Category Archives: OSPR

CDFW Honors Wildlife Officer of the Year

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement Division has selected Warden Anastasia Norris as the 2019 Wildlife Officer of the Year.

“Warden Norris has spent plenty of time doing traditional wildlife law enforcement work, but her expertise in oil spill investigations and response is where she has shined over the course of her career,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “Investigations involving habitat damage from oil and hazardous materials spills are integral to the Law Enforcement Division’s mission. Warden Norris is one of the finest in this regard.”

Warden Norris received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Animal Sciences from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1998 and a Master of Public Health in Epidemiology from the University of Oklahoma in 2001. She graduated as part of Academy Class 53 at Butte College in 2009 and began her career as a wildlife officer in Long Beach, where she gained expertise in marine enforcement and commercial fishing.

She soon transferred to the CDFW Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), where she has excelled as the State On-Scene Coordinator and/or lead investigator for 20 complicated oil and hazardous materials spills. In 2015, Norris was designated the lead investigator on the Plains All-American/Refugio spill in Santa Barbara County, one of the largest and most detrimental oil spills to hit California’s coast in the last 50 years.

The Refugio oil spill began on May 19, 2015. Norris managed and coordinated the evidence and documentation efforts throughout the investigation, including embarking upon a cross-country drive to ensure chain-of-custody and security of a seized section of pipeline in Ohio. She interviewed dozens of witnesses during the investigation. The final 118-page report included support documentation that was an additional 13 inches thick. Norris also provided support for the prosecution and was in court every day of the almost four-month duration of the trial. On Sept. 7, 2018, guilty verdicts were reached on nine counts, including eight misdemeanors and one felony. Even while the Refugio investigation was dominating her workload, Norris continued to respond to numerous other petroleum spills.

“Warden Norris is the force behind major investigations involving water pollution and numerous environmental statutes and regulations affecting our great state’s waterways and ocean environment,” said Brett Morris, Supervising Deputy Attorney General of the California Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted the Refugio case. “While away from her assigned beat and her family for over three months, Warden Norris successfully guided to conviction the largest criminal prosecution of corporate water polluters in Santa Barbara County’s history.”

###

Media Contact:
Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 651-6692

 

California Fish and Game Commission Meets in Sacramento

At its August 2019 meeting in Sacramento, 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 two-day meeting.

The Commission and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division David Bess presented an award to Jessica Brown, who earned the title of 2018 Wildlife Prosecutor of the Year. Brown is Supervising City Attorney for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Environmental Justice Unit. As she accepted the award, Brown acknowledged her team of superb prosecutors, all of whom are highly dedicated to the successful prosecution of fish and wildlife cases. Brown, along with her team, has shown steadfast dedication to CDFW’s cases and to protecting and conserving California’s natural resources.

At the Commission meeting Chief Bess also presented the Wildlife Officer of the Year Award to Warden Anastasia Norris for her exceptional efforts to investigate highly technical petroleum pollution cases and guide them to conviction. She took the initiative to become a pipeline and corrosion expert and this has benefitted CDFW in many oil spill cases. Her work on the May 2015 Refugio oil spill in Santa Barbara kept her stationed away from her family for three months. Norris accepted the award with her family present.

The Commission honored Valerie Termini for her service as Executive Director from 2016-2018. Termini was the first ever female Executive Director of the Commission and brought integrity and professionalism to the position. President Eric Sklar presented Termini with a Commission resolution and gift from the commissioners. Termini served as Executive Director until CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham requested she serve in an acting role as CDFW Chief Deputy Director in November, a position to which she was officially appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom in June.

The Commission began the regulatory process to ban possession of live nutria, a large, brown, fur-bearing, aquatic rodent native to South America. CDFW is seeking a regulatory change from the Commission in order to prevent further spread of this persistent invasive species. In California, nutria pose a significant threat as an agricultural pest, a destroyer of critical wetlands needed by native wildlife, and a public safety risk as their destructive burrowing jeopardizes the state’s water delivery and flood control infrastructure. CDFW has a robust detection and eradication effort underway in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in order to limit the invasive rodents’ spread and impact on California’s most important water resource and the heart of the state’s water delivery and infrastructure.

