2011 was anything but quiet for the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG). Pesky bears, a roaming gray wolf, significant poaching arrests, tsunami relief work and dramatic wildlife rescues were among the stories that captured the public’s attention. DFG also welcomed new Director Charlton H. Bonham, who was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown in August.
“California’s long tradition of hunting and fishing is being preserved by the hardworking men and women at DFG — environmental scientists, wardens, interpreters and many others who dedicate themselves to DFG’s mission to protect the state’s plant, fish and wildlife resources,” Bonham said. “We also owe thanks to our outstanding volunteer force, including 850 volunteer hunter education instructors who taught approximately 21,000 students in 2011. I can’t express the gratitude I have for hard work and accomplishments everyone has made over the past 12 months, and I am so proud to be leading this organization into 2012.”
The following stories were some of the most closely watched and widely covered:
OR7: A lone wolf makes its way into California
DFG has long been following the recovery and migration of gray wolves in western states. One wolf in particular, nicknamed OR7, was equipped with a Global Positioning System (GPS) device that periodically transmits its location. On Dec. 28, OR7 made history when he officially crossed the state line into California. More details can be found here: bit.ly/uG6mMP.
Tahoe bears make their film debut
California is home to more than 40,000 black bears, some of whom continue to stir up trouble in Lake Tahoe. In 2011, DFG staff logged more than 4,000 hours handling black bear nuisance issues in that region alone. To help educate the public about keeping black bears wild and preventing them from becoming habituated to humans, DFG launched its first-ever “Bear Aware” Youth Film Contest to solicit short films that effectively convey the “Keep Me Wild” message. Winners will be announced in spring 2012. More details can be found here: bit.ly/ufzASx.
Tsunami relief efforts along the Pacific Coast
DFG’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) deployed numerous staff to Santa Cruz and Crescent City in February to assist the U.S. Coast Guard with relief efforts after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake in Japan caused a tsunami to rock California’s coast. The tsunami and its surges sank 18 boats and damaged 100 more in Santa Cruz. Crescent City was evacuated, 16 vessels sank and the majority of moorings and docks in the harbor were destroyed. The sunken vessels presented a pollution hazard as many sank with fuel on board. In Santa Cruz, most of the pleasure boats carried small fuel amounts. In Crescent City, where commercial fishing vessels and other large vessels were berthed, responders removed more than 1,400 gallons of petroleum product and more than 1,460 cubic yards of oil debris. Crews monitored for wildlife impacts from oil but none were reported at either location.
The return of salmon fishing
Following years of record low returns and closed salmon seasons, 2011 marked the restoration of the state’s salmon fishing season, which had been closed since 2008. Both the California Fish and Game Commission and the Pacific Fishery Management Council approved the April 2 opening date based on scientific information suggesting that the Sacramento River fall chinook ocean population size was at more than 700,000 fish — almost triple the 2010 forecast. More details can be found here: bit.ly/tWHGLe.
The return of the Pacific fisher to Northern California
In an effort to repopulate this once-abundant species, scientists from DFG, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and North Carolina State University, along with Sierra Pacific Industries, released Pacific fishers in the mountains east of Chico where they are believed to have been absent for nearly a century. More details can be found here: 1.usa.gov/rqiFEd.
DFG law enforcement K-9 takes on marijuana cultivators
Marijuana grows are not only in remote Sierra canyons but in the middle of the Sacramento Valley, and the cultivators responsible threaten members of the public, poach fish and wildlife, pollute the land and streams and damage habitat. Warden Brian Boyd and his K-9 partner, Phebe, have an exceptional technique for catching growers in the act. Since they were first paired three years ago, the duo has arrested 40 marijuana cultivators at grow sites. More information can be found here: bit.ly/wCUNh5.
In Redondo Beach, many poachers felt the squeeze including five men who poached 132 lobsters, many of them below the minimum size limit, from the King Harbor Jetty prior to the season opener. Wardens also cracked down on the practice of poaching juvenile salmon for use as bait to catch sturgeon and striped bass in Central Valley rivers. Dozens of citations were issued for this offense, with the worst offender being found in possession of 59 juvenile salmon. And in Petaluma, serial offender Qiong Wang, 31, was caught poaching abalone no fewer than three times in three weeks.
DFG debuts new MPA mobile website
Keeping up with mobile world, DFG eagerly announced its new marine protected area (MPA) mobile website in September. By allowing anglers, divers and other ocean users to tell whether or not they’re in an MPA, look up current information about restricted areas and boundaries from smartphones and other portable Internet-enabled, GPS-equipped devices, this tool will save anglers time and money while they are on California’s ocean waters or shores. More details can be found here: bit.ly/qHf7f1.
OSPR Deepwater Horizon and Yellowstone assistance
OSPR provided support to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response in the Gulf of Mexico as well as the oil spill in Yellowstone National Park. Experts in natural resource damage assessment, shoreline cleanup assessment, alternative response technologies and geographical information systems were deployed. Overall, more than 70 DFG and OSPR staff served rotations on the Gulf spill. And in a response to a mutual aid request from Montana, OSPR deployed staff to the Yellowstone River spill to assist following a pipeline break July 1.
Wardens assist wildlife in peril
DFG wardens provided assistance to several injured and trapped wild animals in 2011. Two of the most widely publicized cases involved a turkey that was found with an arrow protruding from it in Davis, and a young buck that got its antlers tangled in a rope swing. In both cases, intervention by DFG saved the animal’s life. More details on the Davis turkey can be found here: bit.ly/ulNwUo.