The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has announced the selection of Warden Chris Stoots as its 2015 Wildlife Officer of the Year. Stoots’ dedication to his job and the tenacity with which he relentlessly pursues poachers are widely respected by officers with many more years of experience and by his supervisors within the Law Enforcement Division, as well as within the community where he works.
“As good as he is at catching poachers, Stoots finds time to promote ethical enjoyment of California’s fish and wildlife resources in both a consumptive and non-consumptive manner,” said CDFW Law Enforcement Chief David Bess. “Stoots has done dozens of community presentations and enjoys interacting with outdoors enthusiasts at hunting and fishing trade shows. His enthusiasm for his job is evident no matter what he’s doing.”
A warden since 2008, Stoots has been based out of Colusa County. In recent years, he has developed a reputation for turning small and unlikely pieces of information into what most officers would consider to be a once-in-a-career case. In 2014, Stoots was the lead investigator in a large-scale, multi-suspect, multi-county commercial poaching case involving habitual offenders. The case culminated with the service of search warrants at seven locations and followup at an additional five. Stoots committed several months to the extensive investigation, including coordinating a three-day jury trial with eight officers’ testimonies. His persistence and collaboration with the District Attorney resulted in an unprecedented number of felony and misdemeanor convictions, including night hunting, spotlighting, trespassing, hunting in closed seasons, take without proper tags, exceeding bag limits, prohibited species, illegal snaring, shooting from vehicles, shooting near dwellings, commercial sales of sport taken wildlife, theft of diesel fuel, marijuana cultivation and felons in possession of firearms.
Based on the gravity and magnitude of the violations, the suspects’ criminal histories, and the thorough investigation and testimony by Stoots, the suspects received prison and jail sentences of up to seven years, and forfeiture of their ATV and trailer, 25 firearms and all other hunting equipment, and several hundred pounds of wild game meat.
Stoots uses a variety of surveillance tools, including night vision, to combat stealthy poachers. He regularly uses the CDFW wildlife forensics laboratory to process even the smallest evidence samples and connect them to crimes committed against wildlife.
In addition to his remarkable investigative work, Stoots has brought great credit to CDFW over the course of his career by still making time to take on additional assignments. He spent three months as one of CDFW’s representatives for the California Department of Justice Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, and he serves as a firearms instructor, a field training officer, a canine handler and a member of the Critical Incident Stress Management team. He is often recognized in public, as he appeared as one of the primary officers in the National Geographic television series Wild Justice.