Category Archives: poaching

CDFW Seeks Public Help for Humboldt County Elk Poaching Investigation

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is seeking information about an elk poaching case currently under investigation in Humboldt County.

On Sunday, Dec. 9, 2018, CDFW wildlife officers responded to a poaching report in the Maple Creek area, southeast of Blue Lake. During the investigation, officers discovered four dead Roosevelt cow (female) elk. An examination showed the animals were recently killed with a firearm, and one of the elk was pregnant.

CDFW closely manages the state’s Roosevelt elk herds. A limited number of hunting permits are available for this species in Humboldt County, and some hunters wait more than a decade to be successful in the drawing. Elk hunting season was not open at the time these animals were shot.

Officers are continuing their investigation, including processing evidence left at the crime scene. CDFW asks that anyone who has any information regarding this poaching crime to contact the statewide tip hotline, CalTIP, at 1 (888) 334-2258. Tips can also be sent via text to CALTIP, followed by a space and the message to tip411 (847411). CalTIP (Californians Turn In Poachers and Polluters) is a confidential secret witness program that encourages the public to provide CDFW with factual information leading to the arrest of poachers and polluters.

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Media Contacts:
Warden John Fraley, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (707) 445-6493

Kirsten Macintyre, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8988

Ivory Sales Lead to Court Conviction in Los Angeles County

A Los Angeles County jury has convicted Anthony Buccola, 51, of Newport Beach, and his business, Antonio’s Bella Casa, on misdemeanor charges of selling narwhal tusks. Buccola and his business were found guilty on Aug. 1 in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Buccola was sentenced to 36 months probation with search terms, 200 hours of community service or 20 days in jail, $5,000 fine plus penalty assessment and forfeiture of the narwhal tusks. Antonio Bella Casa, Inc, was sentenced to 36 months probation with search terms, a fine of $5,000 plus penalty assessment and forfeiture of the narwhal tusk. The penalty was set pursuant to Fish and Game Code, section 2022, which took effect on July 1, 2016.

The investigation began in December 2016, when wildlife officers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Law Enforcement Division Trafficking Unit saw two narwhal tusks displayed at the retail antique store. The tusks were 79 and 87 inches long. An officer visited Antonio’s Bella Casa and an employee offered to sell the narwhal tusks for $35,000 each. He ultimately agreed to sell the tusks to an undercover officer for $30,000 each.

The tusks were seized as evidence and the CDFW Wildlife Forensics Lab conducted additional analysis. Wildlife forensics specialists confirmed the tusks were from narwhal.

“We would like to thank the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office and specifically their Environmental Justice Unit for their assistance in this investigation and the subsequent prosecution,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Law Enforcement Division Chief. “The penalties assessed by this court should deter further acts of ivory trafficking and prove California’s commitment to halting the demand for ivory which contributes to poaching of narwhal in their native range.”

“Selling ivory is not only illegal, it’s immoral,” said Mike Feuer, Los Angeles City Attorney. “The ivory trade is abominable, with devastating consequences that imperil threatened species like the narwhal. This prosecution and conviction sends the strong message that those who may think of selling ivory tusks will be held accountable. I also want to thank our partners at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for their close partnership on this important issue.”

Assembly Bill 96, authored in 2015 by then Assembly Speaker and current Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), made it unlawful to purchase, sell, offer for sale, possess with intent to sell or import with intent to sell ivory or rhinoceros horn, except as specified. AB 96 defines ivory as the tooth or tusk from a species of elephant, hippopotamus, mammoth, mastodon, walrus, warthog, whale or narwhal, or a piece thereof, whether raw ivory or worked ivory, and includes a product containing, or advertised as containing, ivory. A first-time violation of this law is a misdemeanor subject to specified criminal penalties and fines between $1,000 and $40,000, depending upon the value of the item.

Media Contacts:
Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 651-6692
Kyle Orr, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8958

Opening Weekend of Lobster Season Keeps Southern California Wildlife Officers Busy

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Wildlife officers from across Southern California participated in an enhanced patrol for opening weekend of the 2018 lobster season, which began on Sept. 29. The goal was to facilitate a safe and enjoyable start to lobster season and enforce the laws so future generations can also enjoy the sport.

Wildlife officers from inland regions of Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties converged on the coast to pool resources and enhance coverage. Both shore-based patrols and boat patrols were utilized. In total, officers made 2,088 contacts with lobster fishers, gave 165 warnings and issued 106 citations. Citations included overlimit of lobster and other fish, take of undersized lobster and other fish, unlawful take from Marine Protected Areas, lobster report card violations, an unlawful Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel operation and even a DUI.

One particularly notable case was in San Diego, where wildlife officers on boat patrol pulled up on a vessel with two persons on board. Upon approach, the men started throwing lobsters overboard. The officers quickly boarded the vessel and located 26 lobsters hidden throughout. The men were cited for an overlimit of lobster and report card violations. Another significant bust and citation occurred farther north in Orange County, where two wildlife officers made one case involving 27 lobsters taken the night prior to the opener (thus out of season).

During a large opener like this, the vast majority of individuals contacted by officers are law-abiding fishers and divers who cooperate with law enforcement and are even eager to show off their hard-earned catch. For example, in Dana Point Harbor in Orange County, Warden Andreas Gilbert contacted a group of four lobster free-divers (a free-diver is a diver who holds their breath, dives to the bottom for lobster, sometimes in the dark with a flashlight in one hand, and grabs the lobster with the other). The four were in possession of several legal lobsters and were extremely cooperative with Gilbert. After the contact, they asked to pose for a photo with Gilbert, who happily obliged.

CDFW’s Law Enforcement Division reminds lobster fishers to keep their activities safe. SCUBA divers should make sure their gear is in order and they are healthy and strong enough to safely dive. Most dive shops offer refresher courses for SCUBA-certified divers who may be rusty. At minimum, divers should try on all their gear ahead of time and hop in a pool. And always dive with a buddy – never alone.

Officers are always on patrol, and this year they are keeping a particularly close eye out for incidents of poaching from commercial traps. The State of California has partnered with commercial lobster fishers on permitting and scientific data collection for decades, and strictly regulates commercial lobster fishing in large part to support and protect the resource and industry. Stealing from commercial traps is a serious crime – in addition to being illegal, the behavior is unethical and unsportsmanlike, and will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. In July, a San Diego area poacher previously convicted of stealing lobsters from traps was convicted and sentenced to 45 days in jail, was fined $1,000 and all gear seized during the investigation was forfeited by the court. He was also placed on three years probation, during which time he must stay away from the South La Jolla State Marine Reserve.

Please visit CDFW’s lobster information webpage to review helpful information and links to current regulations.

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Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 322-8911
Lt. Scott Bringman, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (619) 562-2456

Humboldt Deputy District Attorney Honored for Protecting Natural Resources

Humboldt County Deputy District Attorney Adrian Kamada has been selected as the 2017 Wildlife Prosecutor of the Year, the California Fish and Game Commission and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced.

The California Fish and Game Commission recognizes a courtroom champion of fish and wildlife each year. The Prosecutor of the Year award honors a currently seated district attorney or deputy district attorney who tirelessly prosecutes crimes against fish, wildlife, natural resources and the environment in California courts.

“CDFW’s Law Enforcement Division is grateful for Deputy District Attorney Kamada’s service, exceptional effort and leadership on poaching and environmental crime prosecutions,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of Law Enforcement. “We hold him up as an example to others.”

FG Commission Prosecutor of the Year 2018 (1 of 1)

Kamada began working at the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office in 2014, assigned as the lead prosecutor on all environmental cases for the county. Kamada, who was raised in Humboldt, appreciates and understands the importance of the county’s diverse fish and wildlife species and the habitats upon which they depend.

In 2015, Kamada formed the Humboldt County Environmental Crimes Task Force, a group of state and local agency representatives that meets several times a year to address ongoing environmental crimes, promote interagency communication and problem solving. Task Force members are encouraged to speak directly with Kamada about cases. Kamada has also frequently accompanied CDFW wildlife officers on general patrol and on search warrant services.

