California BHA 2023 Recap

With 2023 in the books and some meat in the freezer (hopefully), we would like to take the opportunity to reflect on California BHA's engagement and accomplishments that were made possible by the support of our dedicated members and volunteers.


The California Chapter of BHA authored and/or signed on to 17 policy letters in 2023 ranging from issues like wild horse and burro management, Marine Protected Area Network adaptive management recommendations, wildlife crossings and navigable waters access - to legislation that would conserve public lands and waters and impact hunters throughout the state. 

Read our 2023 comment letters

Federal Legislation

  • Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument: Advocated for the legislative advancement of S. 683/H.R. 1396 led by Sen. Padilla and Rep. Garamendi, which passed out of Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Also engaged in a campaign to advocate for the expansion of Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument through the use of the Antiquities Act.
  • Chuckwalla National Monument: Continued to support and advocate for H.R. 5660 (which we helped to draft) led by Rep. Raul Ruiz, and advocate for the designation of Chuckwalla National Monument through the use of the Antiquities Act.
  • Protecting Unique and Beautiful Landscapes by Investing in California (PUBLIC) Lands Act: Advocated for the legislative advancement of S. 1776 led by Sen. Padilla and the House companion legislation H.R. 2545, H.R. 3681, and H.R. 3800 led by Reps. Carbajal, Chu, and Huffman respectively. Also advocatde for the expansion of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument through the use of the Antiquities Act.
  • Medicine Lake Highlands: Advocated for the designation of the Medicine Lake Highlands and Aquifer as a national monument through the use of the Antiquities Act.
  • San Pablo National Wildlife Refuge: Engaged in the proposed expansion of this national wildlife refuge through the process led by Reps. Garamendi, Huffman, and Thompson.

State Legislation

  • Supported AB 859 which would have clarified the public's right to use navigable floodwaters for waterfowl and other hunting purposes. 
  • Supported SB 772 which would extend the youth hunting license age to 17.
  • Supported AB 1507 which provides an exemption for nonprofit conservation organizations to sell firearms on State property in order to help fundraise for conservation programs.
  • Opposed AB 28 which imposes an additional 11% tax on the sale of all firearms and ammunition, and unlike Pittman-Robertson the revenue generated is not earmarked for conservation. 

Fish & Game Commission

  • A petition before the Fish & Game Commission of California proposed to "prohibit take of groundfish shoreward of 100 feet in the West Coast Central Groundfish Management Area year-round." The petitioner cited struggling kelp forests as rationale for the broad fishing closure of nearly 250 miles of California's central coast for iconic species like rockfish, lingcod, cabezon and more. However well-intentioned, BHA strongly opposed this petition and cited a lack of evidence to support the petitioner's claim, a perspective that CDFW staff had also expressed.

    BHA successfully led the opposition to this petition through a counter-petition and in-person commentary at the commission meeting. With encouragement from BHA members and guided by scientific recommendations from the Department of Fish & Wildlife, the Fish & Game Commission rejected petition 2023-02 outright and we applauded their commitment to following the science on this particular issue.

A signature accomplishment from the Chapter's work this year involves access to navigable waters. 

Here in California we have a constitutional right to fish, and we have a right to access, hunt and fish the navigable waters of our state - for those waters are to be held in the public trust for the enjoyment of ALL.

Occasionally those rights and the definitions that uphold them can be called into question, as was the case last Fall when two anglers were confronted by a warden who claimed they were trespassing while fishing the Truckee River along a section that ran through private land. After the warden's lieutenant doubled down this dubious claim, BHA stepped in and convened a meeting of stakeholders, elected officials, NGOs and volunteers to address the issue. We are happy to say that CDFW legal counsel has agreed with the objections we brought forth in our letter and has notified CDFW law enforcement appropriately. The Truckee is indeed a navigable water and as such you may fish it!

Read the Truckee River Letter

Building a coalition and securing funding for the I-8 Peninsular Bighorn Sheep Crossing project is another major accomplishment for California BHA in 2023.

California BHA was able to lead and coalesce support for an effort to address one of CDFW’s priority barriers to movement for wildlife in California through the I-8 Peninsular Bighorn Sheep Crossing Project. Over the course of only one year, BHA formed and led a coalition effort to secure funding for a wildlife crossing along Interstate 8, and following a site visit that BHA planned and orchestrated, the grant team led by the UC Davis Road Ecology Center secured $5.8 million dollars for the planning and design phase of this project from the Wildlife Conservation Board. BHA will remain on the project team to help with stakeholder engagement and has already coordinated an Eco-Flight tour of the region, secured a front-page story in the San Diego Union Tribune and built a dynamic website and ArcGIS storymap to highlight the effort.

