Deputies with the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office destroyed approximately 30,000 cannabis plants in raids at two separate private parcels this week. The busts are the latest in a series of enforcement actions this summer that have highlighted the environmental damage that can result from unlicensed marijuana grows.

The sheriff’s office served search warrants at two sites, a cornfield in Sanger and an undeveloped parcel of land in the city of Fresno. Deputies told local media that illegal pesticides used at the sites could lead to environmental damage, a problem frequently caused by unlicensed cannabis cultivation operations in the state.

In Northern California’s Lake County last month, law enforcement officers from six agencies including the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) served a search warrant covering two parcels in the Scotts Valley area of Lakeport. Officers and staff destroyed nearly 52,000 unlicensed cannabis plants, seized seven firearms, confiscated more than $27,000 in cash, and documented approximately 40 violations of the state’s Fish and Game Code.

Unlicensed Grows Threaten The Environment

Unpermitted cannabis cultivation operations frequently commit environmental offenses, which can include the illegal diversion of streams and the unlawful use of pesticides that can harm native wildlife. David Bess, deputy director of the CDFW and the chief of the agency’s Law Enforcement Division, said that unlicensed operations like the one raided in Lake County have multiple negative impacts.

“An illegal cannabis cultivation operation of this magnitude has severe impacts to California’s natural resources and the legal cannabis industry,” Bess said in a press release. “Unpermitted cannabis grows will not be tolerated, especially those presenting such a huge environmental and public safety threat.”

Environmental violations investigated at the Lake County site included piles of garbage and stockpiles of dangerous chemicals located adjacent to waterways, numerous unpermitted water diversions, and illegal grading of the landscape that resulted in the discharge of sediment. The CDFW noted that “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.”

Wildlife At Risk

In another eradication operation conducted in May in Tehama County, CDFW and other law enforcement officers served a search warrant at an unpermitted cannabis grow operation after suspects at the site allegedly brandished firearms at neighbors. Nearly 29,000 cannabis plants were eradicated, 165 pounds of processed cannabis was destroyed, and three firearms were seized. Officers arrested four suspects who were charged with crimes including felony cannabis cultivation, conspiracy, and 20 additional environmental offenses including unlawful stream diversion, use of restricted pesticides, and pollution caused by sediment and petroleum products. The operation also uncovered evidence of at least 10 poached species, including deer, pigs, ducks, and fish.

“Wildlife officers continue to work with our allied agency partners to combat and shut down illegal cannabis cultivation sites,” said Bess after the Tehama County operation. “Too often illegal growers move into vacant private lands, take up residency and set up unlicensed large-scale operations, which can severely impact California’s native fish and wildlife.”

Under 2016’s Prop 64, California residents are permitted to grow up to six plants at home. All commercial cannabis cultivation operations are required to obtain a license from the state and adhere to strict zoning, environmental, and operational laws.

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