Category Archives: poaching

Lassen County Man Arrested for Illegal Mass Killing of Raptors

California wildlife officers have uncovered what is likely the largest raptor poaching case in known California history, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced.

Wildlife officers assigned to Lassen County received an anonymous tip from someone who reportedly witnessed a man killing a hawk near the town of Standish. The local wildlife officer conducted surveillance, then visited the private property and discovered nine dead raptors, which was enough evidence to obtain a search warrant. He returned on March 11 with additional officers and a CDFW K-9. A search of the 80-acre property led to the discovery of an extraordinary number of raptor carcasses, other dead birds and wildlife and spent rifle casings indicating more than 140 potential state and/or federal violations.

Processing evidence
Processing evidence: Wildlife officers collected over 140 carcasses of mostly raptors, but other birds and mammals as well.

In addition to the original nine birds, they found 126 dead raptors, all in various states of decay. Most of the birds were red-tailed hawks, but at least one dead owl was found, as well as an uncommon migratory ferruginous hawk. Officers also located two dead bobcats, one taxidermied mountain lion and other nongame birds, all suspected to be unlawfully taken.

Property owner Richard Parker, 67, was booked into Lassen County jail on multiple charges including take of birds of prey, take of migratory nongame birds as designated by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, take of other nongame birds, and possession of wildlife unlawfully taken. Additional charges may be added as the investigation proceeds.

wildlife officers conducting investigation
Wildlife officers conducting investigation: Most of the dead birds were located at the bottom of roosting trees or manmade objects such as telephone poles.

Staff at CDFW’s Wildlife Investigations Laboratory in Rancho Cordova are working to positively identify the species of all of the birds.

As the top bird predators in the food chain, raptors serve an important role in the ecosystem by controlling rodent and small mammal populations. However, they are also particularly susceptible to environmental stressors such as drought and habitat loss. For these reasons, biologists refer to them as an indicator species.

Standish is located near Honey Lake and the Honey Lake Wildlife Area, with habitat that supports a rich diversity and quantity of wildlife. The sheer number of birds poached on the 80-acre property will undoubtedly affect the raptor population in the immediate area.

“Poaching crimes of this egregious nature against raptors is unprecedented in California,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “The local raptor population may take years to recover from these killings.”

Each potential violation is a misdemeanor poaching crime at the state level, with maximum penalties of six months in jail and up to a $5,000 fine per each raptor. An unlawfully taken mountain lion could result in up to a $10,000 penalty. Each potential federal crime could result in additional penalties.

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

Commission Suspends License of Sportfishing Charter Boat Operator for Poaching in Southern California Marine Protected Areas

The California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) today ordered a five-year suspension of the license of Pacific Star Sportfishing, Inc., a recreational sportfishing vessel operator. The decision was made following oral arguments heard at the Commission meeting today in Sacramento.

In an undercover operation and subsequent boarding by officers in 2013, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) wildlife officers observed 18 violations including poaching within California’s marine protected area (MPA) network, exceeding the possession limits of several fish species, using illegal methods to take fish and failing to report accurate counts on logbooks. Based on these violations, CDFW filed an accusation with the Commission against Pacific Star requesting that the Commission suspend this commercial passenger fishing vessel license.

“Illegal take of our marine resources, especially in MPAs, undermines the tireless work of law enforcement, scientists, the public and fishermen in California,” said Commission President Eric Sklar. “The Commission took ample time to review the department’s accusation and we hope this serves as a message that we do not take lightly these sorts of violations and will ensure those who are responsible receive the appropriate penalty.”

The Commission’s decision today follows a two-day hearing in 2017 conducted by an administrative law judge on behalf of the Commission with CDFW and Pacific Star both participating. The judge ultimately proposed that the Commission suspend the license for two years, with only the first 90 days of the suspension taking effect so long as Pacific Star complied with certain terms of probation. The Commission rejected that proposal as inadequate and gave CDFW and Pacific Star each 15 minutes today to argue their positions, resulting in today’s suspension.


Media Contacts:
Michael Yaun, Commission Legal Counsel, (916) 653-4899
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

Three Abalone Poachers Hit with Heavy Fines, Other Penalties

The Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office has settled three major abalone poaching cases involving Fort Bragg, Sacramento and Bay Area abalone poachers, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced.

