Tag Archives: endangered species

Sea Otter Survey Encouraging, but Comes Up Short of the “Perfect Story”

The southern sea otter, Enhydra lutris nereis, continues its climb toward recovery, according to the annual count released by the U.S. Geological Survey and partners today. For the first time, southern sea otters’ numbers have exceeded the threshold required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider de-listing the species as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The annual count will need to surpass this threshold for the next two years for USFWS to review the otters’ listed status. However, localized population declines at the northern and southern ends of the range continue to be a cause for concern among resource management officials.

This year’s survey results suggest an increasing trend over the last five years of more than 3 percent per year. The population index, a statistical representation of the entire population calculated as the three-year running average of census counts, has climbed to 3,272, up from 2,939 in 2013. The growth is accounted for by an unexpected jump in numbers in the center of the sea otter’s range, an area that spans the Californian coast from Monterey south to Cambria.

“We believe the high count this year is partly explained by excellent viewing conditions, but it also appears to reflect increased food availability in the range center,” says Dr. Tim Tinker, a research ecologist who leads the USGS sea otter research program. “The boom in sea urchin abundance throughout northern and central California has provided a prey bonanza for sea otters, and that means more pups and juveniles are surviving to adulthood.”

While the overall population index continues to trend upward, the northern and southern subsets of the population continue a negative five-year decline, dropping 2.5 percent and 0.6 percent per year. “We are still seeing large numbers of stranded otters near the range peripheries, a high percentage of which have lethal shark bite wounds,” says Mike Harris, a biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “These deaths may explain the lack of population growth in those areas.”

Declines at the range ends have implications for the long term outlook for sea otter recovery. “Negative population trends at the edges of the range are probably responsible for the lack of range expansion over the last decade,” explained Tinker. “These are the portions of the population that typically fuel the colonization of new habitats.”

In addition to the sea otter population along the mainland coast, the USGS also surveys the distinct population at San Nicolas Island in the southern California Bight. This population, established by translocation in the late 1980s, struggled at low numbers through the 1990s, but over the last decade has been growing rapidly with a mean growth rate of 13 percent per year. “The sea otters at San Nicolas Island continue to thrive, and some may eventually emigrate to and colonize other Channel Islands in southern California,” says Brian Hatfield, the USGS biologist who coordinates the annual census.

Since the 1980s, USGS scientists have computed the annual population index and evaluated trends in the southern sea otter. For sea otters to be considered for removal from threatened species listing under the Endangered Species Act, the population index would have to exceed 3,090 for three consecutive years, according to the threshold established under the Southern Sea Otter Recovery Plan by the USFWS. To reach the optimum sustainable population level under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which is the number of animals that will result in the maximum productivity of the population while considering carrying capacity and ecosystem health, the southern sea otter population would likely have to reach as many as 8,400 animals in California.

“The population index has exceeded 3,090 for the first time, and that’s encouraging,” said Lilian Carswell, Southern Sea Otter Recovery Coordinator for USFWS, “but sustained population growth will require range expansion, which means that sea otters will somehow have to get past the shark gauntlets near the ends of the current range. Over the longer term, it’s not just sea otter numbers we’re after, but the restoration of ecological relationships in the ecosystems where sea otters and other nearshore species coevolved.”

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. In Elkhorn Slough, located between Santa Cruz and Monterey, a recent study suggests that sea otters’ appetite for crabs can improve the health of seagrass beds, and USGS scientists are collaborating with biologists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve, University of California, Santa Cruz and CDFW to study the population in this unique habitat. A new study from UCSC, USGS and the Monterey Bay Aquarium is investigating how sea otters near Monterey are responding to the increase in sea urchins, which may be in part a result of loss of predatory sea stars from wasting disease. The scientists are studying whether sea otters play a key role in preventing urchins from over-grazing kelp forests in the absence of sea stars.

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 USGS, CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response, Monterey Bay Aquarium, UCSC, USFWS and 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 also included San Nicolas Island.

Sea Otter Facts

  • Sea otters were presumed extinct in California after the fur trade years, but were rediscovered in the 1930s, when about 50 animals were documented persisting 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 2016 California Sea Otter Census Results,” which is available online.


Media Contacts:
Tim Tinker, USGS, (831) 254-9748
Suzanna Soileau, USGS, (406) 994-7257
Ashley Spratt, USFWS, (805) 320-6225
Dana Michaels, CDFW, (916) 322-2420

Wildlife Conservation Board Funds Environmental Improvement and Acquisition Projects

At its Aug. 30 quarterly meet

Green iceplant and pampas grass invade southern California coastal wetlands between two roads.
Iceplant invades coastal wetlands at Ponto Beach near Encinitas. Photo courtesy of San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy

ing, the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) approved approximately $15 million in grants to help restore and protect fish and wildlife habitat throughout California. Some of the 21 funded projects will benefit fish and wildlife – including some endangered species – while others will provide the public with access to important natural resources. Several projects will also demonstrate the importance of protecting working landscapes that integrate economic, social and environmental stewardship practices beneficial to the environment, landowners and the local community. The state funds for all these projects come from initiatives approved by voters to help preserve and protect California’s natural resources. Funded projects include:

  • A $135,000 grant to the Lake County Land Trust to acquire in fee approximately 34 acres of land for the protection of shoreline freshwater wetland, riparian woodland
    and wet meadow habitats that support the state-threatened Clear Lake hitch and the western pond turtle, a state species of special concern. This will also provide future wildlife-oriented public use opportunities in an area known as Big Valley, on the northwestern shore of Clear Lake in Lake County.
  • A $1.2 million grant to the Feather River Land Trust for a cooperative project with the Natural Resources Agency to acquire a conservation easement over approximately
    5,530 acres of land to provide protection for deer, mountain lion and oak habitats near the town of Doyle in Lassen County.
  • A $1.7 million acquisition in fee of approximately 1,066 acres of land by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to expand the Crocker Meadows Wildlife Area, protect riparian and oak woodland habitat, and for future wildlife oriented public use opportunities near Beckwourth in Plumas County.
  • A $3 million grant to Sonoma County Agriculture Preservation and Open Space District for a cooperative project with the State Coastal Conservancy to acquire a conservation easement over approximately 871 acres of forest lands, including large areas of old and new growth redwood located near Stewarts Point in Sonoma County.
  • A $2.5 million grant to the San Bernardino Mountains Land Trust for a cooperative project with the Inland Empire Resource Conservation District to acquire in fee approximately 240 acres of land as an expansion of the Sawmill Pebble Plain Ecological Preserve – rare pebble plain habitat supporting a wide variety of endemic plant species – south of Big Bear Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains, in San Bernardino County.
  • An $850,000 grant to the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy for a cooperative project to implement a comprehensive habitat restoration program, remove target nonnative invasive weed species and restore native habitat on 65 acres of coastal wetlands on several sites located at Agua Hedionda, Batiquitos Lagoon and San Elijo Lagoon. These are located from approximately nine miles north to five miles south of Encinitas on privately owned properties and on properties owned by CDFW and the Department of Parks and Recreation.

For more information about the WCB please visit www.wcb.ca.gov.


Oak woodland on hills behind a wide, open plain with scrub brush
Crocker Meadows Wildlife Area. CDFW photo
View from hillside high above the blue Pacific ocean behind green and brown pasture land.
View from Stewarts Point Ranch in Sonoma County. CDFW photo
A rare, pebble plain habitat with goldend-dry vegetation in front of a green oak forest.
Sawmill Pebble Plain Ecological Preserve. CDFW photo

Media Contacts:
John Donnelly, WCB Executive Director, (916) 445-0137
Dana Michaels, CDFW Education and Outreach, (916) 322-2420

Sea Otter Shootings in Santa Cruz County

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement Officials Seek Information to Aid in Investigation

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) are looking for information that will lead to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for the shooting deaths of three southern sea otters in late July or early August. A reward of at least $10,000 is being offered for this information.

The three male sea otters, two sub-adults and one adult, were found dead between the Santa Cruz Harbor and Seacliff State Beach in Aptos, between August 12 and 19.  Southern sea otters are protected as a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act. They are also protected under Marine Mammal Protection Act and by California state law.  Killing a southern sea otter is punishable by up to $100,000.00 in fines and a possible jail sentence.

Initial necropsy results indicate the otters sustained gunshot wounds and died several days to several weeks prior to washing ashore. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory is conducting a thorough examination to aid in the investigation.

Anyone with information about these or any sea otter shootings should contact the CalTIP line at 1-888-334-2258 (callers may remain anonymous) or the Special Agent of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 650-876-9078.

Anyone who finds a dead sea otter in Santa Cruz County should leave it in place, take a photo if possible, and report it immediately to CDFW at 831-212-7010.

Southern sea otters, also known as California sea otters, were listed as threatened in 1977. Southern sea otters once occurred in areas well outside of California, but currently range from San Mateo County in the north to Santa Barbara County in the south, with a small subpopulation around San Nicolas Island in Ventura County.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium, CDFW, and a private donor are contributing to the reward.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

 The mission of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is to   manage California’s diverse fish, wildlife, and plant resources, and the habitats upon which they depend, for their ecological values and for their use and enjoyment by the public. For more information, visit www.wildlife.ca.gov.

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Media Contacts:
Ashley Spratt, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Ashley_spratt@fws.gov, 805-644-1766 ext. 369
Max Schad, California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Max.schad@wildlife.ca.gov, 408-210-5718

Southern sea otter images available for media: https://flic.kr/s/aHsjDh2fwN

There’s a Place for Wildlife on Your Tax Return

The deadline to file income tax returns is approaching. If you’re still working on yours, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) reminds you that you can help save endangered plants and animals on your state return. Near the end of form 540, look for the section called Voluntary Contributions. There, you can donate any dollar amount to the California Sea Otter Fund on line 410 or the Rare and Endangered Species Preservation Program on line 403.

The Southern sea otter (Enhydra lutris nereis) is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act, depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and “fully protected” by the State of California. It is illegal to harass, pursue, hunt, catch, capture or kill, or attempt any of those actions on such listed species.

