CDFW Guidelines for Public Records Act Requests

The California Legislature has declared that access to information concerning the conduct of the people's business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in this state, as set forth in Article 1, Section 3 of the California Constitution and the California Public Records Act Gov. Code §7920.000 (PRA). Executive Order S-03-06 requires executive agencies including the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to adopt and post guidelines to help ensure agencies' compliance with the PRA. Pursuant to the Executive Order, CDFW has established these guidelines for the purposes of: (1) instructing CDFW employees on how to handle requests for records under the PRA, and (2) informing the public about its rights to access CDFW records under California law. These guidelines apply to requests for records held by CDFW and the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB), which is an independent board within CDFW. The Executive Order requires CDFW and WCB to post a copy of these guidelines in all their offices. Copies of these guidelines will be provided free of charge upon request.

Important Note: As of March 1, 2021, CDFW and WCB have transitioned to a new system for processing PRAs called GovQA. To use GovQA, please click the "Submit a PRA Request" button to the right.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does the Public Records Act process work generally using the GovQA system?

Within 10 days of receipt of a PRA request in the GovQA system, described further below, CDFW, the California Fish and Game Commission (FGC) or the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) will determine whether the request, in whole or in part, seeks copies of disclosable public records in its possession and will notify the requester of such determination. In unusual circumstances, the 10-day time limit may be extended up to 14 additional days by written notice to the requester identifying the need for the time extension.

Unusual circumstances warranting an extension may include the following:

  1. The need to search for and collect the requested records from field facilities or other offices that are separate from the office processing the request.
  2. The need to search for, collect, and appropriately examine a voluminous amount of separate and distinct records that are demanded in a single request; or
  3. The need for consultation between two or more components of CDFW/FGC/WCB having substantial interest in the organization's determination, in which case the consultation will be conducted with all practicable speed.

CDFW, FGC or WCB will make the records available as promptly as reasonably practicable. In general, the organization will usually need more time to locate and assemble a large number of records, especially when they are maintained at various locations, than to locate one or several documents.

As of March 1, 2021, CDFW, FGC and WCB adopted a new electronic system for processing PRAs called GovQA. Requesters who are seeking CDFW, FGC, or WCB documents can log into that system, create a unique password, and send and receive communications through GovQA. Once documents are assembled, non-exempt documents are made available to requesters through the GovQA Records Center. Requesters will be notified when records are ready and can log into the system to obtain them.

If requesters do not use the GovQA system, when they complete their search for and, if relevant, their copying or assembling of documents, CDFW, FGC or WCB will advise the requester:

  1. The location, date, and time at which the requested records may be inspected or provide a contact person to arrange a date and time for inspection.
  2. If hard (not electronic) copies of records are requested, the copying fee, which must be paid to obtain the copies; and
  3. If applicable, provisions of the PRA which exempt some or all the requested records from disclosure.

Members of the public who have concerns about the handling of a PRA request or difficulty obtaining information about the status of a response may direct their concerns or questions to:

Wendy Bogdan
General Counsel
Department of Fish and Wildlife
715 P Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

Telephone: (916) 654-3821
Facsimile: (916) 654-3805

How may the public obtain access to a public record?

Any member of the public may inspect public records or request copies of public records that are reasonably identified by the requester. CDFW, the Fish and Game Commission (FGC) and Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) are currently responding to requests electronically using the GovQA system. (A member of the public is any person except a member, agent, officer, or employee of a federal, state, or local agency acting within the scope of his or her membership, agency, office, or employment.)

CDFW, FGC and WCB strongly encourage members of the public to submit PRA requests in writing using the GovQA system.  Employees who receive a verbal request for records may ask, but cannot require, the requester to submit the request in writing. If the requester declines to submit a written request, the employee must document the verbal request and process it in accordance with these guidelines. Generally, this will be done by having the employee create a request in GovQA on behalf of the requester.

It is important to include the following information in a request made through GovQA:

  1. A statement whether the requester wants to inspect records or wants copies of records.
  2. A clear and specific description of the records sought. The requester should identify specific dates or a date range for the records whenever possible; describe the subject in adequate detail; and include document titles, authors, and other information when known. Vague or unnecessarily broad descriptions, e.g., a request for all records “relating to” a general subject may delay a response to the request and result in a larger volume of records than the requester intended.
  3. The requester's name, address, and other relevant contact information that will be entered into the GovQA system.

CDFW, FGC and WCB encourage requesters to include a telephone number and e-mail address for use in the event staff have questions about the request. CDFW, FGC and WCB may request additional information if the request is not specific enough to identify the requested records.

Submit a PRA Request

What records are not available through the PRA?

