Majestic Mount Shasta as it appears from Castle Crags State Park. Photo by author.
When the Outdoor Writers Association of California chose Siskiyou County as the site for this spring’s writers conference, I couldn’t have been more pleased. I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for this unspoiled land at the top of the state since I first discovered it fifty-three years ago.
Ring-necked pheasants were plentiful in and around the rice fields of Butte County during the 1950s. Photo by author.
“That’s strange,” said Berg, pulling to a stop and reaching for his binoculars. “What’s that fancy new car doing out here in the middle of all these rice fields?” It was mid-morning in early August 1954, and the enthusiastic young rookie warden was patrolling for pheasant poachers near the Northern California farming community of Biggs.
An adult chuckwalla sunning itself at Joshua Tree National Park. Once exploited for the pet trade, native reptiles, like the chuckwalla, may no longer be sold in California. Photo by author
“I’m waiting,” taunted Darrell, his threatening mug now two inches from my face. My stomach churned and my heart pounded furiously as adrenaline coursed through my body. I had painted myself into a corner. The question crossed my mind: Was I willing to get beaten up trying to protect a lizard? While Darrell and Randy laughed at me, I remembered something my father had said. Never start a fight, but the best way to end one is to hit the other kid in the nose as hard as you can. . . .
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.
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.