The Commission also determined that listing San Bernardino kangaroo rat as threatened or endangered under the California Endangered Species Act may be warranted. This commences a one-year status review of the species and the Commission will make a final decision at a future meeting. During the status review, the San Bernardino kangaroo rat is protected under CESA as a candidate species.

The Commission also directed staff to continue working with CDFW and stakeholders to revise a draft Delta fisheries management policy, including potential revisions to the existing striped bass policy.

President Sklar and Commissioners Russell Burns, Samantha Murray and Peter Silva were present. Commission Vice President Jacque Hostler-Carmesin was absent.

The full Commission agenda for this meeting along with supporting information is available at www.fgc.ca.gov. An archived video will also be available in coming days.

###

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.

 

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

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.

###

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

 

Grant Funding Available for Oil Spill Prevention and Response Studies

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is currently accepting proposals to fund up to $200,000 in specialized oil spill-related scientific studies in marine and inland environments. Eligible studies must relate to improved oil spill prevention and response efforts, best technologies and the improved understanding of the effects of oil on state waters.

CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) operates the California Oil Spill Study and Evaluation Program (COSSEP), which fulfills a legislative mandate to provide funding to any person or entity that qualifies to contract with the state for studies in the following areas:

  • Investigation and evaluation of applied spill prevention and response technologies
  • Effects of oil and spill response on fish and wildlife habitat and water quality
  • Strategies for best achievable protection of wildlife and habitats
  • Wildlife collection and rehabilitation during a spill incident
  • Natural resource damage assessment technologies and methods

Applications must be received by Sept. 12, 2018, and award recipients will be notified in December.

Full funding for COSSEP projects comes from the Oil Spill Prevention and Administration Fund, which assesses a per-barrel fee on oil entering California refineries. No taxpayer-funded dollars are directed to this account.

The number of contracts to be awarded is not pre-determined, but the total amount budgeted for Fiscal Year 2019-2020 is approximately $200,000. There is also no specified minimum amount to be awarded.

For more information, please visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/OSPR/Science/SSEP or contact CDFW Contract Analyst Heather Sironen at (916) 324-6252.

###

Media Contacts:
Eric Laughlin, OSPR Communications, (916) 214-3279
Heather Sironen, OSRP Grants, (916) 324-6252

Scientists Test Oil Spill Containment Equipment in Mission Bay

IMG_0391.JPGThe California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) facilitated an exercise today to test response strategies aimed at protecting environmentally sensitive sites in the event of an oil spill near Mission Bay. 

As part of the exercise, OSPR personnel and local oil spill responders stretched 800 feet of orange containment boom across the channel leading into the bay from Mission Point to Hospitality Point. There was no reported spill. These were test procedures to tailor a response and refine the contingency plan to best prevent oil from reaching Mission Bay and the mouth of the San Diego River in the event of a spill. 

“Drills like this not only allow us to test these strategies in real-time conditions, but are also good practice opportunities for local oil spill responders,” said OSPR Environmental Scientist Kris Wiese. 

Factors such as tidal patterns, currents and weather conditions affect how well boom and other equipment works. Testing a strategy helps experts from OSPR determine whether it is likely to be successful in the event of a spill or needs to be altered. 

Pictures from today’s events are available on the OSPR Facebook page. 

Background

CDFW’s Sensitive Site Strategy Evaluation Program (SSSEP) evaluates strategies selected from more than 600 sites statewide that are particularly vulnerable to an oil spill. These areas are identified in Area Contingency Plans (ACPs) and are rich in sensitive resources such as fish, birds and marine mammals. Many also include habitat for wildlife breeding, nesting and feeding.

ACPs cover the entire coastline and marine waters of California and include the state’s busiest port areas: San Francisco Bay, Los Angeles/Long Beach and San Diego. More than 50 state, federal and local governments, as well as non-governmental organizations, industry and the general public contribute to ACP development.  

Media Contact: Eric Laughlin, OSPR Communications, (916) 214-3279