Kamada has shown considerable skill and commitment in prosecuting a wide variety of fish, wildlife and environmental crime cases, including the following:

  • In 2015, wildlife officers contacted a man near the Eel River after observing him driving on a river bar while shining a high-powered light and discarding litter on the river bar. A search warrant served on the subject’s residence led to the discovery of evidence of spotlighting and poaching activity. Following the successful prosecution of the case by Kamada, the suspect was sentenced to three years of probation and 200 hours of community service, as well as being prohibited from hunting, mandated to complete the hunter safety program and forfeiting three firearms, ammunition, knives and unlawfully possessed deer parts.
  • Working with the Humboldt County Environmental Crimes Task Force, Kamada has successfully prosecuted egregious violations of various Fish and Game and Health and Safety Code laws associated with marijuana cultivation. He ensures that mandated property restoration work is included in court dispositions and then follows up – in some cases personally – to confirm the work was indeed completed.
  • Kamada prosecuted a poacher who attempted to shoot a wildlife officer, resulting in a 20-year prison sentence for the shooter. The incident occurred in 2016, when an officer came across a pickup truck whose occupants were spotlighting deer in a remote area of Humboldt County. When the officer attempted a traffic stop, one of the occupants began shooting from the bed of the truck while the driver sped away. During the course of the pursuit, 10 shots were fired at the officer. The truck eventually crashed and the suspects fled into the woods on foot, evading immediate capture. In August 2017, after many months of investigation and surveillance, the suspect who shot at the officer turned himself in.
  • In 2018, Kamada prosecuted an unusual case involving largescale poaching of Dudleya, a succulent plant that grows in a unique ecological niche along the Humboldt County coastline. The suspects were foreign nationals who poached 2,300 Dudleya for sale overseas. Kamada dedication to the case ultimately led to felony convictions on conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor and false filing with the state, as well as misdemeanor convictions for removal of plant material from public lands and commercial sales of those plants.

Commission President Eric Sklar also offers high praise for Kamada’s efforts, noting, “Without strong prosecutors such as Deputy District Attorney Kamada, our natural resources would be at increased risk. We thank him for his important work and his commitment to safeguarding California’s biodiversity for the future.”

Media Contacts:
Valerie Termini, California Fish and Game Commission, (916) 653-4899
Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 651-6692

 

Succulent Plant Poachers Convicted in Humboldt County

Three defendants in a succulent plant poaching case out of Humboldt County have each pled guilty to two felonies and other misdemeanor charges, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office announced. Felony convictions included conspiracy and false filings with the government, and misdemeanor convictions included removal of plant material from public lands and commercial sales of plants removed from public lands.

The succulent plants at the center of the investigation are called Dudleyas. They grow in unique niches close to the coastline, typically on cliffsides immediately adjacent to the water. The poachers had a network of buyers in Korea and China, where Dudleya are valued as a trendy houseplant.

Removal of Dudleya, or any vegetation in sensitive habitat, can result in environmental degradation of habitat and a destabilization of bluffs and cliffs on the coastline. Some Dudleya species are rare or at risk of extinction.

Wildlife officers worked extensively with allied law enforcement from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Postal Service inspectors to track down and collect evidence of poaching the succulent plants for sale overseas. During the investigation, wildlife officers witnessed the three removing plants from coastal bluffs in the Humboldt Lagoons State Park. On April 4, officers found the trio in possession of 2,300 Dudleya plants and more than $10,200 in cash.

All three defendants were foreign nationals. Liu Fengxia, 37, of China, and Tae-Hun Kim, 52, and Tae-Hyun Kim, 46, both from Korea, were handed a sentence of three years and eight months in state prison and a $10,000 fine each. Judge John T. Feeney suspended the prison sentences with the conditions that the defendants are prohibited from entering the United States without prior authorization of the federal government and state courts, and prohibited from entering any local, state or national park.

In addition to the fines, the defendants will also forfeit the $10,200 to CDFW as restitution. These funds will be used specifically for the conservation of Dudleya on public lands in Humboldt County.

“Together with prosecuting Deputy District Attorney Adrian Kamada and the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office, we hope this conviction and sentencing will send a message to those who may consider poaching California’s precious natural resources to sell overseas for personal profit,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of Law Enforcement.

The case developed from a tip from a member of the public who saw something amiss. Anyone who believes they are witness to unlawful poaching or pollution activity is encouraged to call CalTIP, CDFW’s confidential secret witness program, at (888) 334-2258 or send a text with the tip411 app. Both methods allow the public to provide wildlife officers with factual information to assist with investigations. Callers may remain anonymous, if desired, and a reward can result from successful capture and prosecution.

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Media Contact:
Capt. Patrick Foy, CDFW Law Enforcement Division, (916) 322-8911