The mission of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) is to manage California’s diverse fish, wildlife, and plant resources, and the habitats upon which they depend, for their ecological values and for their use and enjoyment by the public.

Environmental Review and Permitting

CDFW’s Environmental Review and Permitting Programs implement sections of the California Fish and Game Code, California Code of Regulations, and other statutes and regulations. These Programs help fulfill CDFW’s mission to manage California’s diverse fish, wildlife, and plant resources, and the habitats upon which they depend, for their ecological values and for their use and enjoyment by the public.

Cutting the Green Tape at CDFW

CDFW’s Cutting the Green Tape program is a statewide effort, representing the department’s environmental permitting and grant funding programs with added support from its general counsel and executive leadership. This program will lead efforts to develop and implement improvements to the way the department issues permit and administers its grant programs, to accelerate the pace and scale of restoration throughout the state. See the accelerated California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and restoration permitting tools that CDFW has on the right side of this web page.

Special Status Species

Special Animals List

“Special Animals” is a broad term used to refer to all the animal taxa tracked by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB), regardless of their legal or protection status. This list is also referred to as the list of “species at risk” or “special status species.” This list is updated quarterly and can be found on this web page under the header CNDDB-related Animal Information. This document includes information about whether the animal is a Fully Protected Animal or Species of Special Concern, as well as the listing status under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) or federal Endangered Species Act.

Fully Protected Animals

The classification of Fully Protected was the State’s initial effort in the 1960s to identify and provide additional protection to those animals that were rare or faced possible extinction. Please note that most fully protected species have also been listed as threatened or endangered species under the more recent California Endangered Species Act.

Species of Special Concern

A Species of Special Concern (SSC) is a species, subspecies, or distinct population of an animal* native to California that currently satisfies one or more of the following (not necessarily mutually exclusive) criteria**:

  • is extirpated from the State or, in the case of birds, is extirpated in its primary season or breeding role;
  • is listed as Federally-, but not State-, threatened or endangered; meets the State definition of threatened or endangered but has not formally been listed;
  • is experiencing, or formerly experienced, serious (noncyclical) population declines or range retractions (not reversed) that, if continued or resumed, could qualify it for State threatened or endangered status;
  • has naturally small populations exhibiting high susceptibility to risk from any factor(s), that if realized, could lead to declines that would qualify it for State threatened or endangered status.

*for the purposes of this discussion, “animal” means fish, amphibian, reptile, bird and mammal

**criteria for fishes are similar except that Federally listed taxa are not defined as SSCs

Take Authorization for Species of Special Concern

Currently, CDFW authorizes take of common species and Species of Special Concern primarily via the Scientific Collection Permit. CDFW can also authorize take of Species of Special Concern in the form of capture only (i.e. movement out of harm’s way) in a Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreement.

Rare, Threatened, or Endangered Plants

Information on the biology, distribution, and status of California’s rare, threatened, and endangered plant species is available from the links below on this web page, including the List of State and Federally-Listed Endangered, Threatened and Rare Plants of California, and the Special Vascular Plants, Bryophytes, and Lichens List.

Note that some Rare Plants that are not listed under CESA may be considered during CEQA Review. California Rare Plant Rank 1 and 2 and some Rank 3 and 4 plants may fall under Section 15380 of CEQA.

If a plant is not listed under CESA, Scientific Collection Permits are not required for take. See California Code of Regulations Title 14 Section 650 for more information.

California Endangered Species Act (CESA) Permits

CESA authorizes CDFW to permit project proponents to take state-listed threatened, endangered or candidate species if certain conditions are met. The CESA Program administers the incidental take provisions of CESA, including Incidental Take PermitsConsistency Determinations, and Safe Harbor Agreements to ensure regulatory compliance and statewide consistency.

If your restoration project may affect species listed under CESA or Fully Protected Animals, it may be a good fit for the CDFW Restoration Management Permit (RMP), which can provide take authorization for CESA listed species and fully protected species. Depending on the species you need coverage for, the Restoration Consistency Determination (CD) could also be a good option.

Check the California Dept. of Fish & Wildlife’s California Natural Diversity Database (CNDDB) for known species occurrences within your project area through RareFind or other CNDDB access programs.

Lake and Streambed Alteration Program

Fish and Game Code section 1602 requires any person, state or local governmental agency, or public utility to notify CDFW prior to beginning any activity that may do one or more of the following:

  • Divert or obstruct the natural flow of any river, stream, or lake;
  • Change the bed, channel, or bank of any river, stream, or lake;
  • Use material from any river, stream, or lake; or
  • Deposit or dispose of material into any river, stream, or lake.

Please note that “any river, stream, or lake” includes those that are dry for periods of time as well as those that flow year-round. If you are not certain a particular activity requires notification, CDFW recommends you notify.

CDFW requires a Lake and Streambed Alteration (LSA) Agreement when a project activity may substantially adversely affect fish and wildlife resources.

The Habitat Restoration and Enhancement Act (HREA) established a process for CDFW to approve small-scale, voluntary habitat restoration projects that meet specific eligibility requirements. Projects approved by CDFW, pursuant to HREA, will not require additional permits from CDFW, such as an LSA agreement or CESA permit.

Protection Measures Selection Tool

General and Species protection measures from programmatic authorizations such as the Water Board Statewide Restoration General Order (SRGO), or programmatic biological opinions (PBOs) with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the NOAA Restoration Center may be applicable to your project and could be incorporated into the LSA Agreement or HREA authorization for your project.

California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Review

CEQA requires public agencies to disclose and mitigate environmental impacts of discretionary projects they approve. Most often, CDFW acts as a Trustee and/or Responsible Agency and provides the requisite biological expertise to review and comment upon CEQA environmental documents prepared by another Lead Agency. CDFW may also act as Lead Agency for individual or programmatic CEQA documents. CDFW also manages the CEQA Statutory Exemption for Restoration Projects (SERP). Use of either the SERP, the SRGO PEIR, or the CEQA CatEx 15333 could all be evaluated for use to expedite the CEQA process. 

Grants for Restoration

CDFW administers a number of grant programs, many of which are for aquatic and riparian habitat restoration. The Fisheries Restoration Grant Program (FRGP) is a grant program that includes CEQA compliance and coverage for Sections 401 and 404 of the Clean Water Act.

Accelerated Permitting Pathways