Two of the settled cases resulted in hefty fines and other penalties for restaurant owners:

  • Steven Yuan Qin Liang, 47, of Fort Bragg pled
    Evidence seized in the Liang case.

    guilty to felony conspiracy involving the purchase and black market sales of sport-caught abalone for personal profit. Liang, owner of the Asian Buffet restaurant in Fort Bragg, was ordered to serve 360 days in the Mendocino County Jail, placed on probation for 36 months and ordered to pay a fine of $15,000. He is prohibited from obtaining a sport or commercial fishing license for life.

  • Bryant Chiu Shiu Lee, 44, of Sacramento, pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of purchasing abalone for black market resale. Lee, owner of the Sushi Café in Sacramento, was placed on probation for 36 months and ordered to pay a fine of $40,000. He is prohibited from obtaining a sport or commercial fishing license for life.

Liang and Lee were both convicted in late 2017, following a joint investigation by the CDFW Special Operations Unit and Mendocino Coast squad that began in June 2015.

In the third case, the strange circumstances surrounding an emergency rescue led to an investigation and eventual conviction.

  • Justin Joseph Adams, 44, of Alameda, pled guilty to charges of conspiracy and taking abalone for black market sale. He was ordered to serve 210 days in the Mendocino County Jail, was placed on probation for 36 months and was ordered to pay a fine of $15,000. He is also prohibited from obtaining a sport or commercial fishing license for life.
Adams case April 2017
Evidence seized in the Adams case.

In April 2017, wildlife officers received information from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department, Elk Volunteer Fire Department and Mendocino Volunteer Fire Department about odd circumstances surrounding a cliff rescue in Elk, Mendocino County. Adams had been dropped off by a friend the day before at the headlands just north of Cuffy’s Cove in Elk. He climbed down a steep cliff to the water’s edge and harvested abalone during low tide, but when the tide returned, his return route was blocked. When he failed to appear at a pre-determined pick-up location, a friend called in a missing persons report. Rescuers found Adams stranded on the side of a steep cliff and extracted him around 2 a.m.

Wildlife officers suspected poaching activity may have factored into Adams’ predicament. The day after the rescue, CDFW Lt. Joel Hendricks and Warden Don Powers donned wetsuits and swam to the location below where Adams was rescued to look for evidence of poaching. In a deep cut under the bluff, directly under the location of Adams’ rescue, they found two bags containing 38 abalone. One of the bags also contained a half-consumed plastic bottle of water. After obtaining a DNA sample from Adams via a search warrant, they sent the sample and the water bottle to the California Department of Justice Forensics Laboratory. The lab matched the DNA evidence from the bottle to Adams.

Trafficking of illegally harvested abalone on the black market continues to pose a significant enforcement problem and further exacerbates the pressure on the abalone population. Black market values will likely increase with the closure of the 2018 sport abalone season. Wildlife officers continue to conduct in-depth investigations and arrest those who continue to poach and commercialize abalone.

“It is immensely important for wildlife officers to work with District Attorneys who understand the importance of prosecuting poaching crimes against the dwindling abalone resource,” said CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of Law Enforcement David Bess. “The Mendocino County District Attorney’s office has an excellent track record in this regard.”

CDFW’s wildlife officers and biologists alike hope to see the return of a recreational abalone harvest as soon as the abalone population rebounds.


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

20-Year Prison Sentence for Man Convicted of Attempting to Shoot a Wildlife Officer

A Humboldt County man who attempted to shoot a California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CFDW) wildlife officer has been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Shawn Eugene Hof, Jr., 25, was convicted in Humboldt County Superior Court of assault with a firearm upon a peace officer with an enhancement of personally using a firearm, being a felon in possession of a firearm, using threats and violence upon an executive officer, negligently discharging a firearm at an occupied vehicle, and one misdemeanor violation of “spotlighting” (using artificial light to poach wildlife). On Jan. 16, Humboldt County Superior Court Judge John T. Feeney issued the 20-year sentence. By law, Hof must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence because of the serious nature of the offenses.

In the early morning hours of Aug. 21, 2016, a CDFW wildlife officer was patrolling in Carlotta, Humboldt County. The officer saw a pickup truck with two occupants using spotlights on Redwood House Road near Highway 36. The driver sped away when the officer attempted an enforcement stop. During the subsequent pursuit, Hof began shooting at the wildlife officer from the truck. The suspects crashed their vehicle into a tree and escaped into the woods. Hof was on the run for more than a year.

The Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and Humboldt District Attorney’s Office led the initial investigation into the shooting incident and, working with the CDFW Law Enforcement Division, applied intensive pressure to locate and arrest Hof. A group of private donors, including the California Wildlife Officers Foundation, California Fish and Game Warden Supervisors and Managers Association, California Waterfowl Association, Defenders of Wildlife, Humane Society of the United States, The Nature Conservancy, Sportfishing Alliance and others collaborated on a $20,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. Hof ultimately turned himself into police on Aug. 10, 2017.

“We are pleased with the sentence handed down by Judge Feeney,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “It took a dangerous felon out of the community making it safer for the citizens of Humboldt County. CDFW thanks our allied agency partners for their efforts since the moment the incident began and the coalition of donors who offered the reward money. We’re relieved the situation was resolved without injuries to our officers or the public.”

Hof’s accomplice, Thomas Wheeler, 19 of Fortuna was sentenced last month to a suspended sentence of eight years in state prison for the use of a firearm in aiding and abetting the assault on a peace officer, evading a peace officer with wanton and reckless disregard for person and property, two misdemeanor violations for allowing another person to shoot from a vehicle, and spotlighting.


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


Massive Poached Sacramento County Deer Leads to Trophy Penalty Enhancement

A Sacramento County man entered a no contest plea Tuesday to charges of poaching a huge blacktail deer in Sacramento County. John Frederick Kautz, 51, of Lodi, was charged with possession of an illegally poached deer and falsification of deer tag reporting information, both misdemeanors, following a three-month investigation.

Poached deer with trophy-sized antlers. December 2017.
Poached deer with trophy-sized antlers. December 2017.

Kautz illegally killed the trophy-sized buck on private property in Wilton in December 2016, two months after the deer season closed in the area. The deer had an antler spread of 31 inches with four antler points on one side and five on the other, which is an unusually large size for this part of California.

Kautz transported the illegally killed deer across state lines to Nevada to have the deer head mounted by a taxidermist. Kautz was also working through the process of scoring the trophy class buck to have it entered into the Safari Club International hunting record book. The deer’s trophy-sized antlers would have been surely accepted if the animal had been legally taken. However, the poaching conviction for the buck makes it ineligible for that recognition.

Working on a tip provided in September 2017, Wildlife Officers Sean Pirtle and Anthony Marrone spent an exhaustive three months on the investigation, collecting evidence that would prove the year-old incident was an act of poaching. Through extensive interviews, multiple search warrants and forensic analysis of computer records, and with the help of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) Computer Crimes Unit, they slowly pieced together the puzzle. Then, collaborating with Nevada game wardens who conducted multiple follow-up interviews outside of California, they worked together in an attempt to track down the actual deer that had been mounted by the Nevada taxidermist.

All California wildlife officers are federally deputized to investigate fish and wildlife crimes anywhere in the United States. The wildlife officers submitted the case to the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office for prosecution.

On Dec. 19, Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney David Brown announced a plea bargain resulting in a conviction of two poaching related misdemeanors. Kautz was sentenced to two days in county jail, placed on three years probation with a search and seizure clause, ordered to surrender the mounted deer head and was prohibited by the court from hunting or accompanying anyone else who is hunting during his probation. The fine was set at $5,000 pursuant to a new legislation and regulation package which took effect on July 1, 2017, increasing penalties associated with poaching “trophy class” or very large wild game animals.

The vast majority of hunters are ethical and abide by hunting laws and regulations, including the individual who provided this tip that helped lead to Kautz’s conviction.

“We would like to thank our wildlife law enforcement partners in Nevada and the CHP, and the Sacramento County District Attorney’s office for their assistance in this investigation and the subsequent prosecution, and the hunter who gave us the original tip,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Law Enforcement Division Chief.

“We are also pleased how the newly effective legislation and regulations package helped increase the penalties in this case to hopefully deter others from the same poaching behavior. A case like this is exactly why this package was enacted.”


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