View the Website

The rapid success of this campaign was due, in part, to the development of strategic partnerships and relationships forged from our work on wildlife corridors and connectivity along Hwy 395 in addition to local stewardship projects focused on Peninsular Bighorn sheep in Southern California. Existing working relationships were integral to the formation of a dynamic coalition, however the bighorn sheep stewardship projects that BHA facilitated were equally important to build the foundation of support from diverse stakeholders. BHA staff and members have coordinated and supported hands-on habitat projects designed to benefit desert bighorn sheep and the Federally Endangered Peninsular bighorn. The Castle Mountains guzzler repair project with the Society for Conservation of Bighorn Sheep and Mojave National Preserve staff was likely the most extreme (we dug trenches in 110 degree heat), and the U.S. Marine Corps Helicopter squadron support projects were the most high-profile. Thanks to the Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton we were able to secure helicopter support for high priority habitat infrastructure maintenance deep within Anza Borrego Desert State Park – this relationship with the Marines and the hundreds of thousands of dollars we were able to save the Department of Fish & Wildlife fostered a solid working relationship with the Department and helped cement their support for BHA to spearhead the wildlife crossing coalition effort. The hands-on work and commitment may have also helped to garner support from local tribes who have a close connection with and reverence for bighorn sheep, and who are in support of this wildlife crossing project.


Our stewardship work has leveraged the logistical capacity of state and federal agencies with the enthusiasm and vigor of volunteers on public lands.

Beer, Bands Bitterbrush Stands

Most recently in October of 2023 we coordinated a significant volunteer effort to help CDFW get 4000 bitterbrush plants in the ground at the Hallelujah Junction Wildlife Area and we had a damn good time while we were at it. BHA hosted the Beer Bands Bitterbrush Stands event to bring out volunteers and we had live music, camping, a wild game potluck, several bands and all the beer you could drink on tap for participants.

This planting effort was the second phase of a large-scale restoration project that BHA is leading at the Hallelujah Junction Wildlife Area to restore critical Winter range habitat for mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and elk. We are also working closely with the Washoe Tribe to include culturally significant plants in our restoration and 4 out of 5 are important species for pollinators in the region. Our project also leverages the work of Wildlands Network along 395 to study wildlife movement through existing culverts and at-grade crossings in order to help inform Caltrans of priority areas for wildlife crossing infrastructure and investments. Our collective efforts augment a million-dollar project that Caltrans completed on hwy 395 along our work area and the Wildlands Network camera study has helped to secure funding for a wildlife crossing project along hwy 395 in this region as well. We submitted a letter of support and were thrilled when it received funding at the same time the I-8 Wildlife Crossing project did.

View the Event Recap

Peninsular Bighorn Sheep Get Another Boost from U.S. Marine Corps Helicopter Squadron

ANZA-BORREGO DESERT STATE PARK, Calif - For the third year in a row the brave men and women of the U.S. Marine Corps Helicopter Squadron HMLAT303 have stepped up to provide aerial support for bold wildlife projects that strive to provide resiliency to local populations of bighorn sheep in Southern California.

This November the marines joined volunteers from the California Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, and staff from California State Parks as well as the Department of Fish & Wildlife to replace aging, "rain-catchment" wildlife water systems (guzzlers) located deep within wilderness of the Anza Borrego Desert State Park (ABDSP). Thanks to a donation from the Sycuan Casino and the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, brand new guzzler tanks were flown in by long line to support a local population of Peninsular bighorn sheep, a Federally Endangered species that inhabits the austere and drought prone portions of this Wilderness. 

This collaborative effort involving volunteered helicopter operations and flight crews, U.S. Marines from Marine Light Attack Training Squadron 303 (HMLAT-303), using two UH-1Y helicopters from HMLAT-303, known as "Atlas," played a crucial role in removing the old water tanks and transporting the new multiple 2,500 gallon water catchment tanks, employing “long-line external lift capabilities” that were required due to the challenging terrain and remote guzzler site locations. Volunteers from BHA, CAWSF, and staff from CDFW and ABDSP hiked out to the guzzler sites in the dark to prepare for the marines, pump water between tanks and plumb the systems once the tanks were in place.

This incredible partnership was forged in part, thanks to BHA's Armed Forces Initiative and BHA members stationed at Camp Pendleton in addition to the perseverance of one dedicated individual, Scott Gibson. A Marine veteran, Secretary of the California Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation and a longtime hunter and bighorn sheep conservationist, Scott has had a commanding role in the planning and execution of these projects. 

