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2009 was another year of extreme poaching cases for California Fish and Game wardens

February 18, 2010 | 11:16 am

Lt. Chris Graff, of the California Department of Fish and Game, measures a legal-sized lobster in this 2002 photo.

California Department of Fish and Game wardens had a busy year in 2009 investigating illegal hunting and fishing cases statewide. Many involved repeat poaching offenders who were stealing California's natural resources for profit, undeterred by prior convictions and sentences.

"Our game wardens are expertly trained to investigate complex wildlife crimes, arrest suspects and ultimately protect the resources that belong to all Californians," said Nancy Foley, the department's law enforcement division chief.

"Although the vast majority of California's hunters and anglers are law-abiding and respectful of our resources, these repeat poachers and other criminals pose a constant challenge to our investigators."

A few of the most egregious cases from last year include:

-- Binh Chau, 35, of San Diego, was arrested for the fifth time in less than three years on suspicion of poaching lobsters in the La Jolla Conservation Area. Chau gained notoriety after his second lobster-poaching arrest, when he was found to be hiding six lobsters in his pants.

-- A Sacramento deer-poaching ring was exposed after poachers were observed killing deer in the Sierra foothills and then arrested in the act of selling the meat. DNA analysis by Fish and Game’s Wildlife Forensics Laboratory identified 28 deer recovered at one suspect’s residence.

-- Over the last few years, five separate groups of poachers have taken hundreds of Monterey County black abalone, many of which were later offered for illegal sale. Shortly after the mollusks were federally listed as an endangered species in February 2009, wardens arrested Jerry Jones, 37, of Monterey and Terry Callahan, 47, of Seaside, on suspicion of illegally possessing 51 black abalone.

-- A Lassen County poacher shot five antelope from a road near Herlong. Two female antelope were pregnant with a total of three fetuses; the poacher in effect removed eight animals from the local population. The poacher left some of the antelope behind to suffer and die, making no effort to retrieve them. The case remains unsolved.

During 2009, wardens were also involved in high-speed chases, standoffs at gunpoint and the apprehension of a murder suspect.

"Fish and Game wardens do much more than check fishing licenses," Foley said. "They put their lives at risk every day to protect California's citizens and natural resources."

The time and effort that game wardens put into each case are amazing, and though it's their job, these men and women deserve to be lauded for their work.

Warden_stamp One way of doing so is by purchasing a Warden Stamp. Available online or at select Fish and Game offices, the $5 stamp is a way to show support for the work wardens do.

Proceeds from the sale of the stamps will be deposited into a special account and used to provide important tools for wardens throughout the state, including specialized training, protective equipment, and surveillance and communications devices. It will also be used to fund new law enforcement initiatives, including the department's K-9 program.

Fish and Game officials want to remind people who witness poaching activity to report it on the Cal-TIP line, (888) 334-2258, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Callers' identities will remain anonymous.

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Lt. Chris Graff of the California Department of Fish and Game measures a legal-size lobster in 2002. Credit: Don Tormey / Los Angeles Times.

Image: The California Warden Stamp. Credit: Department of Fish and Game.

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