Over 50,000 Illegal Cannabis Plants Eradicated in Lake County

Forty Environmental Violations Document Abuse of Local Watershed

outdoor cannabis cultivation with irrigation hoses

On Aug. 4, wildlife officers with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) with support from the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, California Department of Food and Agriculture and other allied agencies, served a search warrant spanning two parcels in the Scotts Valley area of Lakeport in Lake County.

The warrant stemmed from an investigation involving environmental damage associated with illegal commercial cannabis cultivation. The operation involved personnel from six separate agencies. This effort could not have been accomplished without this successful collaboration.

A records check confirmed that neither of the parcels were licensed by the state for commercial cannabis cultivation.

“An illegal cannabis cultivation operation of this magnitude has severe impacts to California’s natural resources and the legal cannabis industry. Unpermitted cannabis grows will not be tolerated especially those presenting such a huge environmental and public safety threat,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division.

On site, officers and staff eradicated 51,799 illegal cannabis plants, confiscated seven firearms, seized over $27,000 in cash and documented approximately 40 Fish and Game Code crimes.

Violations included garbage piled up near various waterways, numerous unpermitted water diversions, illegal grading of the landscape resulting in sediment discharge and stockpiles of chemicals near waterways. One cultivation site was built over an existing stream resulting in a modified channel into a ditch with polluted water. Each violation alone can have a detrimental environmental impact but combined are degrading entire watersheds at the expense of California’s diverse fish, wildlife and plant resources and the habitats they depend upon for survival.

“CDFW is obligated, by statute, to protect California’s natural resources, which are held in trust by the state for use and enjoyment by the public,” said Jeremy Valverde, CDFW’s Cannabis Policy Director. “Large, illegal cultivation operations like these can create significant environmental impacts that can last years. We continue to encourage those wanting to cultivate commercially to become permitted and licensed.”

Twenty-six individuals were detained during the operation including two minors, a 16-year-old girl and 17-year-old boy, working at the site. Criminal charges will be filed with the Lake County District Attorney’s Office.

CDFW encourages the public to report illegal cannabis cultivation and environmental crimes such as water pollution, water diversions and poaching to the CalTIP hotline by calling (888) 334-2258 or texting information to “TIP411” (847411).

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Media Contact:
Janice Mackey, CDFW Communications, (916) 207-7891

Free Online Commercial Cannabis Permitting Workshop July 22

laptop computerThe California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), California Department of Food and Agriculture’s CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing Division (CalCannabis) and State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) are hosting a free online commercial cannabis cultivation permitting workshop.

The free workshop is ideal for new and existing commercial cannabis cultivators and consultants. Those interested in attending can use the link below to watch the webcast – no registration is required. Closed captions will be provided.

Questions can be submitted in advance of and during the event by sending an email to askcannabis@wildlife.ca.gov with “Cannabis Webcast” as the subject line. Questions not answered during the webcast will be forwarded to the appropriate agency for a response.

Workshop Details:
Wednesday, July 22 from 9 to 11:00 a.m.
Webcast link: video.calepa.ca.gov

CalCannabis will provide an overview of the state’s cannabis cultivation licensing program and review their requirements for commercial cannabis farming. CDFW will cover permitting, using the online notification system (EPIMS) and how to reduce environmental impacts. The State Water Board will review the cannabis policy, permitting process and other important information. Other regulatory agencies will also present.

For more information about becoming a licensed commercial cannabis farmer and for an overview of the California Cannabis Track-and-Trace METRC System, visit the CalCannabis website at calcannabis.cdfa.ca.gov, call 1‑833-CALGROW (1-833-225-4769) or send an email to calcannabis@cdfa.ca.gov. To report suspected illegal cannabis cultivation or related complaints, call the CalCannabis toll-free hotline: 1-833-WEED-TIP (1-833-933-3847).

To learn more about CDFW’s cannabis program, visit wildlife.ca.gov/cannabis or send an email to askcannabis@wildlife.ca.gov. To report environmental crimes, such as pollution, water diversions and poaching, please call the CalTIP hotline at (888) 334-2258 or text information to “TIP411” (847411).

To learn more about the State Water Board’s role in cannabis cultivation permitting, visit waterboards.ca.gov/cannabis. For permitting and compliance assistance, send an email to dwq.cannabis@waterboards.ca.gov or call (916) 341-5580 (Cannabis Cultivation General Order), or send an email to cannabisreg@waterboards.ca.gov or call (916) 319-9427 (cannabis cultivation water rights).

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Media Contacts:
Janice Mackey, CDFW Communications, (916) 207-7891, janice.mackey@wildlife.ca.gov,
Rebecca Forée, CDFA CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing Division, rebecca.foree@cdfa.ca.gov

Notifications for Lake and Streambed Alteration Agreements Now Online

As a part of a broader effort to improve efficiencies and go paperless, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will begin accepting electronic notifications for all Lake and Streambed Alteration (LSA) Standard Agreements on Aug. 1, 2020.