View the Project Recap

Lacks Creek Conifer Encroachment Project

We have had similar successes bolstering the efforts of the BLM to support fish and wildlife habitat on public lands – like the conifer encroachment project we coordinated at the Lacks Creek Management Area in Humboldt County. This project featured 15 volunteers who worked hard to remove douglas fir trees from encroaching on native prairie habitat that supports a variety of ungulates in the area. This work dovetails with prescribed burns orchestrated by the BLM and their work alongside the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to expand the forage and range for a herd of elk that inhabits the Northern portion of the Lacks Creek Management Area.

View the Project Recap

Bighorn Sheep Surveys

BHA volunteers assisted CDFW biologists with two separate bighorn sheep surveys in 2023. BHA helped to glass, count and record observations of desert bighorn sheep on San Gorgonio, as well as the Marble Mountains. This is the second year in a row BHA has organized and assisted the Department with Bighorn sheep counts in Southern California.

Mission Bay Catch & Clean Up

The Chapter hosted a Catch & Cleanup event on Earth Day as a part of the Annual Creek to Bay Cleanup in San Diego. There was a fly casting clinic in the morning before the main cleanup and opportunities to shore fish, fly fish and kayak or stand up paddle board fish for those that wanted. Every bucket of trash picked up earned participants an entry to win a special raffle prize from sponsors like Patagonia, Fishpond and more. We picked up hundreds of rusty nails from the shoreline (don't burn pallets) and 87 buckets of trash.

Public Land Packouts

BHA volunteers planned and hosted three separate public land pack outs on Public Lands Day in Northern, Central and Southern California in 2023. Volunteers gathered at the Napa Sonoma Marsh, the Kern River and Jenks Lake in Big Bear to put in work on behalf of our public lands and waters.

Silver Creek Lahontan Cutthroat Trout Restoration

BHA volunteers helped CDFW biologist Nick Buckmaster in the Scenic Eastern Sierra with electroshocking and counting fish on Silver Creek. This effort was part of a multi-year project to remove brook trout from the Silver Creek in order restore habitat for Lahontan Cutthroat Trout. 47 Brook Trout were stunned, captured and transplanted this year (no fish were post-spawn)- a 99.1% decrease from 2022! Biologists believe that we successfully broke spawn this year and hope to complete one more pass next year. Before and after the stewardship work, volunteers spent their time tossing dry flies to hungry Lahontans on nearby Wolfe Creek or bear hunting the surrounding mountains.

Community Building

Backcountry Women's Event

Our first Backcountry Women's event at LA Clays! Tickets to this event included private instruction from a Level II NSCA Certified Instructor, 50 clays, refreshments and a membership to BHA! Participants learned the basics about shotgun shooting and/or honed their skills for the field this fall. 

International Fly Fishing Film Festival

BHA co-hosted the 2023 International Fly Fishing Film Festival (IF4) screening at Stone Brewing in San Diego and we raised several thousand dollars for conservation while we were at it!

Rifle Range Days with BHA

BHA's Collegiate club at CSUF hosted a rifle range day fundraiser this fall in Southern California and the chapter also hosted a long range shooting for short range hunting clinic in Central CA. Both events were well attended and were open to brand new shooters or those working to dial in their equipment for the field. 

Plaque and Ram Skull Presented to US Marines of HMLAT 303

BHA and partner organizations recognized U.S. Marine Corps Squadron HMLAT 303 and Major Johnny "CONGO" Zimmer for their critical role in support of desert bighorn sheep during the extreme drought of 2021 and 2022. Along with the California Chapter of the Wild Sheep Foundation, the Department of Fish & Wildlife and California State Parks Association, BHA recently presented two plaques and a ram skull to the unit to commemorate their outstanding service and commitment to wildlife in Southern California. We are incredibly grateful to the Marines for their service to our country and their outstanding service to wildlife, and we look forward to continuing to work together in support of wildlife in Southern California. 

Science-Based Management of Wildlife

Predator Management - Black Bears

BHA has also worked through the Hunting and Conservation Coalition (HCC) in California to garner support and funding for a research project piloted by UC Davis to study the impacts on the black bear population in Lassen National Park following the large-scale Dixie fire in 2021. The California Chapter board contributed $5k towards this research project and we also secured an additional $3k from the California Bowmen Hunters/State Archery Association. We successfully connected the study planners from UC Davis and Lassen National Park with the CDFW Black Bear Management plan lead and we are enthusiastic that the study may help the Department to better understand black bear population and ecology in the region and in the face of fire more generally.

Closing Remarks

As the above list indicates, California BHA members don't just roll up their sleeves...they give blood, sweat, and at times even the shirts off their backs for the public lands, waters and wildlife of the Golden State. Join us in 2024, and have a damn good time while you are at it!




About Devin O'dea

Devin grew up abalone diving, spearfishing, and backpacking in CA before discovering a love of bowhunting and wing shooting. He worked as a marketing manager for a carbon division of Mitsubishi, but the allure of adventure and wild places led him to BHA