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 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 having substantial interest in CDFW's determination, in which case the consultation will be conducted with all practicable speed.

CDFW will make the records available as promptly as reasonably practicable. In general, CDFW 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 and the Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) adopted a new electronic system for processing PRAs called GovQA.  Requesters who are seeking CDFW or WCB documents can log into that system, create a unique password, and send and receive communications through GovQA. Requests can also be submitted anonymously. 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 it completes its search for and, if relevant, its copying or assembling of documents, CDFW 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. (This inspection option is available once the COVID-19 pandemic is over and CDFW staff return to their offices.)
  2. If hard (not electronic) copies of records are requested, the copying fee, which must be paid to obtain the copies (Obtaining hard copies is also not available due to the COVID-19 pandemic since CDFW staff are not in their offices to make copies; electronic records only are available at this time); 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 CDFW's handling of a PRA request or difficulty obtaining information about the status of CDFW's response may direct their concerns or questions to:

Wendy Bogdan
General Counsel
Department of Fish and Wildlife
1416 Ninth Street, Suite 1341
Sacramento, CA 95814

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

How has COVID-19 impacted CDFW's response to PRA requests?

Based on the current requirement that virtually all of CDFW's employees work remotely to reduce the spread of COVID-19, CDFW has had to modify its PRA process. Because staff are working remotely and they are no longer in their offices to search through hard copy files, responses to requests are limited to records that can be retrieved electronically. At the time that electronic records are provided through the GovQA system, all requesters have the option of specifying that they want their requests to be re-opened at the time that employees return to their offices and can search hard copy files.

The lack of regular access to offices has also limited the means by which requesters can obtain responsive documents. Electronically available documents will be provided to requesters through the GovQA system at no charge. Requesters may not, at this time, inspect records at CDFW offices nor are they able to obtain copies of documents other than through electronic transmission. These options will resume once the COVID-19 pandemic ends and employees are allowed to return to their offices.

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, although during the COVID-19 pandemic these options are limited because most employees are working remotely. As a result, CDFW is 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 strongly encourage members of the public to submit PRA requests in writing using the GovQA system. A CDFW employee who receives 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 CDFW employee must document the verbal request and process it in accordance with these guidelines. Generally, this will be done by having the CDFW 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. (Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these options will only be available once employees are able to return to their offices to resume regular work; all records are now being provided electronically.)
  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 CDFW's 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, although anonymous requests are also accepted.

CDFW encourages requesters to include a telephone number and e-mail address for use in the event staff have questions about the request. CDFW 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 by CDFW 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 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 by CDFW 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.

CDFW employees who are uncertain about whether records are exempt from disclosure should consult with the Office of the General Counsel. Any person may challenge CDFW's 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.

Will CDFW charge a fee?

CDFW does not charge a fee for assembling records for public inspection or when documents are provided electronically through GovQA. When photocopies are requested, CDFW charges 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.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the option of obtaining photocopies will only be available once employees return to their offices and are no longer working remotely.

When copies of electronic records are requested outside of the GovQA system, CDFW will charge 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.

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:

Ms. Xochitl Miranda, PRA Coordinator
Office of the General Counsel
Department of Fish and Wildlife
PO BOX 944209
Sacramento, CA 94244-2090

Telephone: (916) 654-3821

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

When may public records be inspected?

COVID-19 Special Note: While the current pandemic is pending, most state employees are working remotely and are not in their offices conducting regular work. As a result, the option to inspect files is not currently available, but will resume once CDFW's offices open and employees return to work. 

Public records are available for inspection during CDFW 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 CDFW offices. CDFW asks 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 CDFW's 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 will need sufficient time to separate public records from the records that are not subject to disclosure.

What are "Public Records"?

The PRA broadly defines “public records” to include all written and recorded records in CDFW's 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 records CDFW generates, as well as records created by others that CDFW has in their possession.

The PRA provides for the disclosure of existing identifiable records. CDFW is 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.