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Fish and Game patrols aim to keep humans, wildlife in line

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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From bears targeted by international poaching rings in the woods near Foresthill to undersized fish on an angler’s line at a lake near Auburn, the Department of Fish and Game is on patrol to protect. Warden Robert Pelzman, a Foresthill resident who recently earned officer of the year honors in the state, said that poaching in its various forms happens night and day year-round. And while Pelzman acknowledges that only a few hundred wardens are spread throughout California, their work is crucial in maintaining species survival and assuring proper wildlife management. Pelzman is one of six game wardens and a supervisor covering Placer, Nevada and Sierra counties. Deer are the most-frequently poached animals, Pelzman said. And most poaching activity occurs during the fall, with the onset of hunting season. Poaching also involves bear, elk, squirrel, antelope, marine fish, crustaceans, abalone and other mollusks, inland fish, raptors and reptiles. Poaching can involve hunting out of season, taking more fish and game animals than the law allows, and the illegal selling of species. Pelzman was the chief investigator on a recent case that started with the discovery of a blind in the woods near Auburn while patrolling back roads last fall with a trainee for squirrel-hunting activity. While checking a parked vehicle, they heard the sound of a cordless drill in the woods. Using surveillance, trail cameras and ultimately a search warrant, they would eventually uncover an illegal bear-baiting operation that also turned up four poached ring-tailed cats and two mountain lions. That bust moved forward after the area near the blind – a temporary, camouflaged shelter – was spotted baited with donuts, pastries and other bear-friendly food. On the black market, bear paws and gall bladders can make money for people on all steps of the illegal supply chain, with the products – used for medicinal purposes – usually making their way to the Far East, Pelzman said. Those commercial poachers are at the top of the list of targets for wardens. Because poaching is a crime involving stealth and secrecy from the initial act to eventual sale to a consumer, Fish and Game acknowledges that its full impact is impossible to fully gauge. On the ground, patrolling Placer and Nevada counties, Pelzman said it’s a very real threat. “They’re definitely hurting the local population of animals and hurting the honest hunter and honest Californian,” he said. With fishing season on, Pelzman visited Lake Theodore around midday this past week to check fishing licenses, fish sizes and catch limits. It’s part of a job that ranges widely from dealing with tanker spills that run into local waterways to fielding complaints about mountain lion sightings. Cha Lo, a Sacramentan fishing off the shoreline, was wearing his license around his neck and enjoying the chance to cast lines out in the water with family and friends. Lo welcomed Pelzman, who was soon on his way after a brief conversation and confirmation that he had a license. Lo said the license was easy to buy at Wal-Mart. “It’s good that we have them out here (wardens) because we wouldn’t have the fish,” Lo said. “People would overfish.” Farther down the lake, Roseville’s Richard Steen was fishing with a license. But the recent arrival from Texas found himself the subject of a fine after Pelzman checked the sizes of the fish he had caught and found some to be shorter than the 12-inch minimum. Steen, who now faces a fine of about $250, said he hold’s no animosity toward wardens. “I’ve only been in California for a short while so I haven’t been up to speed on all the rules and regulations,” he said. The two left amiably, with Steen facing a fine. “We have to treat these cases all the same,” Pelzman said. “It will be up to the judge if there is any redress or what the fine will be.” Pelzman, an outdoors enthusiast himself, said that he knows he’s far from alone as he patrols for infractions. Hunters and anglers realize the importance of good wildlife management and many are quick to report poaching or other problems, he said. “There is a lot of incentive for the public to help,” Pelzman said. “Many have been fishing their whole life and want that opportunity for their grandkids to stay.” ----------------------------------------------------- CalTIP Line: Stopping poachers with the public’s help ----------------------------------------------------- - The number is (888) 334-2258 - CalTIP (Californians Turn In Poachers and Polluters) is a confidential witness program that encourages the public to provide the Department of Fish and Game with information leading to the arrest of poaches and polluters. - The toll-free number operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. - Be prepared to give the fullest possible account of the incident, including the name, address, age and description of the suspect, vehicle description, direction of travel, license number, type of violation and when and where it occurred. - You do not have to give your name. - Information is relayed to the Fish and Game region where the offense occurred. If an arrest results, the caller is eligible for a cash award of up to $1,000. – Gus Thomson