Environmental Crimes Discovered at Illegal Cannabis Grows in Tehama and Shasta Counties

Illegal Water Diversions Removed and Pollution Documented

In April, wildlife officers at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) conducted two investigations related to environmental crimes associated with illegal cannabis cultivation in southern Tehama County and western Shasta County.

Support was provided by CDFW Environmental Scientists, and the Sheriffs’ Departments of Trinity and Tehama counties.

“Both sites were illegally diverting water from stream channels with unseasonably low water levels,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “If left in place, these operations would have severely impacted water availability in the streams, which sensitive fish and wildlife species depend on for survival.”

On April 16 in Tehama County, officers served a search warrant and eradicated over 900 illegal cannabis plants. CDFW Environmental Scientists documented 10 environmental violations along North Fork Elder Creek, which included unscreened and unlawful water diversions, oil, sediment and nutrient pollution, and litter in and around nearby streams.

North Fork Elder Creek supports foothill yellow-legged frog and western pond turtle, California Species of Special Concern, as well as a variety of native fish species, all of which were observed during the investigation. Officers arrested two suspects for illegal cannabis cultivation and 10 counts of various environmental crimes. A formal complaint will be filed with the Tehama County District Attorney’s office.

On April 21, officers responded to a landowner complaint of a trespass cannabis grow on Lewiston Turnpike Road in Shasta County. Officers eradicated 1,950 illegal cannabis plants and CDFW Environmental Scientists documented illegal stream diversions and litter in and adjacent to state waters. One suspect was detained and released pursuant to Shasta County Jail COVID-19 protocols. A formal complaint will be filed with the Shasta County District Attorney’s office.

The public can report environmental crimes to the CalTIP hotline at (888) 334-2258 or by texting “CALTIP”, followed by a space and the message, to 847411 (tip411).

###

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

Excellent Water Skills Help Stop Marine Aquaria Poacher

The California Fish and Game Commission recently revoked commercial marine aquaria fishing privileges for David W. Hornbaker due to unlawful take of marine aquaria species. Hornbaker was charged with using an unlawful anesthetic substance to collect in an area in which he was directly warned not to do so, then failed to cooperate with wildlife officers by attempting to destroy evidence.

In Nov. 2013, while on patrol along the frontside of Santa Catalina Island off Emerald Bay, Wildlife Officers Spencer Gilbert (now retired) and Rob Rojas from the patrol boat Thresher, skippered by Lt. Eric Kord, noticed a sailboat anchored offshore. The wildlife officers knew from a prior contact that the boat belonged to Hornbaker, a commercial marine aquaria collector. It is unlawful to collect marine aquaria at Santa Catalina Island. As they approached, they could see that Hornbaker was not on the boat but was underwater on a SCUBA dive. They searched for, and located, tell-tale SCUBA bubbles on the water’s surface. Warden Rojas doffed his uniform and with nothing more than a mask, fins, swim trunks and a breath of air, dove down to observe Hornbaker in 20-30 feet of water. He watched Hornbaker squirt a substance into the reef, resulting in stunned fish exiting the safety of the reef’s hiding places. Hornbaker then scooped the fish with a small aquarium net and placed it into a container strapped to his side. Marine aquaria collecting by use of a chemical liquid substance is unlawful, due to the damage it causes to the reef.

The fish he had taken from the reef were blue-banded gobies, vibrantly colored blue and orange fish that are highly sought after by marine aquaria collectors due to their high resale value. 

With probable cause that Hornbaker was engaged in unlawful activity, and while still holding his breath, Warden Rojas identified himself underwater as a wildlife officer with a cloth badge and motioned for Hornbaker to surface. While surfacing, Hornbaker attempted to discard two plastic containers that contained the unknown liquid substance used to incapacitate the fish. Warden Rojas took another breath at the surface and dove back down to retrieve the discarded items, containing what had then become evidence. He also seized the container attached to Hornbaker’s side.

Blue Banded Gobies in the container possessed by the suspect

During the subsequent inspection of Hornbaker’s vessel, Warden Gilbert noticed a second container on the ocean floor under the boat. He also doffed his uniform, swam down and retrieved another container containing gobies, 172 in all.

Upon further analysis by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Water Pollution Control Laboratory, the unknown chemical liquid substance was analyzed and identified as quinaldine, a known fish anesthetic that is illegal to use for marine aquaria collection off California.

CDFW’s Marine Enforcement District (MED) has some extraordinarily talented and dedicated wildlife officers who go to great lengths to protect California’s marine resources,” said MED Asst. Chief Mike Stefanak. “It takes time for the criminal and administrative processes to work to bring criminals to justice, but the meticulous efforts of Wardens Gilbert and Rojas ultimately resulted in removal of a bad actor from the commercial marine aquaria trade.”

