Wildlife officers with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) Marijuana Enforcement Team (MET) conducted a raid of a clandestine cannabis grow on the North Grasslands Wildlife Area, Gadwall Unit in Los Banos.
The property is home to dozens of species of nesting waterfowl, migratory birds, rabbits, pheasants, birds of prey, small rodents and native plants. Over 1,500 hunters and outdoor enthusiasts visit the property annually.
Nestled in the closed zone of the property, the growers constructed five hoop houses made from PVC pipe and wood that was covered with plastic tarps. The hoop houses were filled with 185 immature cannabis plants and the site had been prepared to plant several thousand more.
“This brazen attempt to hide in plain sight on CDFW property is a perfect example of the lengths people will go to grow illegal cannabis,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “This type of activity is a huge public safety threat and detrimental to the extensive bird populations that rely on the natural resources of this property.”
On Feb. 25, MET officers carefully entered the grow site and apprehended two men. One of the suspects was armed with a loaded semi-automatic .22 rifle and the other was armed with a loaded Beretta-style CO2 pellet pistol.
Several dead birds, including one Western Meadowlark were discovered within the grow site. Thousands of feet of black polyethylene pipe were stretched across the property and was siphoning water from the permanent wetlands in the closed zone. Officers also discovered dozens of dangerous pesticides and chemicals.
Over 2,560 lbs. of waste, chemicals and infrastructure was removed and taken to the landfill.
The two suspects were arrested and are being charged with eight felonies and 15 misdemeanors with the Merced County District Attorney’s office.