The following press release is courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife:
On June 21, wildlife officers at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) served a search warrant on an illegal marijuana grow in Tulare County. The parcel was located south of the city of Alpaugh. Assistance was provided by members of the Southern Tri Counties High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area team.
A records check confirmed the parcel was not permitted by the county nor licensed by the state for commercial cannabis cultivation. In addition, the site had not taken the necessary steps to notify CDFW of their activities, which is a requirement in the licensing process.
The location was in close proximity to the Atwell Island Recreational area which consists of 8,000 acres of restored native grassland, wetland and alkali sink habitats. It is an important habitat for migratory waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds and is one of the few remaining wetlands in the area.
“Tulare county is home to over 20 listed state species and 10 listed federal species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “It is a thoughtless act to leave trash and harmful chemicals near protected habitats that threatened and endangered wildlife call home.”
On site, officers located numerous fertilizer and pesticide containers, including a 55-gallon drum of roundup. The suspects had constructed a large lined water pit where they pre-mixed chemicals to water the plants. This unsecured set up was particularly alarming because the neighboring bird population could inadvertently be exposed to these harmful chemicals. The property was also littered with trash and had a huge open trash pit.
Officers removed 1,581 of illegal marijuana plants and approximately 1,000 lbs. of processed marijuana. CDFW seized three firearms, one being an AK-47, $8,980 in cash and 18.5 grams of methamphetamine. CDFW took all eight suspects into custody who were all charged with seven different violations including three felonies.
In addition, while officers were driving up the road to serve the warrant, they observed another illegal cultivation site in plain view with two subjects actively working in a 500-plant grow. Those two individuals were also taken into custody and booked into jail on felony charges.
Charges for all suspects include felony cultivation, possession of methamphetamine and a loaded gun, possession of an assault rifle, drug sales, resisting arrest and water code violations. Along with this, clean-up of the property will also be requested to help restore the surrounding wildlife habitat and ecology.
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 “CALTIP”, followed by a space and the message, to 847411 (tip411).