California Wardens Break Up Deer Poaching Ring

Media Contacts:  
Patrick Foy, DFG Law Enforcement, (916) 651-2084
Jordan Traverso, DFG Communications, (916) 654-9937

California game wardens served two search warrants on members of a deer poaching ring early Thursday, resulting in the arrest of three Stockton men. Wardens arrested Thongseuth Khounchanh, 58, Ti Sila, 51, and Bounleuna Sysenglath, 59, as they returned from an all-night poaching trip in El Dorado County. The men were charged with killing deer and selling deer meat for profit.

“It took intensive effort from wardens to stop this poaching operation,” said California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) Assistant Chief Tony Warrington. “Wardens from all over the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, including wardens from our Special Operations Unit, the Delta-Bay Enhanced Enforcement Program, the air services unit and our K-9 unit, worked together to make this case.”

On May 26, 2011, an anonymous caller to the DFG CalTIP hotline reported suspected deer poaching activity involving Khounchanh, Sila and Sysenglath. Local Wardens Todd Estrada and Raul Lomeli immediately followed up on the tip and realized it led to a much larger case involving the illegal commercialization and selling of poached wildlife for profit. Wardens conducted an extensive investigation that revealed the suspects made multiple illegal poaching trips each week. The deer meat was sold as fast as they could get it.

The three poachers illegally used lights to help identify the deer in the darkness before using a .22 caliber rifle to make the kill. The deer were processed in the field and the meat was transported to the men’s homes in Stockton, where it was then sold to an established network of buyers.

Wardens used all available resources to make observations and collect evidence in this case, including warden K-9s that worked with their handlers to search for deer parts, spent bullet casings and other trace evidence. K-9 teams located parts of several freshly killed deer, including evidence that would likely have been missed otherwise, at multiple locations throughout El Dorado County.

On June 22, with three arrest warrants and two search warrants in hand, wardens waited for the poachers to start home from another all-night poaching trip. All three men were arrested without incident during a vehicle stop. The vehicle and all contents were seized as evidence and will be processed by wardens and the DFG Wildlife Forensics Lab. Wardens also served two search warrants on the subjects’ homes, and conducted more than 20 follow-up interviews with people suspected of purchasing deer meat from the suspects.

Evidence collected at the houses will undergo DNA analysis to find matches with evidence found in El Dorado County.

All three men were booked into El Dorado County Jail on charges of felony conspiracy and commercialization of deer. Khounchanh, a prior felon, will also face further felony charges of illegal firearm possession.

Selling any deer meat in California, whether it was taken legally under a recreational hunting license or killed illegally, is a crime. DFG encourages all Californians to report wildlife crimes to the CalTIP hotline at 1-888-334-2258 (DFG-CALTIP).

DFG Completes 2011 Waterfowl Breeding Population Survey

Media Contacts:         
Shaun Oldenburger, DFG Wildlife Division, (916) 445-3763
Dana Michaels, DFG Communications, (916) 322-2420

The Department of Fish and Game (DFG) has completed its 2011 waterfowl breeding population survey. The resulting data show that the overall number of breeding ducks has increased slightly, however, the number of mallards — the most abundant duck in the survey — decreased 14 percent from last year.

“Although surveys indicated a decrease in mallard abundance, habitat conditions were excellent in most of northeastern California and good throughout the Central Valley, so we expect above-average production for all waterfowl species,” said DFG’s Waterfowl Program Biologist Shaun Oldenburger.

The total number of ducks (all species combined) increased from 541,300 last year to 558,600 this year. This estimate is six percent below the long-term average. The breeding population of mallards decreased from 367,900 in 2010 to 314,700 this year. Mallard numbers are below their long-term average.

“Harvest estimates and age-ratios are not available for 2010-11 hunting season at this time,” Oldenburger added. As soon as this information is available, the proportion of hatch-year birds in the 2010-11 harvest may assist in explaining the decline from 2010 to 2011.” 

DFG biologists and pilots have conducted this annual survey using fixed-wing aircraft since 1955. The survey covers the majority of the suitable waterfowl nesting habitat in the state, including wetland and agricultural habitats in northeastern California, the SacramentoValley, San JoaquinValley, Suisun Marsh, Napa-Sonoma, Delta and some Foothill areas.

The majority of California’s wintering duck population originates from breeding areas surveyed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in Alaska and Canada, and these results should be available in July. DFG survey information, along with similar data from other Pacific Flyway states, is used by the USFWS and the Flyway Council when setting hunting regulations for the Pacific Flyway states, including California.

The Federal regulation frameworks specify the outside dates, maximum season lengths and maximum bag limits. Once DFG receives the USFWS estimates and the frameworks for waterfowl hunting regulations from the USFWS, DFG will make a recommendation to the Fish and Game Commission regarding this year’s waterfowl hunting regulations.

