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Elk in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, part of Redwood National and State Parks

Poaching in the Parks

Elk in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

A stately bull elk in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Photo by Kathy Callan

The recent killing of Hwange National Park’s beloved icon, Cecil the Lion, has brought to mind a number of outrageous poaching incidents that occurred right here in California—all of them inside national parks, state parks, or wildlife refuges.

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

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.

Rock formation at Joshua Tree National Park

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.

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

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 a 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.