Actions taken during 2012-2017 drought to preserve and protect the state’s fish and wildlife resources

During five consecutive extremely dry years with drastically limited water availability, CDFW has taken a number of imperative actions to preserve and protect the state's fish and wildlife resources. See the complete list of drought response efforts taking place throughout California.


Since 2014, CDFW has taken many actions to protect native fish species and recreational and commercial fisheries impacted by the severe drought. These actions include aquatic stressor monitoring, fish rescues, hatchery improvements, and drought-related restoration projects.

We have monitored aquatic habitats in creeks and rivers throughout the State (coastal watersheds, the Central Valley, Sierra Nevada and interior desert creeks) for dangerous conditions caused by the drought (low flow, high water temperature, fragmented pools and channels) and stressed fish populations. Monitoring continued until the heavy rains in the late fall of 2016 and may continue in 2017 in still-stressed waters in southern California.

For the past 3 years, CDFW has deployed staff to rescue threatened and endangered fish species on many rivers across the State. Fish rescues peaked in 2015 and continued in 2016. Rescues have focused on the most threatened native fish such as salmon and trout species, and inland freshwater species including species of special concern, such as Unarmored Three-spine Stickleback and Sacramento Perch.

CDFW’s hatcheries have experienced severe difficulties because of decreased water supply, inferior water quality, and increased threat of water pathogens, because of the prolonged drought. Hatchery improvements such as additional water filtration, the use of ultraviolet light to kill pathogens, and installation of self-contained circular fish tanks have enabled several State facilities to rear trout, steelhead and salmon under these abnormal conditions. Hatchery improvements made to address the impacts of the drought have also allowed CDFW to bring the most-at risk populations of some fish species, including Coho Salmon, Golden Trout, Central Valley Steelhead, and Unarmored Three-spine Stickleback into captivity. Many facilities have been improved in the last three years or are currently being improved, including American River and Merced River hatcheries, Mt. Shasta and Iron Gate Fish hatcheries, Darrah Springs Trout Hatchery, and King Fisher Flat Hatchery.

We have also performed focused habitat restoration during the past three years to improve river conditions for native species and make fish habitat more resilient to drought, now and in the future. In 2014 and 2015, the Fisheries Restoration Grants Program provided $4.2 million for 32 habitat restoration projects in coastal watersheds from San Diego to Del Norte counties. The Sacramento River Basin has also been a focus for restoration efforts, specifically to benefit at-risk Winter-run and Spring-run Chinook Salmon. For Sacramento River habitats, CDFW has constructed a salmon fish trap for the Coleman Fish Hatchery (2014), published the Battle Creek Winter-run Chinook Salmon Reintroduction Plan (2016),and we are still monitoring real-time river temperature, removing Deer Creek fish barriers, monitoring Sacramento Steelhead, and evaluating Green Sturgeon populations


