California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Patch of the California Department of Fish and Game
Agency overview
Preceding agency
  • Board of Fish Commissioners
Headquarters1416 Ninth Street, Sacramento, California
Annual budget$539 million (2007)
Agency executive
  • Charlton (Chuck) Bonham, Executive Director
Parent agencyCalifornia Resources Agency

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), formerly known as the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG), is a state agency under the California Natural Resources Agency. The Department of Fish and Wildlife manages and protects the state's wildlife, wildflowers, trees, mushrooms, algae (kelp and seaweed) and native habitats (ecosystems). The department is responsible for regulatory enforcement and management of related recreational, commercial, scientific, and educational uses. The department also prevents illegal poaching.


The Game Act was passed in 1852 by the California State Legislature and signed into law by Governor John Bigler. The Game Act closed seasons in 12 counties for quail, partridge, mallard and wood ducks, elk, deer, and antelope. A second legislative action enacted the same year protected salmon runs. In 1854, the Legislature extended the act to include all counties of California. In 1860, protection controls were extended for trout. Lake Merritt in Oakland was made the first game refuge of California in 1869, believed to be the first in the United States.

In 1870, the Legislature, with the support of Governor Henry Huntly Haight, created the Board of Fish Commissioners. The Board stipulated that fish ladders were now required at state dams. The Board outlawed explosives or other deleterious substances, and created a $500 fine for violations. In 1870, the first fish ladder in the state was built on a tributary of the Truckee River, and a state hatching house was established at the University of California in Berkeley.

In 1871, the state appointed the first Game Wardens to handle wildlife law enforcement, making the Enforcement Division of the Department of Fish and Game the first state law enforcement agency enacted in California. Over the next 30 years, the Board of Fish Commissioners were given authority over game in the state as well as establishing hunting and fishing licenses.[1]

In 1909, the Board of Fish Commissioners changed its name to the Fish and Game Commission. The Division of Fish and Game was established in 1927, set up within the Department of Natural Resources. In 1951, the Reorganization Act elevated the Division of Fish and Game to the Department of Fish and Game (DFG).[1]

California Fish and Game also collaborated with the indigenous Native American Tribes to ensure their proper fishing rights. The Yurok tribe has collaborated with them as recently as 2011.[2] The department also helped figure out the official count of fish killed (which was around 30,000)[3] in the 2002 Fish Kill on the Klamath River. The Klamath river is very important to the tribes that live along that river.[3]

By 2012, California was one of only 13 states still using "Game" in the title of their wildlife agency. The State Legislature changed the department's name to Fish and Wildlife on January 1, 2013. The legislation followed recommendations of a 51-member stakeholder advisory group. 18 other states use the term "wildlife," while the others generally use "natural resources" or "conservation," in the titles of their Departments. This change reflects the trend toward expansion of the Agencies' missions from sport fishing and hunting alone, to protection of non-game wildlife and whole ecosystems.[4]

In June 2015, the CDFW phased out lead ammunition for hunting on state land in order to keep lead out of backcountry ecosystems.[5]

Regional divisions

The Department of Fish and Wildlife divides the State of California into seven management regions whose boundaries mostly correspond to county borders (with the exception of Sacramento, Yolo, and San Joaquin counties).

Law Enforcement Division

The department employs wardens to protect California's wildlife and natural resources. CDFW wardens are armed law enforcement officers with statewide arrest authority. Their primary mission is to enforce California state laws related to hunting, fishing, pollution, endangered species, and wildlife habitat destruction. However, they can enforce any state law, anywhere in the state. Vehicles used range from the patrol pickups to boats, catamarans, four-wheelers, snow-mobiles, horses, helicopters, and planes. The wardens investigate, collect evidence, serve search warrants, arrest criminals, and ensure public safety. Wardens patrol the state of California and 200 miles (320 km) off the coast.[6]

As of 2014, about 380 wardens patrolled the state.[7][8]

Merging the Law Enforcement Division into the California Highway Patrol has been discussed, similar to how Alaska has a Wildlife Trooper division within the Alaska State Troopers.[9][10] Given that the CDFW Law Enforcement Division has faced low numbers of Wildlife Officers for the last ten years.[when?][11][12][13]

Marine officers

The Marine Region officers patrol the entire coastline of California, and up to 200 miles off the shore. Marine officers enforce commercial and sport fishing laws through spot checks on the water and on land. As of 2001, the Marine Region was patrolled by 63 officers piloting 65-foot, 54-foot, and 40-foot mono-hull patrol vessels and 18-foot and 24-foot rigid-hull inflatable patrol boats. Some rigid-hull inflatable boats are carried on the larger patrol vessels, while others are carried on trailers to respond to emergencies on the north coast.[14]

