Tasty Morsels of Mollusk Goodness

Protected green abalone (Haliotis fulgens) from California's Channel IslandsSaving California’s remaining abalone fishery from money-hungry poachers is a daunting task. By telling the stories of dedicated wildlife officers in my upcoming sequel to “Badges, Bears, and Eagles,” I hope to educate the public and, in some way, help conserve this precious resource for law-abiding sportsmen and future generations.  

Below are a brief history of this situation and some suggested ways you can help. 

Not so long ago, five species of abalone were commonly taken in California by sport and commercial divers: pink (Haliotis corrugata), green (Haliotis fulgens), red (Haliotis rufescens), black (Haliotis cracherodii), and white (Haliotis sorenseni). Annual commercial harvests from the Channel Islands and coastal waters south of San Francisco were in the millions until numbers began to significantly decline in the 1970s. With commercial take allowed to continue, the entire fishery collapsed and was finally shut down in 1997. Sadly, the white abalone was added to the federal Endangered Species List in 2005, and the black abalone followed in 2011.

Reasons given for the collapse of California’s once-abundant abalone fishery include withering disease, diminished food supply, competition from sea urchins, loss of habitat, predation, pollution, changing ocean temperatures, and reproductive issues. Successful reproduction depends on males and females of the same species being close enough so that the males can effectively fertilize the spawn released into the water by females. That can’t happen when populations have been decimated and densities are reduced to the point where males and females are few and far between.

I have to believe that the two primary reasons for California’s abalone catastrophe are these:

  • Legal commercial harvesting was allowed to continue far too long.
  • Illegal harvesting (poaching) has been occurring for decades and it’s still going on today.

Poaching remains a tremendous drain on the fragile abalone resource. Dedicated wildlife protection officers have done everything possible to stem the tide of rampant exploitation, but warden numbers have remained far too low, while the price of abalone steaks continues to skyrocket (recently $125 a pound).

California’s only remaining abalone fishery lies north of San Francisco Bay, where a limited and highly-regulated sport take of red abalone is still allowed. So, what can you do to make sure this fishery thrives and doesn’t end up being closed like all of Southern California?

First, get a copy of the 2014-2015 California Ocean Sport Fishing Regulations booklet. Beginning on page 45 (Mollusks), this pamphlet will explain open seasons and hours (no diving or rock picking for abalone before 8:00 a.m.); daily and yearly bag and possession limits (yearly limit has been  changed to 18); size limit; gear restrictions (no scuba or hookah gear allowed); equipment requirements; possession and transportation requirements; and report card and tagging requirements.

Second, become involved. Our Fish and Wildlife officers need your eyes and ears if we’re going to save what’s left of this valuable resource. Go to your cell phone and call CalTIP(1-888-334-2258) if you see anyone you suspect of violating these regulations. Tell the person on the other end of the line what you’ve witnessed. Examples of possible violations include: people taking more than the daily bag limit (3); people taking undersized abalone (shorter than 7 inches); individuals leaving the water with abalone (carrying abalone up to their vehicles) and returning to take more; people hiding abalone or transferring them to others; individuals using scuba or hookah gear to move abalone to shallower waters so that others may harvest them; or people selling or offering to sell abalone in any form.

Cell phones make it easy to discreetly report suspected violations without the violator(s) knowing about it. The following information is helpful:

  • Description of suspected violation
  • Location of suspected violation
  • Time you witnessed the suspected violation
  • Description of suspected violator(s)
  • Description and license number(s) of vehicle(s)
  • Direction of travel when last seen
  • Your phone number

Remember, by reporting a violation, you’re not only helping the game warden. You’re also helping to ensure the survival of this very limited ocean resource for other law-abiding sportsmen and for future generations.

Photo of protected green abalone (Haliotis fulgens) by Chris Corbett.

This piece originally appeared in my March 23, 2014 “On Patrol” column at MyOutdoorBuddy.com.

Badges, Bears, and Eagles Selected as Finalist for “Book of the Year” Award

Badges, Bears, and Eagles--The True-Life Adventures of a California Fish and Game WardenI’m honored that my book, “Badges, Bears, and Eagles,” has been selected as a finalist for the 2013 Book of the Year award from ForeWord Reviews magazine. Here’s the press release put out by my publisher, Coffeetown Press.

Four Coffeetown Press Titles Are Finalists in ForeWord’s 2013 Book of the Year Contest:  ForeWord Magazine selects Badges, Bears, and Eagles, Gabriela and The Widow, The Spy’s Little Zonbi, and We in its search for the best indie books of 2013.

BriefingWire.com, 3/13/2014 – Traverse City, MI, March 13, 2014 — Today, ForeWord Reviews, the only review magazine solely dedicated to discovering new indie books, announced the finalists for its 16th Annual Book of the Year Awards. Each year, ForeWord shines a light on a small group of indie authors and publishers whose groundbreaking work stands out from the crowd. ForeWord’s awards are more than just a shiny sticker on the front of a book; they help connect the best indie books to readers eager to discover new stories written by previously unknown authors.

The following Coffeetown titles have been nominated for the 2013 Book of the Year Awards: Badges, Bears, and Eagles, by Steven T. Callan in the Nature category; Gabriela and The Widow, by Jack Remick, in the Literary Fiction category; The Spy’s Little Zonbi, by Cole Alpaugh, and We, a novel by Michael Landweber in the General Fiction category. In the next two months, a panel of over 100 librarians and booksellers will determine the winners of these prestigious awards. A celebration of the winners will take place during the American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas on Friday, June 27 at 6 p.m. with awards in over 60 categories, cash prizes for the best in fiction and nonfiction, and widespread recognition.

Here is the complete list of ForeWord Reviews’ 2013 Book of the Year Award Finalists.

About ForeWord Reviews: At ForeWord Reviews, we love indie books and the art of great storytelling. We discover, curate, critique, and share reviews and feature articles exclusively on indie-publishing trends in our quarterly magazine and on our website. ForeWord Reviews is distributed to librarians, booksellers, publishers, and avid readers and is available at most Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million newsstands or by subscription. Our website features a daily stream of reviews of indie books written by a team of professional, objective writers.

ABOUT Coffeetown Press—Based in Seattle, Washington, Coffeetown Press has been publishing the finest fiction and nonfiction since 2005.

This press release originally appeared on BriefingWire.com on March 13, 2014

Photo by Kathy Callan.  Shown are Jill Dinsmore, Author Steven T. Callan, and Judy Salter at the Redding Costco.

A Tribute to Streams

Rock Creek, Feather River Canyon, California

The other day I came across a thirty-year-old photograph I had taken of my younger brother, Matt. Matt was diving into Rock Creek, a tributary to the north fork of the Feather River, located about an hour southeast of Chico. Kathy and I had picked Matt up for a day of hiking in Northern California’s Feather River Canyon.

I remember thinking how beautiful that little stream was, with one deep, crystal clear pool after another—all of them filled with six-to-eight-inch native rainbow trout. There were no empty beer cans or plastic bags lying around. No one had spray painted the massive granite rocks surrounding the stream.

Every stream is a precious, life-giving jewel of nature. Those of us who are lucky enough to live near streams should cherish them and do everything in our power to see that they remain clean, free flowing and damage free. I’d like to think that any one of us could visit Rock Creek today and find it just as it was many years ago.

Have any of you been to the Feather River Canyon or this particular spot in the past few years? I’d enjoy hearing how this watershed is faring.


The Head Hunter

Photo of Rocky Mountain mule deer, taken by Steve Guill at Tule Lake National Wildlife RefugeI’m currently writing a sequel to my first book, “Badges, Bears, and Eagles.” One of the chapters in my next book is entitled “The Head Hunter.” It’s about a beautiful Rocky Mountain mule deer buck that was poached back in December of 1992. What made this wildlife crime so heinous wasn’t so much that the deer was killed during closed season. It wasn’t even that it was taken inside Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge. What bothered me most was what the no-good scoundrel (for lack of a better word) did after he killed the deer.

Below, you’ll find a preview of this chapter. Watch for my new book to find out how this intriguing story plays out.

The alarm went off at 3:45 on Tuesday morning, December 15, 1992. Thirty-nine-year-old amateur photographer Steve Guill rolled out of bed as he’d been doing on his days off in December for the past thirteen years. Guill had been photographing wildlife since high school, when he gently released the shutter on his first Nikon. Since 1979, he had made the 200-mile drive from Redding to Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge 175 times, snapping between 3,000 and 4,000 wildlife photographs each year.

It was exceptionally cold that December morning in 1992. The weather forecast called for snow in the mountains by the end of the day. Steve didn’t care: Extreme weather often created ideal conditions for photographing wildlife, particularly those majestic Rocky Mountain mule deer that congregated inside the Refuge.

By daylight, Guill had made his way up Highway 299, past the tiny community of Lookout, past Timber Mountain, and into Lava Beds National Monument. With his trusty camera on the seat beside him, he remained ever vigilant for that perfect shot of a mountain lion, a fox, an eagle, or a herd of deer. As Steve describes it, “In those days it wasn’t unusual to see several hundred deer in a single outing.”

It was about noon when Guill entered Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge and slowly proceeded north along Hill Road. “There was already a foot of snow on the ground and by one o’clock that storm they predicted was quickly moving in,” said Guill. “I was trying to get outta there but I kept seeing deer. I noticed this one particular buck standing about thirty yards off the road.”

“What was it about this buck that attracted your attention?” I asked.

Guill explained that it looked like a typical five-point buck, but when he counted the little cheater points protruding from the deer’s antlers, it turned out to be a seven-pointer (six points on one side and seven on the other).

As was the case with most of the deer on the protected winter range, this buck showed no sign of being alarmed. Guill continued to snap photographs from the window of his car while the stately animal casually munched on the sparse vegetation. “It was right at the end of the drought and there wasn’t much to eat,” said Guill. “This big boy looked pretty thin in the hindquarters. The snow really started coming down, so I finally put my camera away and skedaddled for home.”

On December 19th, 1992, four days after Steve Guill had photographed the buck described in this story, the headless carcass of a Rocky Mountain mule deer buck was found lying next to Hill Road, inside Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The Department of Fish and Game was contacted and an all-out investigation to find the culprit began. . .

Photo taken by Steve Guill at Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge on December 15, 1992. This was the same deer that was unlawfully killed and found four days later on the Refuge.

This piece originally appeared in my February 19, 2014 “On Patrol” column at MyOutdoorBuddy.com.


A Whale of a Tale

Photo of Humpback Whale Feeding in Santa Barbara ChannelOut of Ventura Harbor we sailed this past November, in pursuit of a long-held dream. My wife Kathy and I had been waiting for years to visit Santa Cruz Island, the largest of California’s Channel Islands and part of the five-island Channel Islands National Park. We spent the day hiking the island and learning about the indigenous plants and animals that inhabit this fascinating archipelago, just twenty miles from the mainland. Being scuba divers, we were especially impressed by the crystal clear waters that surrounded the island, beckoning us to return someday with our scuba gear and underwater camera.

As the sun dropped lower on the western horizon, we headed back across the Santa Barbara Channel toward the mainland. About halfway across, we couldn’t help but notice a huge congregation of seabirds off in the distance. The boat captain must have noticed the commotion, because he slowed the boat to a few knots and steered us in that direction. As we approached, Kathy and I couldn’t believe our eyes: Hundreds of pelicans, shearwaters, gulls, cormorants, and petrels were diving into the water and circling overhead. The noise was deafening. Beneath the birds, hundreds, possibly thousands, of sea lions and common dolphins were porpoising in and out of the water, all in pursuit of the massive school of anchovies that swam beneath the surface.

It was a feeding frenzy, the likes of which most of us had never seen. People pushed and shoved their way to the bow of the boat. Cameras were cocked and ready, in anticipation of the ultimate outdoor experience—the granddaddy of them all—the wildlife sighting of a lifetime. As we anxiously waited, the birds suddenly quieted and the churning waters began to settle.

“What’s happening?” asked the passenger standing next to me, in broken English.  “Why is it so quiet?”

“Just wait,” I whispered.  “You’ll see.”

All eyes were on the birds, who directed their attention to a placid patch of silky smooth water lying a hundred yards off our starboard bow. Dolphins and sea lions raced toward the same location, some of them passing directly under the boat. About thirty seconds went by, when someone shouted, “There!”

Like a page out of Moby Dick, up from the depths came the cavernous maw of a humpback whale, followed by another and still another. Everyone on board stood spellbound, in absolute awe of these massive, forty-ton behemoths as they gorged themselves on the abundant baitfish.

I had seen great whales before, but for Kathy and me this was a deeply moving, almost religious experience. Here we were, eye-to-eye with one of the earth’s most magnificent and intelligent creatures. It felt good knowing that these gentle giants enjoy protection in U.S. waters under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act. But how safe are they?

Whales in U.S. waters still suffer serious harm from unintentional sources: deadly encounters with commercial nets and fishing gear; sonar blasts from our own navy; collisions with boats and ships; depletion of fish stocks, as a result of excessive commercial fishing; point source pollution; nonpoint source pollution (runoff from multiple sources); and ocean acidification, caused by the continued burning of fossil fuels.

Dealing with these correctable issues here in the U.S. won’t end the cruel and inhumane practice of whaling by countries like Japan, Norway, and Iceland, but it will go a long way towards saving the whales and improving the health of our oceans. I would like to think that fifty or a hundred years from now, people will still be able to cross the channel to Santa Cruz Island and enjoy the same spectacular experience we had.

 Photo by Cyndi Marlowe

This piece originally appeared in my January 27, 2014 “On Patrol” column at MyOutdoorBuddy.com.

Game Wardens and Ghost Towns

Photo of Wally Callan on Newville Hotel porchWhile working on a sequel to Badges, Bears, and Eagles, I recently returned to my old stomping grounds near Orland, California, and the ghost town of Newville. Located twenty-two miles west of Orland, Newville thrived from the early 1850s until 1929, when all but a few buildings burned to the ground. During its heyday, Newville boasted a general store, two livery stables, two saloons, a blacksmith shop, two hotels, a post office, and at least one service station. I mention the service station because as of this week, it remains the only building left standing.

Fifty years ago, I photographed my father standing on the porch of what we believed to be the Newville Hotel. That building no longer exists.

So what does this old ghost town have to do with game wardens and wildlife outlaws? I guess you’ll have to wait for the new book to find out. Meanwhile, I invite anyone familiar with this fascinating page out of Glenn County’s history to share what you know, either by leaving a comment or contacting me via the contact form on my blog. I’d love to hear from you!

Photo (circa 1965) by Steven T. Callan.  Pictured is the author’s father, Wallace Callan, at what is believed to be the former Newville Hotel.


Author Event at Refuge Makes Hometown News!

Photo of Author Steven T. Callan at Sacramento National Wildlife RefugeWhat an honor it was to return to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge for my author presentation and book signing last week. I enjoyed visiting this special place to speak with other wildlife enthusiasts about the importance of conserving our precious natural resources.   An added bonus was meeting Susan Meeker, a reporter for my hometown newspaper, the Glenn County Transcript.  Susan wrote a wonderful article, “Author Visits Wildlife Refuge in Willows,” for which I am very grateful.

Our next event will be a book signing at the Redding Barnes and Noble store on Friday, December 20, from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM.  I hope to see some of our Shasta County friends there!

Good Migrations

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

I was recently invited to write an essay for Zocalo Public Square, a nationally-renowned online magazine. The publication of my essay in the magazine’s November 19 issue precedes my upcoming author program at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge on December 7, 2013, at 1:00 PM. 

 The essay harkens back to my storybook childhood in the farms and fields around the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, and my 30 years protecting California’s wildlife. You can read the exciting conclusion of this story in my next book!

“I’ll probably be gone all night,” announced Wally, opening the closet door and reaching for his uniform coat. “Hiller’s been getting reports of late-night duck shooting east of the refuge.”

It was a Friday evening in late November, 1962. The weather was clear and calm. We had finished dinner and Mom was busy washing dishes. Fish and Game Warden Wally Callan, my father, was 36 at the time. Two years earlier, he had transferred from Marine Patrol, out of Seal Beach, to Orland, a thinly populated farming community at the north end of California’s Central Valley.

“Dad, can I go with you?” I pleaded. “There’s no school tomorrow.” I enjoyed riding on patrol weekends and sometimes after school, when I didn’t have basketball practice. Soon after moving to Northern California, I’d been given a copy of Francis Kortright’s classic, The Ducks, Geese and Swans of North America, and had become fascinated with waterfowl—so much so that at age 14 I could identify just about every duck and goose in North America.

“All right, put your boots on and get your coat. No complaining about how sleepy you are.”

A steady stream of ducks and geese had been migrating south all day, headed for the Willows rice fields. It was about 9:00 p.m. when we reached Willows and turned off on one of the many county roads that crisscrossed the valley. The moon was coming up and I could see silhouettes of ducks and geese in the night sky. Our plan was to find a good spot out west of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and listen for shots. Although waterfowl season was open at the time, taking ducks and geese at night provided poachers, or so-called “duck draggers,” with an unfair advantage and was considered a serious wildlife crime.

In those days, California Fish and Game wardens drove two-wheel-drive Ford sedans, and during the rainy season there was always an element of risk when driving off the pavement. The department’s remedy for getting stuck in the mud was a Handyman jack, found in the trunk of every patrol car. It hadn’t rained for several weeks, so we turned off the county road and proceeded, at a snail’s pace, down a narrow levee that led into one of a hundred flooded rice fields.

“Let’s park here and see if we hear anything,” Dad suggested. Stepping from the patrol car, I was immediately greeted by a symphony of waterfowl sounds. Ducks whistled and whirred overhead as we quietly walked out on the levee under the dim light of a half moon. Unaware of our presence, birds flew so close I could feel the wind from their wingbeats on the back of my neck. There were widgeons, lots of widgeons. Stately pintails swooped in from out of nowhere and speedy little green-winged teal darted back and forth in every direction. What I remember most vividly was a pair of mallards splashing down not 15 yards from where I was standing—quaaack, quack-quack-quack-quack-quack—the raucous hen announcing her arrival. Suddenly there rose a thunderous, ear-splitting clamor, as thousands of ravenous snows and white-fronted geese burst into the air, their shrill honks and repeated cackles—wah, wah-wah-wah—music to this impressionable teenager’s ears. Having rested within the safe confines of the refuge all day, every web-footed wonder in the Pacific Flyway knew it was feeding time and was coming to the party.

Fifty years later, I still get goose bumps—no pun intended—each fall when I see flocks of ducks and geese passing overhead. With each sighting, I harken back to a storybook childhood and my own 30-year career protecting California’s wildlife.

My wife and I make regular day trips to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge to admire these magnificent birds, rekindle old memories, and escape the pressures of modern life. This 10,783 acre avian sanctuary, located seven miles south of Willows, California, hosts more than 600,000 ducks and 200,000 geese most winters. Over 300 species of birds, mammals, and native reptiles occupy the refuge complex at some time during the year. It’s a paradise for birds—and for birders.

Photo by Jason Montelongo

The Fish Rescue Crew

Photo of Stony Creek Fish Rescue CrewDriving south on Interstate 5 a few weeks ago, I crossed the Stony Creek Bridge, just north of Orland, California. The experience brought back vivid memories of my childhood—fishing, swimming, and exploring every inch of that wonderful Sacramento Valley stream.

One exceptionally dry season fifty years ago, the stream slowed to a trickle and stopped, leaving fish stranded in isolated pools. As the local California Fish and Game warden, my father organized a fish rescue detail. He invited my brother and me to participate, along with a few friends and some of the local townsfolk. I remember meeting in a parking lot behind Bucke’s Feed and Grain early that Saturday morning. Loaded with a twenty-foot fish seine and an old pickup full of milk cans, off we went. By the end of the day we had rescued and transported hundreds of juvenile salmon and steelhead, along with an assortment of bass and catfish, to the nearby Sacramento River. Fun was had by all, especially the local turkey vultures who feasted on the carp and hardhead minnows that didn’t make the cut.

Today, our streams are threatened like never before. With an ever-warming planet, droughts and longer summers seem to be the rule, rather than the exception. Wildlife-friendly native plants that once shaded our waters are being displaced by invasive, drought-tolerant species like Ailanthus (Chinese tree of heaven), Tamarix (salt cedar), and Arundo (cane). Even with reservoirs, like the three that now encumber Stony Creek, more and more interests are competing with fish and wildlife for the limited water that tumbles from mountain canyons and flows across the valley.

Today’s “fish rescue crews” are concerned citizens who get involved by forming local watershed groups, like the one I wrote about in my August 8th blog post.

Rescued any fish lately?

Photo (circa 1963) by Wally Callan.  Pictured are Mike Cauble, Paul Martens, Glenn Tibessart, Unidentified Gentleman, Yours Truly, and Ken Callan.

Fish Tales and Fond Memories

Picture of Author Steven T. Callan planting trout for the California Department of Fish and Game

Trout Planting Days

In 1966, as a high school graduate about to enter college, I was fortunate to find a summer job at the Mount Shasta Fish Hatchery—the oldest and probably the most beautiful operating fish hatchery in the western United States. The other seasonal aides and I found ourselves at the bottom of the proverbial food chain, so we spent most of the summer mucking fish waste out of the raceway ponds, cleaning fish troughs inside the hatchery buildings and loading fish planting trucks at six o’clock in the morning. Every Monday morning, I eagerly checked the weekly work schedule in hopes of being assigned to one of the trout planting details. Although I only planted trout once or twice that summer, I remember it as one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life.

In 1983, one of the beautiful old hatchery buildings was converted to the Mount Shasta Sisson Museum, named after Justin H. Sisson, a famous local pioneer and tavern owner. Imagine my excitement when I was recently invited to do an author program and book signing at the place where I had so much fun a half century ago!