Implementation Project ($1,342,718 to American Rivers)
  • Robin’s Nest Fire Recovery and Habitat Restoration Project ($301,600 to Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority)
  • West Stanislaus Irrigation District Fish Screen Project ($2,250,000 to West Stanislaus Irrigation District)
  • San Francisco Estuary Invasive Spartina Removal and Tidal Marsh Restoration Project, Phase II ($2,200,000 to California State Coastal Conservancy)
  • Multi-benefit Floodplain Restoration at Dos Rios Ranch and Steenstrup Slough ($1,588,911 to River Partners)

Planning Projects 

  • San Ysidro Creek Debris Basin Capacity Improvement Project ($139,744 to Santa Barbara County Flood Control and Water Conservation District)
  • Cold Springs Debris Basin Capacity Improvement Project ($139,744 to Santa Barbara County Flood Control & Water Conservation District)
  • Romero Creek Debris Basin Capacity Improvement Project ($139,744 to Santa Barbara County Flood Control and Water Conservation District)
  • Mapping, Assessment and Planning for Recovery and Resiliency in Fire-Damaged Watersheds in the Thomas Fire and Whittier Fire Recovery Zones ($382,223 to Santa Barbara Botanic Garden)
  • The Road to Recovery: Redwood Complex Fire Restoration – Planning ($88,382 to Mendocino County)
  • Dos Pueblos Creek Restoration Designs ($222,104 to Earth Island Institute)

Projects approved for funding through the Delta Water Quality and Ecosystem Restoration Grant Program include: 

Scientific Studies

  • Eyes and Ears: Using Lens and Otolith Isotopes to Quantify Critical Rearing Habitats for Salmon Viability ($838,279 to University of California, Davis)
  • Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Bloom Toxins in Freshwater and Estuarine Invertebrates: Implications for Managed Species, Their Communities, and Human Health Risks ($612,115 to Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board)
  • Pathogen Screening and Health Status of Outmigrating Chinook Salmon in the California Delta ($733,884 to University of California, Davis)
  • High Resolution Temporal and Spatial Mapping of Mercury in Surface Waters of the San Francisco Bay Delta ($1,708,808 to University of California, Merced)

General information about CDFW’s Prop. 1 Restoration Grant Programs, as well as a schedule of locations and dates for workshops, once available, can be found at www.wildlife.ca.gov/grants.

Funding for these projects comes from Prop. 1 bond funds, a portion of which are allocated annually through the California State Budget Act. More information about Prop. 1 is on the California Natural Resources Agency website.

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Media Contacts:
Matt Wells, CDFW Watershed Restoration Grants Branch, (916) 445-1285

Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

State Agencies to Hold Cannabis Permitting Workshops in Fortuna, Redway and Ukiah

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) will be hosting cannabis permitting workshops in Fortuna, Redway and Ukiah in late August and early September. Workshops are open to cannabis cultivators, consultants and anyone with an interest in the topic. There is no cost to attend.

Each workshop will include presentations by CDFW and SWRCB about the requirements for and process of obtaining proper permits for cannabis grows. Workshop attendees will have ample time to talk with agency staff about individual projects. Representatives from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, CAL FIRE  and county permitting and planning departments will also be available to answer questions.

The workshops will be held on the following dates:

Wednesday, Aug. 29
10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (presentations at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.)
River Lodge Conference Center
1800 Riverwalk Drive
Fortuna

Thursday, Aug. 30
10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (presentations at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.)
Mateel Community Center
59 Rusk Lane
Redway

Wednesday, Sept. 5
10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (presentations at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.)
Ukiah Valley Conference Center
200 S School St.
Ukiah

For more information, please visit CDFW’s cannabis program webpage at www.wildlife.ca.gov/conservation/cannabis and the SWRCB cannabis program webpage at www.waterboards.ca.gov/cannabis.

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Media Contacts:
Heather McIntire, CDFW Cannabis Program, (707) 210-4415
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

 

California Fish and Game Commission Meets in Fortuna

At its August 2018 meeting in Fortuna, the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) took action on a number of issues affecting California’s natural resources. The following are just a few items of interest from the meeting.FGC logo

Commission President Eric Sklar, Commissioner Jacque Hostler-Carmesin and Commissioner Peter Silva were present. Commission Vice President Anthony Williams and Commissioner Russell Burns were absent.

In response to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) findings of declining density and poor ocean conditions, in December 2017, the Commission adopted regulations to close the recreational abalone fishery for the 2018 season. Unfortunately, ocean conditions are not improving for California’s red abalone, and populations continue to decline due to severe starvation conditions. Consequently, on Aug. 22, the Commission voted unanimously to authorize publication of notice of intent to amend regulations to extend the fishery closure sunset date for the recreational red abalone fishery another two years (through April 2021). They will take action on whether or not to extend the closure the season at their December meeting.

On Aug. 23, The Commission voted unanimously to list the Humboldt marten as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act.

The Commission also received an update from CDFW regarding cutting-edge rehabilitation techniques being utilized on wildlife severely burned in wildfires. Typically wildlife finds ways to flee from wildfire and CDFW does not anticipate large scale population declines associated with the fires. However, some animals have been deemed suitable for rehabilitation and have been taken in for treatment. Thus far, three bears and one mountain lion have been treated for burns with sterilized tilapia skin. CDFW released a time-lapse video of one of the bears undergoing the treatment.

The full Commission summary and supporting information can be found at www.fgc.ca.gov. An archived video will soon be available.

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 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.

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Media Contact:
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937