In addition to the public's right to access public records, California law recognizes both an individual's right of privacy and the need for state agencies to be able to competently perform their duties. To protect those interests, the Legislature has identified in the PRA and other statutes certain records and information that are exempt from public disclosure. A list of those exemptions is included in the PRA and should be consulted by anyone interested in seeing the full text of these exemptions. Below is a summary of a few of the most common exemptions:

  1. Commercial fishing data, including landing receipts, except as provided in Fish and Game Code section 8022.
  2. Preliminary drafts, notes, or inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda which are not retained in the ordinary course of business, provided that the public interest in withholding such records clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure.
  3. Records pertaining to pending litigation to which CDFW, FGC or WCB is a party, or to claims made until such litigation or claim has been finally adjudicated or otherwise settled.
  4. Personnel, medical, or similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy.
  5. Records relating to investigations conducted for law enforcement purposes.
  6. Contents of real estate appraisals relative to the acquisition of property, until all of the property has been acquired.
  7. Records that are privileged under the California Evidence Code, including but not limited to attorney-client communications and attorney work product.
  8. Records the disclosure of which is prohibited by federal or state law.
  9. Correspondence from or to the Governor's Office, or in the custody of or maintained by the Governor's Legal Affairs Secretary.

The PRA also allows agencies to withhold records that do not fall within a specific exemption if the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure.

Employees who are uncertain about whether records are exempt from disclosure should consult with the Office of the General Counsel. Any person may challenge a decision to withhold documents by seeking injunctive or declarative relief in any court of competent jurisdiction, although they are encouraged, but not required, to consult with the Office of General Counsel prior to doing so.

What are "Public Records"?

The PRA broadly defines “public records” to include all written and recorded records in CDFW, the Fish and Game Commission (FGC) and the Wildlife Conservation Board's (WCB) possession, unless the PRA or other law exempts the records from disclosure. Printed and photocopied documents, internal and external correspondence, handwritten notes, computer data, electronic files, and audio and video recordings are all public records subject to disclosure unless they fall within an exemption. The PRA provides for public access to non-exempt records CDFW, FGC and WCB generate, as well as records created by others that they have in their possession.

The PRA provides for the disclosure of existing identifiable records. CDFW, FGC and WCB are not required to prepare new records in response to a request, or to compile, synthesize, summarize, or index information or records in a form that does not exist at the time of the request.

I’m seeking documents from the Wildlife Conservation Board, so why am I using this CDFW site?

Pursuant to Fish and Game Code section 1300 et seq., the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) was created within CDFW. Because of this, while WCB is an independent board, it maintains a close relationship with CDFW. One administrative aspect of that relationship is its partnership with CDFW to take advantage of the GovQA platform for processing Public Records Act (PRA) requests. WCB believes that using this system will best serve members of the public who want to use the PRA to obtain WCB records. The system is designed so requests for WCB records go directly to WCB staff who process PRAs and handle those records.

Will a fee be charged?

CDFW, FGC and WCB do not charge a fee for assembling records for public inspection or when documents are provided electronically through GovQA. When photocopies are requested, there is a charge a fee of $0.15 per page to cover the direct cost of duplicating the records, which includes the proportionate cost of operating the copy machine and the expense of the person operating the copy machine, but not costs associated with retrieval, inspection and handling of the records.

When copies of electronic records are requested outside of the GovQA system, a fee will be charged an amount sufficient to cover the cost of the media used (e.g., a CD or DVD) and the time spent compiling and duplicating the records. This fee will vary depending on the records sought and the media used. However, records that are provided electronically through the GovQA system will not result in any fees.

When may public records be inspected?

Public records are available for inspection during regular office hours, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, except for state holidays. The inspection of public records is subject to a rule of reason as to time and duration, and must be consistent with the efficient functioning of offices. CDFW, FGC and WCB ask any person who wishes to inspect public records to telephone the Office of the General Counsel to schedule an appointment to inspect the records. It is policy that records not exempt from disclosure by state law will be open for public inspection with the least possible delay and expense to the requesting party. If public records, in whole or in part, are maintained in files that may also contain records that are privileged or otherwise exempt from the disclosure requirement, CDFW, FGC and WCB will need sufficient time to separate public records from the records that are not subject to disclosure.

Where should requests be submitted?

CDFW's Office of the General Counsel is primarily responsible for accepting and processing PRA requests for CDFW. Whenever possible, all requests should be submitted through the GovQA system.

Submit a PRA Request

For other inquiries about the PRA process you may contact:

Matthew Rodell, PRA Coordinator
Office of the General Counsel
Department of Fish and Wildlife
715 P Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

Telephone: (916) 902-9085

CDFW has PRA liaisons in each of its regional offices. For contact information for the regional offices, requesters may contact Mr. Rodell at (916) 654-3821.

If you are seeking records from the Fish and Game Commission (FGC) or the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB), you may use CDFW's contact person who will direct you to the appropriate representative of those organizations. Both FGC and WCB use the GovQA system and requests for their records get submitted directly to them in GovQA.