Online LSA notifications can be submitted through the Environmental Permit Information Management System (EPIMS), which was initially launched in 2018 for cannabis cultivators. With system upgrades, EPIMS is now available for all LSA Standard Agreements, not just those related to cannabis cultivation.

On EPIMS, applicants can:

  • Access anywhere internet is available
  • Submit supplemental documentation such as plans, maps, photos and studies
  • Calculate permit fees
  • Obtain electronic signatures
  • Receive email alerts and reminders
  • Track application progress

CDFW will continue to accept paper notifications for other agreement types including master, gravel/sand/rock extraction, routine maintenance and timber harvesting until further notice.

For more information about EPIMS or if you need help completing your online notification, please visit: https://wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Environmental-Review/EPIMS.

Additional resources include:

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Numerous Environmental Crimes Discovered at Illegal Cannabis Grow in Tehama County

Evidence of Poached Wildlife Also Uncovered

On May 21, wildlife officers at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) served a search warrant in Tehama County for illegal commercial cannabis cultivation on a remote parcel approximately 30 miles west of Red Bluff.

Commercial cannabis cultivation is banned in Tehama County. The suspects had allegedly brandished firearms at nearby residents, which forced CDFW and local authorities to take immediate action.

Support was provided by CDFW Environmental Scientists, Tehama County Sheriff’s Department, State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) and Investigators from the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).

Approximately 28,733 illegal cannabis plants were eradicated, 165 lbs. of processed cannabis destroyed and three firearms seized. Onsite officers found evidence of at least 10 poached wildlife species including deer, pig, ducks and fish. CDFW is conducting further investigations before it is decided how to proceed with the additional charges.

“Wildlife officers continue to work with our allied agency partners to combat and shut down illegal cannabis cultivation sites,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “Too often illegal growers move into vacant private lands, take up residency and setup unlicensed large-scale operations, which can severely impact California’s native fish and wildlife.”

Officers arrested four suspects for felony cannabis cultivation, conspiracy, possession of a firearm while committing a felony along with an additional 20 counts of various environmental crimes. Violations included unlawful stream diversions, use of restricted pesticides, sediment and petroleum product pollution, and depositing litter where it can enter waters of the state. The State Water Board and CDFA also documented numerous crimes.

CDFW encourages the public to report environmental crimes such as water pollution, water diversions and poaching to the CalTIP hotline by calling (888) 334-2258 or texting information to “TIP411” (847411).

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Media Contact:
Janice Mackey, CDFW Communications, (916) 207-7891

Judge Holds Landowner Liable for Cultivation-related Environmental Crimes

A California judge recently ordered a Calaveras County property owner liable for damages after their tenant committed environmental crimes in conjunction with a cannabis operation.

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Under Fish and Game Code section 12025, civil penalties can be levied against a landowner or occupant who has violated one or more environmental laws in conjunction with commercial cannabis cultivation. The code applies to both licensed and unlicensed operations and the civil penalties are added to any criminal fines.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) had its first 12025 case in front of a judge in September. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge ordered a Calaveras County landowner liable for over $680,000. The ruling was significant because the judge determined that the landowner was ultimately liable for the environmental violations despite the landowner’s claim that he was not directly involved in the activity. The decision can be found here.

During the investigation, CDFW and local authorities eradicated over 6,200 plants at the unpermitted cannabis grow, which was linked to 10 separate sites where discarded vehicles, garbage and human waste were dumped in or near a stream.

“CDFW uses this authority on egregious environmental cases that threaten fish, wildlife and the habitats they depend on to survive,” said David Bess, Deputy Director and Chief of the CDFW Law Enforcement Division. “Our staff have documented properties with mounds of garbage near waterways, dewatered streams and banned pesticides, all of which were detrimental to the environment.”

Since October 2016, CDFW has filed 10 administrative complaints under section 12025 against landowners and tenants in Calaveras, Humboldt, Mendocino, Sonoma, Tehama and Trinity counties. Some of the parties were registered agents of limited liability companies. Of the 10 complaints, the majority were settled with terms that included remediation of the impacted property. This complaint filed in Calaveras County led to a week-long hearing and resulted in the decision above.

The total amount of civil penalties ordered to date is nearly $2 million. While all the cases to date have been on unlicensed cannabis sites, the focus is on environmental impacts from the cannabis cultivation, not the legality of the operation.

See more details on state compliance.

To learn more about CDFW’s cannabis program, please visit wildlife.ca.gov/cannabis or email askcannabis@wildlife.ca.gov. To report environmental crimes, such as water diversions, pollution and poaching, please call the CalTIP hotline at (888) 334-2258 or text information to “TIP411” (847411).

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Media Contact:
Janice Mackey, CDFW Communications, (916) 207-7891