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Poachers undermine restoration efforts

Outdoors
By: J.D. Richey Journal Outdoors Columnist
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I freakin’ hate poachers! And Kyle Edward Stornetta, 31, of Manchester is right up there with the worst of ‘em. Why? Well, check this out: While conducting a warrant search for illegal marijuana in Mendocino County last month, law enforcement officials found a little more than they were looking for. Department of Fish and Game warden Don Powers seized 18 wild steelhead and 56 ducks from freezers in two locations while assisting the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department in serving search warrants. Now, here’s what really gets me: The steelhead (probably from the Garcia River) in Stornetta’s possession were all native fish and all but one were spawning females! Seventeen wild females full of eggs! Makes me sick! “Those 17 females could have produced about 70,000 eggs to help restock the river,” said Doug Albin, a DFG fisheries biologist in Fort Bragg. The Garcia’s steelhead population is dangerously low and each one of those dead fish was significant when you look at the fact that only 65 steelhead returned to spawn to the river River in 2009! But a fish head like me shouldn’t be the only one seeing red over this kind of stuff! Consider this: Wild steelhead along the Mendocino Coast were listed as threatened by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2000 and it is unlawful to catch or possess them. The federal listing spurred the investment of millions of dollars of public and private funds in the Garcia River and its watershed to fund restoration and conservation efforts including bank stabilization, upslope sediment reduction, the planting of thousands of small willow, silt reduction programs, road upgrading or decommissioning, and other improvement and forestry projects and practices. “The Garcia River is gradually being nursed back to health by a number of groups pooling their conservation and restoration efforts, but those investments are negated when spawning females are illegally taken like this,” said Albin. Specific contributions have included more than $1 million in grants issued by DFG’s Fisheries Restoration Grants Program, an $18 million purchase of the Garcia Forest by the Conservation Fund of the Garcia River Forest to manage and restore its 23,780 acres, and $3.5 million for a conservation easement purchased by the Nature Conservancy to conduct studies and monitor fish and wildlife populations within the forest. The steelhead population is responding to these efforts and showing increasing signs of recovery. In 2010, approximately 250 steelhead were tallied, and in 2011 an estimated 770 steelhead spawned. Still, that river needs every last wild spawner it can get and with fellows like Mr. Stornetta doing his ugly business, it’s a wonder there are any fish around at all. Sadly, there are crimes against wildlife like this going on throughout the state and our DFG wardens, though they do an excellent job, are simply out-manned. Man, I hate poachers! J.D. Richey is a 1986 Placer High graduate whose outdoors pieces have been published nationally. Find him online at www.fishwithjd.com.