  • CDFW conducted a drought vulnerability assessment of 358 terrestrial vertebrate species, including amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Species were ranked according to factors such as life history traits, dependency on water or wetland habitat, population, and geographic range. Forty-eight Priority I species were identified as being most at risk from drought related conditions, and another 57 species may also be vulnerable to ongoing drought. This exercise allowed CDFW to prioritize monitoring and management efforts.
  • Terrestrial vertebrate wildlife have been monitored at more than 300 locations throughout the Great Valley and Mojave Desert eco-regions, and another 300 study sites are being monitored in 2017. Monitoring data will be used to better understand the impacts of habitat conditions, including drought, on the distribution and abundance of wildlife species.
  • CDFW’s California Wildlife Habitat Relationships program staff analyzed the potential effects of warming and drying on the habitats of 646 amphibians, birds, mammals, and reptiles by assessing vegetation climate vulnerability and exposure data, relative to the Department’s data on the range and suitable types of habitat for each species. From this data we are creating maps to indicate the predicted suitable habitat for each species within its range, and the level of expected exposure to increasing warmth and dryness in each habitat. We will also use this data to further refine the list of drought-sensitive species, identify areas where efforts should be focused to promote wildlife resiliency, and prioritize our monitoring and management actions throughout the state.
  • Increased human-wildlife interaction has been reported, and may be due to drought conditions forcing wild animals to search father than normal for food. CDFW initiated a statewide response and data collection effort to address these human-wildlife conflicts, prioritizing those instances where drought was likely to have caused the interaction or that occurred in communities most impacted by drought.
  • The endangered Amargosa vole, a small rodent native to desert marshes not far from Death Valley, has seen its habitat quality decline as a consequence of reduced water dependability. This is believed exacerbated by climate change and drought. CDFW, in collaboration with UC Davis, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management rescued 20 animals to create a captive breeding program that now houses more than 100 voles. The Vole Team is actively restoring habitat in anticipation of releasing captive voles into the wild and studying the effects of drought and climate change on the desert marshes that support not only voles, but many unique species. Read more about the Amargosa vole.
  • CDFW has partnered with National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service biologists to determine habitat conditions and populations status for drought-vulnerable amphibians – including mountain yellow-legged frog, Yosemite toad, and Cascades frog – in high elevation areas of the state.
  • CDFW biologists and researchers from Humboldt State University and UC Berkeley conducted a study to evaluate the effects of supplemental feeding on giant kangaroo rat populations in the San Joaquin Valley. Giant kangaroo rats are an endangered species, and are also a keystone species that provides food and habitat for other listed animals, including the San Joaquin kit fox and blunt-nosed leopard lizard. Supplemental feeding increased the number of giant kangaroo rats at all study sites.
  • CDFW conducted studies to evaluate giant garter snake populations and habitat conditions in the Central Valley, and restored Snake Marsh at Cosumnes River Preserve. Read more about the giant garter snake.(opens in new tab)
  • CDFW led an effort to locate and monitor all tricolored blackbird breeding colonies occurring on agricultural grain fields (where they are vulnerable to losses due to harvest), and collaborated with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to protect colonies by compensating landowners to delay harvest. All vulnerable colonies in 2016 were protected, and the nests of more than 50,000 breeding birds were saved at eight colony sites. Read more about the tricolored blackbird.


CDFW is heavily involved in operations to rid our state of illegal marijuana grows. The Governor’s 2015-16 budget bill provided $7.7 million to regulate and enforce unauthorized water diversions and pollution to surface and groundwater caused by marijuana cultivation. This established a permanent multi-agency task force to address the environmental impacts of marijuana cultivation and initiate activities, in coordination with state agencies, to develop a regulatory program for medical marijuana cultivation. Marijuana plants use six to eight gallons of water per plant, per day, and are a direct hazard to wildlife that eat the plants. Even growers who have been authorized to cultivate marijuana in the state are often unaware of the need to get a permit from CDFW for diverting water from a stream. Please click any of the links below for information on marijuana-related actions.

Drought projects CEQA and Water Code suspension list

On April 25, 2014, Governor Brown issued “A Proclamation of Continued State of Emergency,” an executive order that, among other things, directs CDFW to take certain actions to respond to drought conditions. The proclamation also suspends certain legal and regulatory requirements to allow actions to take place as quickly as possible

Item 26 of the Governor’s Executive Order No. B-29-15 (PDF)(opens in new tab), dated April 1, 2015, suspends the California Environmental Quality Act as it applies to regulatory approvals necessary for the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) for its Emergency Drought Salinity Barrier Project. This suspension allowed CDFW to issue Incidental Take Permit No. 2081-2014-026-03 and Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreement No. 1600-2014-0111-R3 to DWR.

In 2015 and 2016 Governor Brown issued Executive Order No. B-36-15 (PDF)(opens in new tab) and Executive Order B-37-16 (PDF)(opens in new tab), which both specify that the April 25, 2014 Proclamation and Executive Order B-29-15 shall remain in full force and effect except as modified.

Item 19 of the proclamation suspends environmental review required by the California Environmental Quality Act for the following projects being undertaken by CDFW:

  • Hill Slough Tidal Restoration Project
  • San Joaquin River Restoration Program Emergency Water Chillers
  • Honey Lake Wildlife Area pipeline and pivot irrigation
  • Ash Creek Wildlife Area dam replacement and pipeline installation
  • Ash Creek Wildlife Area restoration of Ash Creek
  • North Coast wildlife areas irrigation system replacement
  • Honey Lake Wildlife Area, Dakin Unit well replacement
  • Upper Butte Basin Wildlife Area well installation
  • Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife Area recycled water system
  • Canebrake Ecological Reserve well refurbishment
  • Elkhorn Slough Ecological Reserve water catchment system
  • Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve solar well installation
  • Rancho Jamul Ecological Reserve water delivery pipeline
  • Burcham Wheeler Ecological Reserve meadow restoration
  • Imperial Wildlife Area water delivery system enhancement
  • Shasta Valley Wildlife Area Water Diversion and Fish Screen Improvements
  • Upper Sacramento River Anadromous Fish Habitat Restoration Project

