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

California Fish and Game Commission Holds June Meeting Remotely

At its June remote meeting, the California Fish and Game Commission took action on a number of issues affecting California’s natural resources. The following are just a few items of interest from this week’s meeting.

The Commission acknowledged the sesquicentennial of the beginnings of the Commission and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). Staff had long been preparing celebratory activities throughout the year, but due to the global pandemic, those events were canceled. A video was shared at the Commission to honor the past 150 years of protecting and conserving fish and wildlife in the state.

After conversations with the petitioner and other stakeholders, the Commission continued to its August meeting the consideration and potential action on the petition to determine whether listing western Joshua tree under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) may be warranted.

The Commission and CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division David Bess announced Adam Kook as 2019 Wildlife Prosecutor of the Year. Kook is a Deputy District Attorney in Fresno County District Attorney’s Office.

The Commission voted unanimously to notify the public of its intent to amend inland sport fishing regulations. The simplification of statewide inland fishing comes after immense effort by CDFW Fisheries Branch to clarify overlapping and often confusing regulations.

The Commission adopted commercial Pacific herring eggs on kelp regulations to implement the Pacific Herring Fishery Management Plan.

The Commission received CDFW’s evaluation of the petition submitted by the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network to list the Pacific leatherback sea turtle as endangered pursuant to CESA. The Commission will consider the petition, CDFW’s evaluation and public input at its August meeting to determine if it will accept the petition for consideration.

Given the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting budget gap in California, the Commission agreed that the remainder of this year’s meetings will be held via webinar and teleconference.

Commission President Eric Sklar, Commission Vice President Samantha Murray and Commissioner Peter Silva participated in the meeting. Commissioners Jacque Hostler-Carmesin and Russell Burns were absent.

The full Commission agenda for this meeting along with supporting information is available at fgc.ca.gov. An archived audio file will be available in coming days. The next meeting of the full Commission is scheduled for Aug. 19-20, 2020.

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The California Fish and Game Commission was the first wildlife conservation agency in the United States, predating even the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. There is often confusion about the distinction between the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the Commission. In the most basic terms, CDFW implements and enforces the regulations set by the Commission, as well as provides biological data and expertise to inform the Commission’s decision-making process.

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

California Fish and Game Commission Meets Remotely, Allows CDFW to Temporarily Delay, Restrict or Suspend Fisheries Where Needed to Prevent the Spread of Coronavirus

On the first day of its April remote meeting, the California Fish and Game Commission revised its agenda and took up the ability for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to temporarily delay, suspend or restrict recreational fishing if the director of CDFW, in consultation with the president of the Commission, finds that such action is necessary to protect against the threat from COVID-19 based on state, federal, local, and tribal public health guidance and public safety needs.

FGC_Logo_FBThe Commission voted unanimously to grant that ability, temporarily, in order to prevent and mitigate public health risks that may arise when people travel or congregate for fishing events. This is designed to be responsive to local county level and tribal needs, like the requests CDFW and the Commission received from Alpine, Inyo and Mono counties to delay the April 25 Eastern Sierra trout opener. The temporary authority expires May 31, 2020.

“I understand Californians desperately need the outdoors for solace, reinvigoration and spirituality, especially so right now,” said CDFW Director Charlton H. Bonham. “The proposal was never about a statewide permanent closure. It is about being responsive to local needs in this public health emergency, where we must do all we can as Californians to help each other make it through this together. We intend to use this authority surgically and based on local needs and knowledge.”

“Governor Newsom recently said we expect a mid-May peak of COVID-19 and we must prepare for that surge,” said Commission President Eric Sklar. “Today’s decision is a smart and responsible approach to be ready. It does not delay or restrict specific fisheries or waters, but rather prepares us to expeditiously do so if needed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.”

Commission President Sklar, Commission Vice President Samantha Murray, and Commissioners Jacque Hostler-Carmesin, Russell Burns and Peter Silva participated in the call.

The Commission will continue its remote meeting tomorrow by phone. The remaining agenda can be found at https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=177983&inline. More information can be found on the Commission website.

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The California Fish and Game Commission was the first wildlife conservation agency in the United States, predating even the U.S. Commission of Fish and Fisheries. There is often confusion about the distinction between the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the Commission. In the most basic terms, CDFW implements and enforces the regulations set by the Commission, as well as provides biological data and expertise to inform the Commission’s decision-making process.

Media Contact:
Jordan Traverso, CDFW Communications, (916) 654-9937

CDFW Cleans Up Black Market Cannabis Operation at Tehama Wildlife Area

Snares, Rodenticides, Trash and Water Diversions Removed

Wildlife officers at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) completed a cleanup of an illegal cannabis operation deep in the back country of the Tehama Wildlife Area. The property is owned by CDFW and was once home to Ishi – the last known member of the Native American Yahi people.

Cleanup, restore and remediate are critical components of CDFW’s cannabis program, which is partially funded by the cannabis tax fund. Wildlife officers are charged with investigating crimes on CDFW property and leading those remediation efforts.

Officers will also assist with cannabis cleanup operations on various other public and private lands. Each site is approached differently, depending upon the location and available resources. CDFW may also aid restoration efforts on land impacted by illegal grows by awarding grants to participating entities.

“In addition to enforcement and permitting, our cannabis program includes cleanup of public and some private lands destroyed by illegal cultivation. Remediation, permitting and enforcement aligns perfectly with our mission to preserve native fish and wildlife for use and enjoyment by the public,” said David Bess, Deputy Director and Chief of the CDFW Law Enforcement Division.

The cleanup effort on the Tehama Wildlife Area removed approximately 2,050 lbs. of trash, 9,000 ft. of plastic irrigation piping, numerous bottles of pesticides and other garbage that can be detrimental to the environment. Along with this, a makeshift stove, snares and other poaching equipment were removed.

The Tehama grow was discovered and eradicated in the fall of 2019. Given the remote location and challenges of the landscape, the cleanup was scheduled for a later date when appropriate resources were available.

The Tehama location marks the eighth property restored this winter season. Other sites in Stanislaus, Merced, Riverside, San Diego and Lassen counties were also restored.

You can learn more about CDFW’s role in commercial cannabis cultivation at wildlife.ca.gov/cannabis. 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 by texting information to “TIP411” (847411).

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