Ventura County Senior Deputy District Attorney (SDDA) Karen Wold has been named 2021 Wildlife Prosecutor of the Year, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and California Fish and Game Commission announced this week.
“Senior Deputy DA Karen Wold has taken several complicated investigations by CDFW’s wildlife officers and turned them into successful prosecutions, thereby making it clear that poaching and pollution crimes will not be tolerated in Ventura County,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division.
SDDA Karen Wold and her team of investigators from the Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit have been valuable partners and a trusted resource for wildlife officers. For years, Wold has led the charge to hold poaching and pollution violators in Ventura County accountable through effective prosecution and assessment of criminal and civil penalties. Those penalties range from fines, permanent and temporary injunctions, imprisonment, cost recovery, educational outreach signage and the procurement of supplies and equipment to help various agencies continue to protect the state’s natural resources.
“We are very proud of Senior Deputy District Attorney Karen World’s achievements and are grateful to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for their collaboration and recognition of her work,” said Erik Nasarenko, Ventura County District Attorney. “Karen is a dedicated prosecutor — she works hard each day to enforce laws that protect the environment and wildlife in our beautiful state.”
Over the years, the Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit has been responsible for securing some favorable dispositions against businesses that pollute in Ventura County. Most notably, a civil settlement in 2016 against Crimson Pipeline totaled nearly $1.6 million in penalties, costs and natural resource damage restitution.
More recently, however, SDDA Wold was vital in securing a settlement against a local commercial fishing vessel operator who allowed toxic substances to flow into the waters of Channel Islands Harbor. In June 2021, wildlife officers from the patrol boat Swordfish observed a commercial squid seiner exiting Ventura Harbor after conducting an off-load of market squid. The officers monitored the vessel, knowing they were most likely heading out of the harbor to dump their excess tank water, known as “stick-water.” Stick water is deleterious to aquatic life due to its ability to create an oxygen deficient environment and create increased amounts of lethal ammonia. Because of its deleterious nature to fish, commercial fishermen are required to dump it outside of state waters, defined as at least three miles offshore.
After boarding the vessel and conducting interviews, officers determined the vessel dumped the toxic water just outside the breakwater and well inside the boundaries of state waters. The case was turned over to SDDA Wold and her team, and they recently settled the case for a civil penalty of $20,000. Included in that penalty was funding set aside for educational signage inside the harbor, most specifically at the commercial squid processing dock, that addresses the regulations and deleterious nature of stick water.
In February 2021, wildlife officers from CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response responded to reports of excessive amounts of paint debris coating nearby vessels and rocks along the jetty. Through investigation, the officers determined a local commercial fishing vessel operator was sanding their deck and hull without any containment setup. The case was turned over to SDDA Wold and her team, and they promptly went to work to reach a settlement. In the end, the violator agreed to pay $20,000 in fines with nearly $15,000 of that earmarked for oil spill response equipment.
SDDA Wold and her team not only help with marine environmental prosecutions, but they also step in to help with some of the more egregious fish and wildlife crimes that take place in Ventura County. In July 2019, wildlife officers investigated the killing of a collared mountain lion in the Simi Hills, Ventura County. The investigation revealed that a worker at a local college shot and killed a mountain lion that was being monitored via a GPS collar. After killing the lion, the suspect cut off the GPS collar to cover up his crime. He then drove the collar and the lion carcass to two different locations and dumped them several miles from the kill site. Wold prosecuted this case with the utmost seriousness and after several meetings, the suspect ultimately pled guilty to the charge of unlawfully killing a mountain lion and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, 30 days in a work release program, 240 hours of community service at a local animal shelter and three years of summary probation.
“Senior Deputy DA Wold exemplifies the type of prosecutor who can take a poaching or pollution crime investigation and turn into a successful prosecution that not only holds the violator accountable but serves as a warning to others that they too will be held accountable for similar violations,” said Commission President Samantha Murray. “The Commission created this award for prosecutors like Wold to acknowledge good work and to set an example for other prosecutors.”
CDFW is proud of the partnership established through years of collaboration with SDDA Wold and thankful for her leadership in protecting the natural resources of Ventura County.