September 10, 2018 — I need you to remember something: This IS California. So here’s a little tale on how bad it has become for hunters in the Golden State.
For the second time in less than four years, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has misread its own Fish and Game Code. The code is such a quagmire of regulations and legalese that the DFW’s rank-and-file warden staff routinely has no idea how to read or interpret the rules, and the public relations staff always relies on the wardens if they get a regulation question. It is the blind leading the deaf and dumb.
So just before dove season opened Sept. 1, the DFW put out a press release that said: “It is illegal to hunt within 200 yards of an artificial water source for wildlife.”
This is absolutely incorrect.
Back in 2015 the agency published the same nonsense. And they were called out on the misinformation then. But the agency’s memory is short.
Some background: Back in the 1950 and 60s, the California Department of Fish and Game, built literally hundreds of guzzlers or man-made water catchments for wildlife in arid habitats in the southern half of the state. That was back when the DFG did exceptional work for hunters and anglers, and the agency had use of one attorney in the Attorney General’s office for half of his time. In effect, they had half an attorney to handle all their legal issues. Today, they have an entire staff of half-wit attorneys (most who don’t hunt or fish). There are over 20 attorneys on DFW payroll, and if you count the appointed staff – like director Chuck Bonham – who are also attorneys, the number is probably much higher.
Because these guzzlers are in remote areas and might be the only water sources for wildlife for miles around, the DFG wisely wrote common-sense regulations that prevented hunters from sitting on these wildlife sources and preventing wildlife from accessing this water. There’s a snarky comment here about how the staff has become very common (used condescendingly here), and it is no longer common-sense.
Here is the section from the Fish and Game Code that relates to guzzlers and other isolated water sources:
§730. Camping Near or Occupying Wildlife Watering Places.
(a) Camping/Occupying Defined. For purposes of this Section, camping/occupying is defined as establishing or inhabiting a camp; resting; picnicking; sleeping; parking or inhabiting any motor vehicle or trailer; hunting; or engaging in any other recreational activity for a period of more than thirty (30) minutes at a given location.
(b) Wildlife Watering Places Defined. For purposes of this Section, wildlife watering places are defined as waterholes, springs, seeps and man-made watering devices for wildlife such as guzzlers (self-filling, in-the-ground water storage tanks), horizontal wells and small impoundments of less than one surface acre in size.
(1) Camping/Occupying is prohibited within 200 yards of the following:
(A) Any guzzler or horizontal well for wildlife on public land within the State of California.
(B) Any of the wildlife watering places on public land within the boundary of the California Desert Conservation Area as depicted on the Bureau of Land Management maps of “Calif. Federal Public Lands Responsibility,” “Calif. Desert Conservation Area” and the new “Desert District, B.L.M.”
Now I’m not a lawyer or a game warden, but as a student of language I can decipher what this means (and I have repeatedly provided the following information to the DFW).
In simple English, this is what the code actually means (pay attention hunters and wardens):
Section (a) defines “camping/occupying” as including hunting. So it effectively says “anyone hunting for a period of more than 30 minutes” at one of these Wildlife Watering Places – which is also defined in Section (b) — is prohibited in the conditions under section (1). So to rewrite this in English, it would read like this:
“Hunting within 200 yards of a guzzler is prohibited if you do it longer than 30 minutes.” The same is true for the other restrictions. “Resting within 200 yards of a guzzler is prohibited for more than 30 minutes.” “Parking within 200 yards of a guzzler or well is prohibited for more than 30 minutes.”
This is what the statute means. It DOES NOT mean it is illegal to ever hunt within 200 yards of a wildlife water source or guzzler.
If the state didn’t want you to ever hunt within 200 yards, the time specification of 30 minutes would not have been included in defining what is later banned. That means you can hunt up to and around any guzzler, even stand on the apron and shoot a flushing bird. But you cannot set up a lawn chair and sit there for hours and wait for doves or chukar to show up to what may be the only water source for wildlife for miles. You will get a citation for that.
Yet, I have had arguments with veteran wardens over this (and most of the DFW’s appointed Sacramento PR staff simply doesn’t care about hunting and hunters).
When statutes are enforced incorrectly, it is nothing less than a form of harassment. But the DFW is getting good at that. Just two years ago, I wrote here in GunProPlus about how a spokesperson from the state’s attorney general’s office said wardens’ could make warrantless searches of anyone’s vehicle or home if they have purchased a hunting or fishing license. Never mind about the nation’s Fourth Amendment, this is California.
And it gets worse every year.