DFG Investigates Decline in San Bernardino Mountains Squirrel Population

Media Contacts:
Jeff Villepique, DFG Region 6, (760) 937-5966
Andrew Hughan, DFG Communications, (916) 322-8944

Recently San Bernardino mountain area residents have seen fewer western gray squirrels and reported sick and dying animals to the Department of Fish and Game (DFG). Researchers have determined that tree squirrels are becoming sick and dying from mange, a skin disease caused by mites.

The species of mange mites affecting gray squirrels has been preliminarily identified as Notoedres centrifera, which is specific to rodents and cannot infect humans or pet cats and dogs. Veterinary researchers caution residents that local wildlife, including coyotes, raccoons and bobcats often carry other species of mange that can infect their pets and, rarely, people.Photograph of a squirrel.

While the reason for the squirrel mange outbreak is not known, DFG Wildlife Biologist Jeff Villepique explained that a high population density of squirrels and aggregation at feeders makes the spread of any disease far more likely.

“Gray squirrels were at higher numbers than natural foods would support, because artificial feeding is prevalent in the mountain communities,” said Villepique. “The inevitable consequence when you combine an artificially high population with animals gathering at food sources is the eventual spread of disease.”

Photograph of a squirrel with mange.DFG biologists have been closely working with the California Animal Health and Food Safety Lab in San Bernardino, and UC Davis veterinary researchers to find the cause of the die off.

Thorough examinations of a number of squirrels from the Big Bear Valley have shown only illness that can be explained by the mange mites. Although West Nile virus (WNV) has been detected in squirrels in the mountain communities in recent years, no squirrels have tested positive for WNV so far this year.

California’s WNV monitoring program is continuing to cooperate with UC Davis researchers to share information.

If your pet scratches excessively or develops scabs, you should seek veterinary care, as symptoms could be indicative of one of the other forms of mange, which are readily treatable in pets. Please do not feed squirrels because of the potential for spreading disease.

Residents are asked to report a dead bird or squirrel by calling (877) 968-2473 (877-WNV-BIRD) or submitting an online report at www.westnile.ca.gov/report_wnv.php.

Free Fishing Day is Saturday, July 2

Media Contacts:  
Terry Foreman, DFG Fisheries Branch, (916) 445-3777
Dana Michaels, DFG Communications, (916) 322-2420

The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) invites anglers to celebrate Independence Day by fishing in California’s spectacular waters. Saturday, July 2 is the first of California’s two 2011 Free Fishing Days (the other will be Sept. 3), when people can try their hand at fishing without having to buy a sport fishing license.

All fishing regulations, such as bag and size limits, gear restrictions, report card requirements, fishing hours and stream closures remain in effect. Every angler must have an appropriate report card if they are fishing for abalone, steelhead, sturgeon, spiny lobster or salmon in the Smith and Klamath-Trinity River systems.

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DFG offers two Free Fishing Days each year – usually in conjunction with the Fourth of July and Labor Day weekend – when it’s legal to fish without a sport fishing license. This year, the Free Fishing Days were set for the Saturdays preceding Independence Day and Labor Day (July 2 and Sept. 3) because they fall on holiday weekends, when it’s likely to be the most convenient for the public.

Free Fishing Days provide a low-cost way to give fishing a try. Some DFG Regions offer a Fishing in the City program where you can go fishing in major metropolitan areas. Fishing in the City and Free Fishing Day clinics are designed to educate novice anglers about fishing ethics, fish habits, effective methods for catching fish and fishing tackle. You can even learn how to clean and prepare your catch so you can enjoy it for dinner that night.

Anglers should check the rules and regulations at www.dfg.ca.gov/regulations/ for the waters they plan to fish. Wardens will be on duty to enforce them. For more information on Free Fishing Days, please visit www.dfg.ca.gov/licensing/fishing/freefishdays.html.

Successful Abalone Checkpoints Conducted Along North Coast

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

The California Department of Fish and Game conducted two abalone checkpoints on California’s north coast on June 16 and 17. Photograph of an abalone checkpoint.

Both checkpoints were slower than usual due to rough ocean conditions.

One checkpoint in Navarro, Mendocino County, was conducted by 21 game wardens and one State Parks ranger. Members of the Mendocino Abalone Watch Group assisted with distribution of abalone fishery information and directing traffic. Officers made contact with 409 divers and issued 10 citations for violations including overlimits of abalone, failure to complete abalone report card and properly tag abalone and possession of undersize abalone. Wardens are working with the Mendocino County District Attorney’s office to investigate two individuals who came through the checkpoint with 78 immature marijuana plants (each approximately 18 inches tall).

At Russian Gulch in Sonoma County, 20 officers including game wardens and State Parks and county park rangers contacted 563 divers. Officers issued 16 citations for overlimits of abalone and turban snails, abalone report card violations and possession of undersized Greenlings, short abalone, abalone out of shell and illegally harvested abalone.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife News