Those Wonderful Wildlife Caregivers

Author Steven T. Callan with one of three orphaned black bear cubs, circa 1981

Author with one of three orphaned black bear cubs, circa 1981. Photo courtesy of author

One of the more disheartening, sometimes discouraging aspects of a wildlife officer’s job is dealing with injured, orphaned, or imprinted wildlife that cannot be released back into the wild. Wildlife rehabilitation facilities, most of them operated by dedicated volunteers, are generally equipped to care for birds and small mammals, but not for large potentially dangerous carnivores such as bears, mountain lions, and exotic big cats.

While enforcing “animal welfare” regulations during my early years with the California Department of Fish and Game, I conducted several investigations involving the illegal possession of exotic big cats—a black leopard cub, an African lion cub, a Bengal tiger cub, and a full-grown adult leopard quickly come to mind. Each time I took the necessary enforcement action, I found myself faced with the difficult, almost impossible task of finding a zoo or qualified wild animal facility willing and able to accept the animal. In each case, there were no takers, so we ended up requiring the violator to ship the animal back to its state of origin.

Shortly after transferring to Shasta County in 1981, I investigated a case involving three orphaned black bear cubs whose mother had been illegally killed. Everyone at the Redding Fish and Game office, including me, fell in love with those pint-sized climbing machines but feared their ultimate fate if we couldn’t find a reputable zoo or wild animal park prepared to adopt them. In the end, Fish and Game Biologist Dave Smith persuaded an Oregon wild animal park to take on the responsibility.

Fast forward to June 2015 and the Outdoor Writers Association of California Spring Conference at Big Bear Lake, California. One of the fascinating speakers on opening day was Bob Cisneros, curator of the Big Bear Alpine Zoo and president of the American Association of Zoo Keepers. Before becoming curator of the Big Bear Zoo, Cisneros had spent over twenty years caring for wildlife at the world-famous San Diego Zoo and had traveled the globe as a tireless advocate for wildlife. As he spoke to our group on that hot June day, Cisneros’s passion for the Earth’s wild creatures was palpable—and contagious.

Christy McGiveron and Kathy Callan with Cowboy the great horned owl from the Big Bear Alpine Zoo

Kathy with two new friends, Cowboy the great horned owl and Christy McGiveron, from the Big Bear Alpine Zoo. Photo by author

Operating since 1959, Big Bear Zoo describes itself as a “last chance facility” for most of its occupants. This wild animal sanctuary and rehabilitation center is home to approximately 160 non-releasable orphaned, injured, or imprinted wild animals. Among the eighty-nine-plus species found at the zoo are some beloved bears, two robust mountain lions, and a pair of one-eyed snow leopards.

In 1996, a female grizzly was tormenting visitors at Yellowstone National Park. Twice trapped and removed from the campgrounds by park officials, this “three strikes bear” returned a third time with two cubs in tow. To make matters worse, the cubs were quickly learning their mother’s destructive habits. All three bears were slated to be euthanized when the Friends of the Big Bear Alpine Zoo stepped in and saved the day. Tutu, the mother grizzly, and her two offspring, Ayla and Harley, remain alive and well at the zoo.

Big Bear Alpine Zoo's famous grizzly bear family: Tutu, Harley, and Ayla

Big Bear Alpine Zoo’s famous grizzly bear family: Tutu in back, with Harley (left) and Ayla (right). Photo by author

Enter four California black bears, all headed for an early demise when the Big Bear Alpine Zoo provided them with a home for life. As a cub, Hucklebeary was hit by a car while crossing Highway 38 near Big Bear. This three-legged ambassador for bruins everywhere has entertained zoo visitors since 2002. Hollybeary was orphaned in 2005 and hand-fed back to health by the zoo staff. Zuni was found starving near the high desert city of Barstow, and Pooh, a habitual beehive raider, was trapped and brought in by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Oh, no! She must have kittens around here somewhere. Such were the thoughts of a California rancher in 2002, after he’d shot and killed a female mountain lion that had been preying on his livestock. The rancher’s depredation permit had authorized him to legally shoot the protected cougar, but he felt obliged to contact the Department of Fish and Game when he noticed the 110-pound cat was lactating. Soon thereafter, the Department of Fish and Game began an exhaustive search for her orphaned offspring. Two spotted four-week-old kittens were found huddled in a den nearby. Raised by hand and imprinted on humans, Cascade and Canyon could never be released into the wild. Today these magnificent felines evoke oohs and aahs from visitors at the Big Bear Alpine Zoo.

Canyon the mountain lion at the Big Bear Alpine Zoo

Canyon, one of Big Bear Alpine Zoo’s beautiful mountain lions. Photo by author

As you might have guessed, not every wild animal story has a happy ending. Cases like those I’ve described are many and facilities like the Big Bear Alpine Zoo are few and far between. The good news is that under the leadership of Bob Cisneros, the Big Bear Zoo will soon be moving to a modern and more spacious new home. You can find out more about this unique wild animal park and its dedicated wildlife caregivers by visiting the Big Bear Alpine Zoo website.

The OWAC gang at Big Bear Alpine Zoo: left to right, Outdoor Writers Association of California President Bob Semerau, Chris Semerau, Big Bear Alpine Zoo Curator Bob Cisneros, Steve Callan, Kathy Callan, and Dave Lite. Photo by Maureen Lite

The OWAC gang at Big Bear Alpine Zoo: left to right, Outdoor Writers Association of California President Bob Semerau, Chris Semerau, Big Bear Alpine Zoo Curator Bob Cisneros, Steve Callan, Kathy Callan, and Dave Lite. Photo by Maureen Lite

If you live in the Golden State and would like to learn more about wildlife rehabilitation centers near you, the California Council of Wildlife Rehabilitators maintains an extensive database of wildlife way stations.

This piece originally appeared as my July 18 “On Patrol” column in MyOutdoorBuddy.com. It has been modified for posting on this blog.

On the Road Again

Author Steven T. Callan and Melanie Allen, president of the Lassen Association, at the Lassen Volcanic National Park book signing for Badges, Bears, and Eagles

With Melanie Allen, president of the Lassen Association, before the Lassen Park book signing.

Kathy and I are on the road again with Badges, Bears, and Eagles. We’re having a ball!

Thank you to Melanie Allen, of the Lassen Association, and the gracious staff at Lassen Volcanic National Park  for the warm reception at my book signing last Saturday. We felt so welcome. Lassen Park is such a special place, drawing visitors from all over the world. Kathy and I enjoyed meeting and talking with wonderful people from Shasta County, Tehama County, Lake Almanor, Chester, Sacramento, the San Francisco Bay Area, Florida, and Massachusetts—all in the shadow of that magnificent mountain. What a day!

Author Steven T. Callan at Lassen Volcanic National Park for Badges, Bears, and Eagles book signing

Making new friends is the best part of the book tour.

I was back in my old stomping grounds in June when I spoke to the Chico SIRs. What a great group it was, filled with warm, friendly people. Kathy and I enjoyed the thoughtful questions and interesting discussion after my presentation. Thank you for the invitation and warm welcome.

Author Steven T. Callan at the Lassen Volcanic National Park book signing for Badges, Bears, and Eagles

Another new friend at Lassen.

Author Steven T. Callan at Lassen Volcanic National Park for the Badges, Bears, and Eagles book signing

Our new friends at Lassen Park came from all corners of the country.

We were in the lion’s den in May—the Enterprise Lions, that is! Kathy and I were impressed with the wonderful community service projects  this local group undertakes. Thank you to the Lions for their service, fantastic reception, and great questions.

Author Steven T. Callan speaks to the Chico SIR Bidwell Branch 110 about Badges, Bears, and Eagles.

Speaking to the Chico SIRs in June.

During these past two and a half years on the book tour, Kathy and I have often reflected on what the best part is. The answer? Reconnecting with old friends and making new ones. Thank you for your tremendous support!

Author Steven T. Callan speaks to the Enterprise Lions Club about Badges, Bears, and Eagles.

The Enterprise Lions Club gave us a warm welcome.

“Best Outdoor Magazine Column” Award 2015

Steven T Callan receives the  Best Outdoor Magazine Column award for 2015 from the Outdoor Writers Association of CaliforniaIt was a thrill and a great honor to recently receive the “Best Outdoor Magazine Column” award from the Outdoor Writers Association of California for the second year in a row. It was an added honor to win a first-place award for an article I wrote entitled “America Needs Parks Now More Than Ever.”

I love writing about California’s wonderful wildlife and natural resources in my “On Patrol” column for MyOutdoorBuddy.com.

Here’s what the judges had to say:

“I loved the author’s style – specifically the use of colorful adjectives and descriptive phrases. As a trout angler, I too would have been “teased by the rushing water below.” However, I’m not sure that I would have been willing to brave the poison oak and steep terrain to get to the stream on that 100 degree day. This author demonstrates a clear, knowledgeable and consistent presentation of varied topics. The columns were a joy to read.”

“The writer had an engaging and enjoyable writing style. . . .”

You can find my articles and news about my upcoming sequel here on my blog.

 

A Jewel in the Desert

Rock formation at Joshua Tree National Park

One of the many incredible rock formations within Joshua Tree National Park. Photo by author

In late April, before summer set in, Kathy and I decided to spend a few days in the land of blistering sands and sharp thorns. I had worked in the California desert during my early years with the California Department of Fish and Game and remain captivated by the incredible diversity of plants and animals that flourish in this seemingly barren landscape.

Mojave mound cactus decorated Joshua Tree National Park with brilliant blooms.

Mojave mound cactus decorated the park with its brilliant blooms. Photo by author

It was midmorning when we entered 794,000-acre Joshua Tree National Park, located 140 miles east of Los Angeles. I’m embarrassed to say that I had driven by all three entrances to the park more than a hundred times during the last forty years and never ventured inside, other than to visit the bookstore or make a donation. I had no idea what I was missing. Kathy and I remained virtually spellbound by the natural beauty of this extraordinary place—from the moment we entered the park at its southern boundary, off Interstate 10—to our reluctant departure two days later in the town of Joshua Tree, off Highway 62.

Desert tortoises, which are fully protected in California, may still be encountered in Joshua Tree National Park.

Now rarely seen and fully protected in California, desert tortoises, like this one, may still be encountered in Joshua Tree National Park. Photo by author

We spent the first day oohing and aahing at the amazing variety of wildflowers, butterflies, and reptiles thriving in the washes at the side of Pinto Basin Road. My two biggest concerns were running out of daylight after seeing only a small fraction of the park and not having enough space on our digital camera card for all the photographs we were taking.

Queen butterflies take advantage of the spring wildflower display at Joshua Tree National Park.

Beautiful queen butterflies take advantage of the spring wildflower display at Joshua Tree National Park. Photo by Kathy Callan

Our second day began on the trail to 49 Palms Oasis—a watering hole for the local desert bighorn sheep. “What a beautiful day,” Kathy remarked, as we left the parking lot and wound our way up the steep mountainside. Around every bend another breathtaking photo op awaited us—massive boulders against a backdrop of blue skies and billowing snow-white thunderheads.

Kathy is hiking the trail to 49 Palms Oasis in Joshua Tree National Park.

Kathy hiking the trail to 49 Palms Oasis. Photo by author

“I’d give anything to see a chuckwalla,” I said. I hadn’t laid eyes on one of these fascinating miniature dinosaurs since I transferred to Northern California in 1981. Early in my Fish and Game career, I had become concerned about the commercial exploitation of native reptiles and initiated a successful effort to ban their sale in California. Collectors at the time were destroying habitat in a desperate attempt to bag chuckwallas for the pet trade. Crowbars were sometimes used to pry these giant-sized lizards from their protective rocky lairs. Ironically, I spotted a chuckwalla watching us from a thirty-foot rock formation, minutes after expressing my wish. [Read more…]

Marijuana Wars and the California DFW

California Department of Fish and Game Warden Jerry Karnow with suspected poisoned bear at an illegal marijuana grow site

Fish and Wildlife Warden Jerry Karnow with suspected poisoned bear at an illegal marijuana grow site. Photo courtesy of California Department of Fish and Wildlife Warden Jerry Karnow

Just after daylight in September 2014, four California Department of Fish and Wildlife officers and four Nevada County Sheriff’s deputies quietly locked their vehicles and began what was to be an arduous hike into the bone-dry Yuba River Canyon. Armed to the hilt and decked out in standard marijuana eradication attire—full camo uniforms and bulletproof vests—the officers were prepared for any eventuality. Since becoming fully engaged in the business of eradicating marijuana grows and routinely dealing with drug cartels and dangerous criminals, DFW wardens had added a new weapon to their arsenal: the POF .308 semiautomatic rifle.

The California Department of Fish and Game first entered the marijuana eradication business about ten years ago. Wardens were recruited by county sheriffs’ departments and various drug task forces to participate in the Campaign Against Marijuana Program (CAMP). Fish and Game involvement increased as other enforcement agencies became aware of the wardens’ work ethic and backwoods knowledge. It wasn’t long before Fish and Game officers were asked to assist with most details—a boon to interagency relations but a strain on an already understaffed warden force. Having wardens so heavily involved in marijuana eradication also strayed from the Department of Fish and Game’s primary mission of protecting California’s natural resources.

Out of necessity, Fish and Game’s then chief of patrol decided that Fish and Game officers would provide assistance in marijuana investigations only when rehabilitation of the property was part of the detail; this would be consistent with the Department’s mission. At a minimum, habitat restoration would include cleanup of pesticides, proper disposal of litter, and removal of stream blockages. Marijuana had become a serious environmental issue.

Part of an illegal marijuana grow photographed by California Department of Fish and Game Captain Patrick Foy

Part of an illegal marijuana grow. Photo courtesy of California Department of Fish and Wildlife Captain Patrick Foy

In 2012, the Department of Fish and Game—soon to be the Department of Fish and Wildlife—began taking a more proactive approach to marijuana eradication. The new chief of patrol was contacted by a group of officers with the idea of creating an environmentally focused marijuana team. This ten-person Marijuana Enforcement Team (MET) would take the lead when environmental damage caused by marijuana grows was significant and restoration efforts were necessary.

It was soon discovered that environmental damage was extensive in some California watersheds. Highly sensitive species, like salmon and steelhead, were being harmed by traditional cartel-type grows and by a growing number of additional grows that had sprung up since the passage of Proposition 215. Regulations were being ignored as streams were dewatered, diverted, and polluted. This prompted the (renamed) California Department of Fish and Wildlife to create what is now the Watershed Enforcement Team (WET); this small group of Fish and Wildlife officers, environmental scientists, a DFW attorney, and a support staff work with the California Department of Water Resources to focus on the most environmentally challenged watersheds in the state. [Read more…]

2015 Book Tour Off to a Great Start

 

Steven T. Callan signing books for the Rooster Tails Fishing Club of Northern California

Signing books for the Rooster Tails Fishing Club of Northern California

The 2015 book tour is in full swing and off to a great start! Kathy and I have enjoyed making many new friends, and we look forward to a full calendar of events in the months ahead.

Author Steven T. Callan signing books at Wintu Audubon Society

Signing books after my presentation to Wintu Audubon Society

January found us with the Wintu Audubon Society, where I was asked to give a presentation about Badges, Bears, and Eagles, my career in wildlife protection, and my upcoming sequel. We thoroughly enjoyed their warm welcome, their hospitality, and many interesting, well-thought-out questions.

Steven T. Callan speaks about his book Badges, Bears, and Eagles to the Rooster Tails Fishing Club of Northern California

Speaking to the Rooster Tails Fishing Club of Northern California

The Rooster Tails Fishing Club of Northern California invited me to speak at their February meeting in Auburn. Kathy and I were so impressed with the planning and organization that went into this exciting event. I had the privilege of being a guest on two Sacramento-area radio programs prior to my speaking engagement, helping to ensure an impressive turnout. What a friendly group of fishermen and fisherwomen!

Steven T. Callan with Jim Petruk, president of the Rooster Tails Fishing Club of Northern California

With Jim Petruk, president of the Rooster Tails Fishing Club of Northern California

We rounded out the first quarter of the new year with two appearances: a book signing at the Nor-Cal Boat, Sport and RV Show and a presentation to the Shasta Group of the Mother Lode Chapter of the Sierra Club. Kathy and I had a ball at both events.

Steven T. Callan at Nor-Cal Boat, Sport and RV Show

With Department of Fish and Wildlife friends Eda Eggeman Ebe and Torry Zimmerman at the Nor-Cal Boat, Sport and RV Show

The year ahead is going to keep us busy, with events scheduled at Lassen Volcanic National Park , the Chico SIRs, and Eureka’s Clarke Historical Museum, to name a few. The highlight of the tour is seeing old friends and making new ones along the way. [Read more…]

Show Respect and Pass Through Quietly

 

Mature bald eagle at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

Mature bald eagle perched on snag at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

“Quick, roll up the windows!” said Kathy. We had just entered the ten-mile auto tour route at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge, when four cars roared by us like we were standing still. Pulling to the side of the road, we waited for the dust cloud that enveloped us to subside.

“Where did all these inconsiderate people come from?” I said, in slightly less delicate terms.

My wife and I love seeing and photographing wildlife, but our primary reason for coming to wildlife refuges, like Lower Klamath  and Tule Lake, is for the serenity and enjoyment of experiencing nature. Competing for the next “photo op” was not what we had in mind.

I thought about a recent piece I had read in Ducks Unlimited magazine, entitled “Public Land Ethics.”  The article provided ten rules for hunters to follow when hunting on public lands. Having enforced fish and wildlife regulations for thirty years, I was well aware of these rules—none of which were subject to enforcement—all of which require respect.

So, where am I headed with this train of thought? Respect is required of everyone who passes through a state or federal wildlife area—that includes photographers, bird-watchers and sightseers, as well as hunters. Visitors should respect the lands, respect the wildlife, and respect other visitors by showing them common courtesy. If you’re kicking up dust, no matter how dry the conditions, you’re driving way too fast.

Mallard pair at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

Mallard pair at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge

After watching the dust clouds finally disappear, we slowly proceeded toward a stand of mature cottonwood trees at the west end of the auto tour route; according to one of the volunteers at the refuge visitor center, about thirty bald eagles had been frequenting the grove. Arriving at a flooded wetland, we began photographing an assortment of common duck species: mallards, pintails, gadwalls, widgeons, and buffleheads, along with massive concentrations of snow geese and white-fronted geese.

“Look, there’s a mature bald eagle up ahead,” I said. “Let’s see if we can get close enough for a photograph.”

“I’ll get the camera ready,” Kathy replied.

Butte Valley Wildlife Area with Mount Shasta in background

Butte Valley Wildlife Area with Mount Shasta in background

The majestic, white-headed bird sat motionless on the tip of a partially submerged snag while I inched the car within range of our 300 millimeter lens—close enough for a reasonably good photograph, yet not so close as to disturb the eagle. Kathy had depressed the camera shutter once or twice, when [Read more…]

Presentation at Wintu Audubon Society

Author Steven T. Callan signing books for Wintu Audubon Society members

Signing books for Wintu Audubon Society members. Photo by Kathy Callan.

Last night I had the pleasure and privilege of giving a presentation to a packed house of Wintu Audubon Society members. In addition to discussing my current book and the upcoming sequel, The Game Warden’s Son—A Half Century of Protecting California’s Wildlife, we shared ideas about how our natural resources might be better protected. One of the suggestions for helping to finance more wardens in the field was a voluntary wildlife stamp for people who bird watch, hike, and enjoy nature’s wonders but don’t necessarily hunt or fish. This is an excellent idea, in my opinion, and one that would find favor, I believe, with sportsmen, nature enthusiasts, and game wardens alike.

Thank you, Wintu Audubon, for the warm welcome and stimulating discussion!

 

For the Love of Ducks

Waterfowl at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Waterfowl taking flight at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Photo by author.

With the north wind blowing off snow-covered Mount Shasta, it was brutally cold that December afternoon in 1960. Sitting in the back seat of our family car, I spotted an enormous flock of snow-white birds feeding in the grain field on the west side of the highway.

“Are those geese?” I asked.

“Snows,” said my father. “I see some specks and a few ducks out there with em’. You guys are gonna see a lot of those birds where we’re going.”

Snow geese at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Snow geese at Sacramento NWR. Photo by author.

Just then the entire flock exploded into the air, flew directly over our heads, and began circling another field on the opposite side of the highway. My father rolled down his window so my two younger brothers and I could hear the deafening roar of these migratory wonders, all crying out at the same time. It was the sweetest music I had ever heard.

I was twelve years old on that eventful day, traveling up Highway 99W to our new home in Orland, California. Awe-inspired and completely captivated by the incredible beauty of those splendid birds, my passion for waterfowl would last for the rest of my life.

Like many of the boys growing up at the north end of California’s Great Central Valley, I loved to duck hunt and seized every opportunity to bring home a couple of plump, rice-fed mallards for the dinner table. Fifty years later, I still get just as excited when I see wild ducks and geese, but I’ve put away my shotgun and replaced it with a camera and paintbrush.

Don’t get me wrong—I remain a strong advocate for sport hunting, as long as it’s done legally, in accordance with state and federal regulations. As I stated in my first book, Badges, Bears, and Eagles, law-abiding sportsmen contribute hundreds of millions of dollars, every year, toward the purchase of wildlands and the improvement of wildlife habitat. These funds support nongame birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, and beneficial insects, as well as game species like ducks and geese.

Greater white-fronted geese at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Greater white-fronted geese at Sacramento NWR. Photo by author.

Possibly the best place in California to see spectacular concentrations of ducks and geese is the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex, made up of five national wildlife refuges (NWRs) and three wildlife management areas (WMAs). Our favorite is the Sacramento NWR, located about nine miles south of Willows, off old Highway 99W.

Kathy and I made one of our annual treks down to the refuge a few weeks ago. It was a perfect day for taking photographs: One of our recent storms was breaking up, leaving behind a dazzling blue sky filled with billowing thunderheads. [Read more…]

Splashing Salmon and Giant Sycamores

Spawning male Chinook salmon

Spawning male Chinook salmon. Photo by author.

I’m sometimes asked if I had any favorite places to work during my twenty-one years supervising the warden force in western Shasta County. Lower Battle Creek immediately comes to mind—especially the tree-lined section from the mouth, where Battle Creek flows into the Sacramento River, to the barrier weir at Coleman National Fish Hatchery.

Lower Battle Creek from riparian trail, Battle Creek Wildlife Area

Lower Battle Creek from riparian trail. Photo by author.

Every fall, from mid-September to early November, this three-mile stretch of Battle Creek would come alive with fall-run Chinook salmon. Right behind the salmon were the poachers—some by day and some by night—with fist-sized snag hooks, dip nets, spears, and pitchforks. Many’s the autumn we had to practically stand guard on this extraordinary stream and its anadromous visitors.

Immature bald eagle on riparian trail, Battle Creek Wildlife Area

Immature bald eagle on riparian trail. Photo by author.

For me, the days of chasing salmon poachers are over, but Kathy and I still enjoy watching these marvelous fish make their incredible journey upstream to spawn. Possibly the best place in Northern California to experience this wonder of nature, and a whole lot more, is Battle Creek Wildlife Area.

Wetland at east end of riparian trail, Battle Creek Wildlife Area

Wetland at east end of riparian trail. Photo by author.

On any given day, we can hike the riparian trail, with its giant native sycamores, majestic valley oaks, bald eagles, red-shouldered hawks, great horned owls, and legions of soaring turkey vultures. Every break in the vegetation offers a window to Battle Creek itself—its reflective surface decorated with brilliant fall colors, its gravel bottom excavated with salmon redds and laden with fish eggs, its waters alive with the sights and sounds of salmon splashing their way upstream. [Read more…]