CDFW director seeks new relationship with Lassen County

Chuck Bonham, director California Department of Fish and Wildlife. State of California photograph

Chuck Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, wants to create a new and better relationship with Lassen County. He acknowledged his department has made errors here, and he asked the Lassen County Board of Supervisors to let bygones be bygones and start a new relationship based on mutual trust.

While the board seemed ready to move forward, the trust issue seemed to remain as a festering wound.

Bonham apologized for not making the meeting in person and said he was needed in Sacramento. He said he would visit Lassen County in person in June or July. He said he was anxious to start a relationship with Lassen County similar to the one the department has in Siskiyou County.

While the pronghorn population seems to be stable and the deer population is falling, he said the department needs a “long-term monitoring plan” and that predators do not account for all of the decline in the number of deer in the wild.

He also pointed out CDFW opposed listing the grey wolf as an endangered species, but the California Fish and Game Commission disagreed and listed the animal in 2014.

In addition, he said the state has a three-pronged compensation plan — the best in the western states — approved by the legislature in September 2021. He said the state has about $690,000 in claims on the books, but only about $50,000 has been paid to producers. He said the checks are not issued by his department, but by the state treasurer.

He said the wolf problem was “more dynamic” in Siskiyou County, and efforts there include planting food caches of roadkill and increased hazing practices to reduce predation.

Bonham said it was time for the department and the county to “step forward together” and “share engagement better.”

District 4 Supervisor and rancher Aaron Albaugh complained the department has addressed the county with “forked tongues” and that has led to “a lack of trust” between the county and the department.

For example, he said Bonham had agreed to appear in person before the supervisors on April 19 and was a no show. He said Bonham also had agreed to appear in person at this meeting and again was a no show, although he did appear electronically, which Albaugh acknowledged.

Albaugh complained the numbers of apex predators in Lassen County — mountain lions, bears and wolves continue to grow, which might seem to be a good thing in Sacramento, but he said it’s not such a good thing for the ranchers and farmers here in Lassen County.

Albaugh also complained about the illegal marijuana grows that have overwhelmed local  law enforcement and county staff — with zero law enforcement assistance from the state.

After CDFW biologist Brian Ehler estimated there were 1,000 bears in Lassen County, Albaugh said it should be easier to get a bear depredation permit. Ehler said there was a change in bear policy to the use of non-lethal means of controlling a problem bear before the issuance of a depredation permit, leading Albaugh to plead for “common sense.”

“You’re making a criminal out of an honest person,” Albaugh complained, by not letting the ranchers and farmers deal with predator issues themselves.

Chair Gary Bridges said the grey wolf is not a native species in California, and he wondered how much the state has spent on the wolves “since day one.”

He also pointed out the area’s deer herds live in Susanville because they feel safer here than in the wild.

And he lamented the lack of state law enforcement resources to combat the illegal marijuana grows in Lassen County.

District 1 Supervisor Chris Gallagher complained he had asked for a member of the board to serve on a state wildlife committee. He said the state said OK, but it never followed up, and a supervisor was never invited to take a seat on the committee.

Gallagher also suggested if the state wanted to reintroduce former native species in the state, it should consider reintroducing grizzly bears to the Bay Area so that predator could control the sea lion populations there as they did historically. He also said he believes the increasing number of predators is reducing the number of game animals in the wild.

District 5 Supervisor Jason Ingram wondered if feeding the wolves was a good idea.

District 3 Supervisor Tom Neely also questioned the wisdom of feeding the wolves.

Lassen County Administrative Officer Richard Egan, who is also a rancher who has lost cattle to wolves, said words have meaning and while Bonham said the state has a three-pronged approach to making payments for wolf depredation, the third prong has yet to be activated. He also complained about the “magical” September 2021 date in which the state apparently has agreed to begin paying producers whose livestock were killed by wolves.

He suggested feeding the wolves roadkill in the fast lane on Interstate 5 near Weed would be “an intriguing concept.”