Donations to the California Sea Otter Fund are split between CDFW and the State Coastal Conservancy. CDFW’s half supports scientific research on the causes of mortality in sea otters, including a large analysis of 15 years of sea otter mortality data with critical support from the California Sea Otter Fund. CDFW scientists and their partners have also initiated a multi-agency outreach program called “Sea Otter Savvy” to educate coastal boaters, kayakers and the public about the impact of repeated human disturbance on sea otter health and survival. More information can be found at www.facebook.com/seaottersavvy.

The annual sea otter survey conducted in 2015 indicated that the population in California may be slowly increasing, to just over 3,000 animals. That is a small fraction of their historic numbers and this population is still vulnerable to oil spills, environmental pollution, predation by white sharks and other threats. You can help spread the word by liking and sharing the Sea Otter Fund Facebook page.

Since 1983, California taxpayers have voluntarily supported the Rare and Endangered Species Preservation Program by donating more than $21 million. That money has provided critical support for many state-listed species, including Butte County meadowfoam (Limnanthes floccose ssp. californica), Pacific fisher (Pekania pennanti), Shoshone pupfish (Cyprinodon nevadensis Shoshone), Scripps’s murrelet (Synthliboramphus scrippsi), Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (Rana sierrae), and many-flowered navarretia (Navarretia leucocephala ssp. plieantha).

“From Death Valley National Park to North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve, many parts of California are exploding with amazing wildflower displays right now, but California’s native plants don’t usually get as much attention as animals,” said Jeb Bjerke, an environmental scientist with CDFW’s Native Plant Program. “Although many people think of California’s endangered species as animals, there are about twice as many listed plants. In addition, more than 1,000 plant species in California are rare but not listed. Our botanical diversity is astounding, and we are trying to protect that heritage from extinction.”

Voluntary contributions also help CDFW acquire federal matching funds, increasing the positive actions that can be done for rare, threatened and endangered species and the ecosystems that support them. Support from California taxpayers has enabled wildlife biologists to achieve important recovery milestones to conserve vulnerable species. Past contributors can take credit for helping the Peregrine falcon and California brown pelican enough to be removed from endangered species lists.

If someone else prepares your state tax return, please let him or her know you want to donate to the Rare and Endangered Species Preservation Program on line 403 or the California Sea Otter Fund on line 410. If you use Turbo Tax, when you’re near the end of your tax return it should ask if you want to make a voluntary contribution to a special fund. Click “Yes” and go to lines 403 and 410.

What you donate this year is tax deductible on next year’s return. More information on both the California Sea Otter Fund and the Rare and Endangered Species Preservation tax donation program is available on our Tax Donation webpage.



Media Contacts:
Laird Henkel, Sea Otter Program, (831) 469-1726
Jeb Bjerke, Habitat Conservation Planning Branch (plants), (916) 651-6594
Esther Burkett, Nongame Wildlife Program, (916) 531-1594
Dana Michaels, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-2420

The Future of Wildlife Is In Our Hands

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) recognizes World Wildlife Day, declared by the United Nations (UN). On March 3, 2013 the UN General Assembly signed the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

“Poaching persists today across the globe and right here in California,” Chief of CDFW Law Enforcement Division David Bess said. “Wildlife officers dedicate their lives to stopping poachers – in particular, those who illegally sell wildlife and their parts for personal profit.”

Illegal commercialization of wildlife is a multi-million dollar industry right here in California, and is valued at hundreds of millions worldwide. The illegal black market trafficking of wildlife could be eliminated if people simply refused to purchase wildlife or wildlife parts.

California’s wildlife officers routinely work with our federal counterparts at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prevent people from smuggling wildlife parts into California. Even with combined forces, we can only stop a fraction of the illegal poaching contraband that enters the state.

Many species of wildlife around the world face extinction because of people who capture them for the illegal pet trade or kill them for their body parts. According to a report released by the Secretariat of CITES, more than 20,000 African elephants were poached across the continent in 2013. The ivory trade has been illegal for years, yet poachers continue to make money selling it to people who carve it into art and trinkets, then sell it to collectors and others around the world.

“We celebrate World Wildlife Day to raise awareness of the world’s wild animals and plants, and their importance in every ecosystem,” CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham said. “Our department’s employees are passionate about the work we do as the state wildlife trustee agency and are committed to our mission to manage California’s native wildlife.”

CDFW joins the United Nations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and many other individuals and organizations asking the public to help protect the world’s wildlife by reporting crimes, including illegal trade in wildlife and their body parts. Phone Californians Turn In Poachers and Polluters (CalTIP) at 888-334-2258 or send a text to “CALTIP”, followed by a space and the message: to 847411 (tip411).

Alternatively, you can download the free CALTIP smartphone App, which operates similarly to tip411 by creating an anonymous two-way conversation to report wildlife and pollution violations to wildlife officers. The CALTIP App can be downloaded, free, via the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.

More information can be found on the CDFW website:
Elephant Ivory, sale of in California (PDF)
Elephant Ivory, state and federal laws regarding (PDF)
Restricted Species – Penal Code Section 653(o) (PDF)


Media Contacts:
Chris Stoots, Law Enforcement Division, (916) 651-9982
Dana Michaels, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-2420