Category Archives: wildlife protection

CDFW Shuts Down Black-Market Marijuana Grow in Trinity County

On Nov. 6, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) served a search warrant on a black-market marijuana cultivation operation at the 1700 block of Hidden Valley Road in Trinity County.

The property contained an unpermitted water diversion, water pollution violations, over 900 unprocessed growing marijuana plants and 5,069 pounds of untested black-market marijuana bud.

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During routine flights over Trinity County, CDFW observed more than 600 marijuana plants and numerous large water tanks with a large black irrigation hose leading into dense vegetation along a creek. CDFW verified that the grow was unlicensed by the state and unpermitted by the county. A record check on the property showed no CDFW Lake or Streambed Alteration Agreement (LSAA) had been filed, no state license to grow marijuana and no attempt to legitimize the operation in the county.

CDFW’s Watershed Enforcement Team (WET), which includes a combination of law enforcement officers and scientific staff, inspected the property and detained 32 suspects. Some of the suspects were armed and wearing bullet proof vests. Two suspects had a fake police officer badge. Eleven were booked into Trinity County jail on multiple felony charges related to environmental crimes. The others were released.

Eleven Fish and Game Code violations were documented including a substantial water diversion from a tributary to the South Fork Trinity River, which provides critical breeding and juvenile rearing habitats for steelhead trout, Chinook Salmon, and several species of aquatic amphibians, including the Foothill yellow-legged frog, a candidate for state threatened species status.

The water diversion consisted of a large hose that was actively funneling water to multiple water storage tanks. Unpermitted water diversions like this are capable of dewatering streams during the summer months, which can reduce or eliminate the reproductive success of the aquatic species that rely on these habitats.

“Black-market grows prevent legitimized cultivators from thriving, harm California’s sensitive natural resources with diverted waterways and illegal pesticides and put untested cannabis products on the black-market,” said David Bess, Deputy Director and Chief of the CDFW Law Enforcement Division. “We support the legal cannabis market where cultivators obtain permits, take action to prevent environmental impacts and comply with applicable state and local laws.”

CDFW collaborated with the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office, the Trinity County Environmental Health Department and the US Forest Service on the mission. CDFW would like to remind the public to report environmental crimes such as water pollution, water diversions and poaching to the 24/7 CalTIP hotline at (888) 334-2258.

Media Contacts:
Janice Mackey, CDFW Communications, (916) 895-3988

 

CDFW Now Accepting Proposals for Ecosystem Restoration and Protection Projects

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is now accepting proposals for ecosystem restoration and protection projects under its 2019 Proposal Solicitation Notice. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2019-2020, a total of $53 million will be made available for these grants, which are funded through Propositions 1 and 68.

Funding will be allocated according to a diverse set of priorities for projects statewide, including:

  • $24 million for the Proposition 1 Watershed Restoration Grant Program;
  • $7 million for the Proposition 1 Delta Water Quality and Ecosystem Restoration Grant Program;
  • $4.4 million for Proposition 68 Rivers and Streams Restoration Grants;
  • $8.8 million for Proposition 68 Southern California Steelhead Grants; and
  • $8.8 million for Proposition 68 Habitat Improvement Grants.

This is the fifth of 10 planned solicitations under CDFW’s Proposition 1 Grant Programs and the first under Proposition 68.

“As we reach the halfway point in funding projects through Prop. 1, we are excited to stand up new programs under Prop. 68 and extend our reach to more areas of critical need,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “With these grant programs, we can sustain ongoing efforts while jump-starting new ones.”

The deadline to apply is Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018 at 4 p.m. Proposals must be submitted online at https://watershedgrants.wildlife.ca.gov.

The solicitation, application instructions and other information about the grant programs are available at www.wildlife.ca.gov/conservation/watersheds/restoration-grants.

Approved projects will contribute to the objectives of California Water Action Plan and State Wildlife Action Plan, the Delta Plan, California EcoRestore and the fulfillment of CDFW’s mission.

Approved by California voters in November 2014, Proposition 1 provides funds to implement the three broad objectives of the California Water Action Plan: establishing more reliable water supplies, restoring important species and habitat and creating a more resilient, sustainably managed water resources system (water supply, water quality, flood protection and environment) that can better withstand inevitable and unforeseen pressures in the coming decades.

The California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access For All Act of 2018 (Proposition 68), approved by California voters in June 2018, provides funds projects that improve a community’s ability to adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change; improve and protect coastal and rural economies, agricultural viability, wildlife corridors, or habitat; develop future recreational opportunities; or enhance drought tolerance, landscape resilience and water retention.

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

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

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