How California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Permits Affect You


Projects with environmental impacts in Califonia don’t happen without agency participation.  The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is the oldest wildlife conservation agency in the country and to this day is a linchpin in the protection of California wildlife.  If you have ever hunted or fished in California, you’ve received a CDFW recreational permit of some kind. If you are planning a development, construction, or small project (like tree trimming near a creek), you will likely need a CDFW resource management permit and will likely make the acquaintance of CDFW personnel.

If it’s a fish, critter, native plant, watercourse, or sensitive habitat, CDFW is in charge of ensuring it is protected or preserved.

Simply put, if it’s a fish, critter, native plant, watercourse, or sensitive habitat, CDFW is in charge of ensuring it is protected or preserved.  In 1870, the CDFW was known as The Board of Fish Commissioners, and was established “to provide for the restoration and preservation” of fish in California waters.  The Board of Fish Commissioners’ mandate was amended in 1878 to include game species, and again in 1889 to include game birds.  The scope and authority of the Board of Fish Commissioners continued to expand through the twentieth century.  In the 1970’s and 80’s (after several more name changes), empowered by the California Environmental Quality Act and the state and federal endangered species acts (CESA, and ESA), the California Department of Fish and Game had jurisdiction over state and federal listed plants and animals, lakes, streams, rivers, and other potentially sensitive habitats. The agency is now called CDFW, and while the name has changed, the ultimate goal of protection and preservation has been maintained.

Most projects with affect to undisturbed land or a watercourse will require a CDFW permit or other type of authorization.  CDFW permits and authorizations are divided into one of three categories:

  1. FESA Section 7 Consistency Determination.
  2. CESA Incidental Take Permit.
  3. Lake or Streambed Alteration Agreement.

There is great nuance in determining when a project will require one or more CDFW permits.  Luckily, there is a helpful rule of thumb you can use.  If you anticipate that your project will affect anything listed below, begin early communication with CDFW and/or a qualified environmental consultant:

  1. An animal listed in the CESA and/or ESA
  2. A habitat classified as sensitive by CDFW
  3. A river, lake, or streambed (including any riparian vegetation surrounding those waterbodies)

By working with CDFW during the planning process, potential pitfalls can be identified early.  This is the surest path to completing the permit process quickly and efficiently. CDFW is a key component in the conservation and preservation of California’s environmental resources.  As such, one of their central goals is to ensure all development and construction projects both comply with the law, and have a minimal impact to California’s biota.