Item 20 of the proclamation suspends Chapter 3 of Part 3 (commencing with section 85225) of the Water Code for the following projects being undertaken by CDFW:

  • Hill Slough Tidal Restoration Project
  • Lindsey Slough Tidal Restoration Project

Drought response projects

For the past three years, CDFW has conducted stream and native fish and wildlife species population monitoring, fish rescues, habitat restoration projects, captive rearing of at-risk native species, and many other actions to protect native fish and wildlife threatened or impacted by the statewide drought. These reports describe efforts at various locations along the coast, the Central Valley, mountains, and deserts of California. We will continue to update information about our work for ongoing projects.

Protecting our water resources

CDFW is taking great strides to keep as much water as possible in the rivers for fish and wildlife that depend on it. CDFW continues to work with land owners and stakeholders on the voluntary drought initiative, which provides a framework for water users to enter into individual agreements with CDFW and NOAA Fisheries. This enables them to maintain enough water for fish spawning and rearing in specific high priority streams, and implement other collaborative actions like fish rescue, relocation, monitoring and habitat restoration. In return, land owners and water users will benefit from greater regulatory certainty under the federal and state endangered species laws, and may receive incidental take authorizations for California Endangered Species Act (CESA)-listed fish, in case a participant unintentionally takes listed fish species while withdrawing water.

Also, in March 2014, CDFW expedited approval for the installation of storage tanks by landowners who currently divert water from rivers and streams. Please see below for information on water-related actions.

Maximizing efficient use of water on CDFW lands

Based on the anticipated needs of migrating birds and other threatened and endangered wetland species throughout the state, CDFW is determining how best to allocate surface and ground water that is available for wildlife habitat work. The available water will be distributed and used to benefit threatened/endangered species and maintain critical habitats for vulnerable wetland-dependent species in the most efficient manner possible. Planning for this involves consideration of anticipated water availability for wildlife on all public and private lands and coordination with other agencies and stakeholders.

The Department has made and continues to make significant investments in water supply and delivery infrastructure on wildlife areas and ecological reserves to improve drought resilience and enhance important wetlands for the benefit of species impacted by the historic drought. Fifty-two projects have been completed or are underway, at a total cost of $8 million. These include groundwater improvements such as refurbishing or replacing existing wells and related infrastructure; water efficiency improvements such as the installation of rainwater catchment and water delivery infrastructure; replacement of damaged pipes, water delivery systems and inefficient equipment; and habitat restoration and management to maximize the availability of existing water sources for wildlife. In addition, the Department continues to make improvements for water use monitoring by installing equipment such as metering devices to track and maximize the efficiency of water use.

Please see the documents below for additional information on lands-related actions

Funding for drought response actions:

As part of the state's comprehensive drought response, CDFW has been funded to act on a wide variety of critical drought related fronts, including:

  • Habitat restoration in key areas of the Delta to support declining fish populations
  • Increased and enhanced monitoring of Central Valley salmon populations to inform targeted drought response actions
  • Additional habitat restoration and infrastructure improvements to support the San Joaquin River restoration program
  • Water conveyance and infrastructure improvements focusing on water efficiency on many of the state’s wildlife areas and ecological reserves
  • State-of-the-art monitoring of Delta fisheries to support real-time water management decisions
  • Infrastructure at many fish hatcheries to support short- and mid-term hatchery-based management fish removed from streams impacted by the drought
  • Additional targeted funding under the Fisheries Restoration Grant Program to deliver resources to partners poised to improve habitat in key spawning and cover areas
  • Increased funding for law enforcement to promote compliance with fish and wildlife protection laws in the context of drought stress to many fish and wildlife population
  • Monitor stressors of terrestrial wildlife populations in areas of the state most heavily impacted by drought, and identify actions needed to promote resilience of the State’s most drought-vulnerable species
  • Monitor and take necessary actions to reduce extinction risk of critically imperiled species
  • For more information on current CDFW grant application opportunities for projects that sustain, restore and enhance California's fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats, see Grant Opportunities.

Governor Brown has called on all Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent and prevent water waste – visit to find out how everyone can do their part, and visit to learn more about how California is dealing with the effects of the drought.

Progress reports

The 2014-15 state budget included $38 million for CDFW to respond to the effects of the California drought on fish and wildlife. Please link below to the progress reports recapping how projects are going and how the funds have been spent quarterly.

Drought contract exemptions