Wildlife officers cited Hornbaker for unlawful take of marine aquaria species off Santa Catalina Island, unlawful use of quinaldine to take fish and for the unlawful deposit of a deleterious substance into California waters. They properly documented the fish for evidentiary purposes then released them, alive, back into the water. Further investigation revealed that prior to the original contact, Hornbaker had been contacted by a different wildlife officer and was explicitly warned it was unlawful to take marine aquaria species off Santa Catalina Island. Because the Commission revoked Hornbaker’s commercial fishing privileges he is permanently prohibited from collecting marine aquaria.

###

Media Contacts:
Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 508-7095

CDFW Announces 2020 Wildlife Officer of the Year

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Law Enforcement Division is proud to announce Warden Jonathan Garcia as 2020 Wildlife Officer of the Year. The Los Angeles County-based wildlife officer has led many notable investigations that resulted in successful prosecution of poachers over the past few years.

“Warden Garcia’s immense case load involved a wide variety of violations including illegal take of deer, take of lobster out of season, feeding bears, unlawful importation of restricted species, license fraud, take of mountain lions, take of bear out of season, use of throw nets and gill nets, and many others,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “For a wildlife officer who has only been with CDFW since 2018, that’s extraordinary performance. He’s an invaluable asset to us here at CDFW and the citizens of Los Angeles.”

The writing and serving of a recent search warrant for a man suspected of illegally trapping wildlife helped Warden Garcia earn the nomination. Warden Garcia found the suspect had trapped and killed two mountain lions and one bear using three large 9’x4’x4’ homemade traps that were baited with dead goats. The investigation revealed that one of the lions and the bear were neglected once caught in the trap and had ultimately suffered a slow death. The same investigation revealed a live gray fox in a different homemade trap that was subsequently released, and an additional 11 dead raptors on the property. Lastly, unlawful streambed alteration violations were also found on the property. After the case was filed with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, a felony arrest warrant for animal cruelty was issued for the suspect. Garcia and his squad mates arrested the suspect on the warrant on Mar. 29, 2021 and the case is pending prosecution.

Garcia has been very successful at finding violators who use methods of take that are most detrimental to our fisheries, throw nets and gill nets. An example is when Warden Garcia and another wildlife officer located a group of suspects who were poaching at night in the Malibu surf. They stopped the suspects in the act of using a 75’ long x 9’ wide gillnet. The suspects possessed 30 unlawfully taken fish, including three undersized halibut. Garcia has also made multiple throw net cases on the West Fork of the San Gabriel River, one of only a few streams that still hold wild trout in Los Angeles County.

While patrolling a remote area in the Angeles National Forest, Warden Garcia noted the odor of what he thought was an animal carcass of a possible poaching case. He followed the odor 100 yards to a decomposing human body. Upon further investigation with Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the body was identified as a victim of an extremely violent murder. The suspected murderer had been taken into custody but refused to reveal the location of where he dumped the decedent’s body. Warden Garcia’s contribution to the investigation was crucial to prosecution of the case and closure for the family.

Warden Garcia’s Spanish speaking skills have also greatly contributed to poaching investigations wherever needed and often well outside his normal patrol district. He is highly skilled at conducting poaching investigations via suspected poacher’s social media accounts, online auction forums, and other digital tools used to traffic in wildlife and wildlife parts. He was recently nominated to become a Field Training Officer where he will be entrusted to train and observe recent academy graduates during their first few months in the field.

CDFW wholeheartedly congratulates Warden Garcia on earning the title of 2020 Wildlife Officer of the Year.

###

Media Contacts:
Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 508-7095
Capt. Kory Collins, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (310) 944-8182

Aggressive Coyote Removed from Contra Costa County

A multi-agency team of wildlife management professionals and local law enforcement caught and euthanized the coyote that attacked five people in the Moraga/Lafayette area of Contra Costa County, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced.

This unusually aggressive coyote attacked a small child on July 9, 2020, an adult male on Dec. 4, 2020, another adult male on Dec. 15, 2020, another small child on Feb. 16, 2021 and another adult male on Feb. 19, 2021. All the attacks occurred within two miles of one another in a north to south Lafayette/Moraga corridor. Personnel from CDFW, U.S. Dept of Agriculture – Wildlife Services, the Moraga and Lafayette police departments and Contra Costa County Animal Services have been working constantly to locate and remove the offending animal. On Thursday, evidence from CDFW’s wildlife forensics lab matched the DNA of this coyote to samples taken from each of the five victims.

U.C. Davis veterinary staff will conduct a rabies test. There is no current evidence to suggest the coyote is rabid but because of the severity of the disease it is standard operating procedure in an animal attack investigation such as this one. Rabies tests can only be done post-mortem.

Contra Costa County residents interested in learning more about living near coyotes can visit Keepmewild.org where there are helpful tips on how we can all better coexist with coyotes and other wild animals around us.

Personnel from the agencies involved in the operation wish to extend gratitude to the Contra Costa County citizens in the vicinity who have been overwhelmingly supportive of the effort to remove the dangerous animal. It is the sincere hope of the agencies that locals can recreate outdoors in the area again with significantly reduced anxiety and that the community knows that outdoor recreation is still very safe.

###

Media Contact: 
Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement Captain, (916) 508-7095 

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.