Special Operations Unit

The Special Operations Unit (SOU) is CDFW's investigative unit. The SOU investigates crimes related to improper use of California's natural resources, including poaching of fish and game. The unit accomplishes this with a combination of physical surveillance and undercover operations.[15]


The CDFW operates an Air Services unit for the purposes of aerial surveillance, fish stocking, and transportation. All CDFW pilots are fully qualified peace officers, pilots, and airplane mechanics.[16] They are responsible for maintaining their own aircraft, and fly out of Hemet, Fresno, Sacramento, and Redding.[17]

Office of Spill Prevention and Response

The Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) is a branch of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife that is tasked with responding to pollution and protecting the wildlife of California. The OSPR has authority over all surface waters in California, both inland and up to 200 miles (320 km) off the coast. The funding for the OSPR's Oil Spill Prevention Administration Fund comes from a fee placed on every barrel of crude oil entering California.

Wildlife Forensics Laboratory

The CDFW Wildlife Forensics Laboratory is a forensic laboratory that uses molecular biology to investigate crimes against animals. The lab is staffed by three wildlife forensic specialists who help CDFW officers identify species, determine the biological sex of an animal, and determine whether two samples are from the same animal.[18]

California Fish and Game Commission

The California Fish and Game Commission is an organ of the California state government, and is separate from the CDFW.[19] Although the department's name was recently modified by changing the word "Game" to "Wildlife", no such name change has occurred for the commission.[4]

In popular culture

CDFW officers were followed by the National Geographic Channel show "Wild Justice" in 2010 and 2011.

In the 2022 film Jurassic World Dominion, it is referred that the CDFW had pursued the Jurassic Park's escaped Tyrannosaurus rex for over three years since 2018 before they captured it.

See also


  1. ^ a b Jim Zobel (November–December 1999). "Department of Fish and Game celebrates 130 years of serving California". Outdoor California. Retrieved December 3, 2023.
  2. ^ Buckskin, Marjorie. Yurok Tribe MLPA and Marine Resource Plan Factual Record of Marine Resource Use. Klamath: Yurok Tribe, September 15, 2011. PDF.
  3. ^ a b May, Theresa (2014). Salmon Is Everything. Oregon State University Press. pp. 50–51, 159–160. ISBN 978-0-87071-746-8.
  4. ^ a b Don Thompson (October 4, 2012). "Hunting, fishing groups leery of California department's name change". San Jose Mercury News. Associated Press. Retrieved February 4, 2014.
  5. ^ Erik Anderson (June 29, 2015). "California To Start Banning Lead Ammunition". KPBS Radio News (San Diego, CA). Retrieved July 4, 2015.
  6. ^ CDFW Law Enforcement Division. "Fish and Wildlife Officer Career". Archived from the original on August 20, 2016. Retrieved July 30, 2016.
  7. ^ 2008 Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies, by Brian A Reaves, US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, July 2011
  8. ^ "Fish and Game Wardens". Retrieved February 25, 2016.
  9. ^ California Fish and Game Commission Meeting March 6, 2008[permanent dead link]
  10. ^ A how-to guide in revamping woeful DFG Tom Stienstra, San Francisco Chronicle, December 8, 2002
  11. ^ A world without game wardens? ESPN, March 6, 2008
  12. ^ Game-warden shortage is about to get worse San Francisco Chronicle, September 23, 2007
  13. ^ Welser, Matt (August 19, 2007). "Lots of ocean, but few game wardens". The Sacramento Bee. Archived from the original on August 21, 2007.
  14. ^ Leet, William S.; Dewees, Christopher M.; Klingbeil, Richard; Larson, Eric J. (2001). Managing California's Living Marine Resources: A Status Report. California: California Department of Fish and Game. pp. 67–72.
  15. ^ "Special Operations Unit". California Fish & Game Wardens Association. California Fish & Game Wardens Association. 2007. Archived from the original on March 9, 2016. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
  16. ^ "Air Services". California Fish & game Wardens Association. California Fish & game Wardens Association. 2007. Archived from the original on March 9, 2016. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
  17. ^ "Law Enforcement Division". California Department of Fish and Wildlife. State of California. 2016. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
  18. ^ "Wildlife Forensics Laboratory". California Department of Fish and Wildlife. State of California. 2016. Retrieved July 31, 2016.
  19. ^ "About the California Fish and Game Commission". State of California. Retrieved March 4, 2021.