Fish and Wildlife Lieutenant Talks Raids in Humboldt–Who Gets Raided and Why
Little explained that his office mostly seeks the search warrants based on complaints or from aerial surveillance. He said, “Mostly [we have] no ground intel–we respond to complaints from primarily citizens and local agencies. Also violations seen from the air.”
Then his office aggregates the information they have received. Using that information and knowing they have limited resources, they chose which search warrants will help them protect the environment most effectively. “The raids [usually] focus on a single watershed which has the potential to have the greatest impact,” Little explained.
“We look for damage to critical habitat for salmon and endangered amphibians,” he said. This, he explained means that the raids are not always on the gardens with the largest number of plants. “Doesn’t always mean the most plants,” he stated. “It might be a water diversion from a stream.” He said they also look for “polluting with fertilizer, pesticides, litter, and sediment [such as from illegal grading.]”
According to Little, his agency considers whether the grower is attempting to get the proper permits from other agencies but they mostly consider whether the grower is in violation of Fish and Wildlife regulations. “We’re typically looking for someone cultivating outside of state law and county ordinances.,” he explained. “[But] just because you have a waiver from the Water Board and a permit from the county doesn’t mean you are following Fish and Wildlife regulations.”
In addition, he said, sometimes growers when filing for these permits have not done the things they said they had done to protect the environment. “Just because someone says they are doing something, doesn’t mean we as a state are interpreting it that way,” he explained.
“My program works with the impact of cannabis,” he explained, “but this program is not set up very different than the Fish and Wildlife’s timber program. I would use the same path or same implementation for marijuana. This not going to be handled any different than any other industry.”
When pressed though, he conceded that farmers growing tomato plants in ways that violated Fish and Wildlife rules did not usually face having their crops destroyed like marijuana farmers do. However, he said that this is because personnel from his agency had determined through interviews or indications at the grow site including exceeding square footage regulations that “[the marijuana farmers] are actually cultivating for profit which is still illegal.”
In addition, he stated, “There have been many times we’ve walked away from the grow. Four or five times walked away. We didn’t cut any plants down.” He said they walked away because the growers showed that they were making the environmental changes required by law.
Little says that growers are flooding this area and trying to take advantage of the changing rules. “The cart has been put before the horse,” he said. People bring in bulldozers and excavators without trying to get permits….Now all this damage is done.”
Not all marijuana growers damage the environment, Little said. “A lot of growers think of themselves as stewards of the land.” But many are causing problems. “[Some] are here for one reason only –profit. Taking advantage of the loopholes.”
Little worries that the environment will suffer for years because of what has been done here in Humboldt recently. “Just like the Gold Rush, we are going to see the results of this egregious activity last for generations.”
A majority of the owners of land where marijuana are grown are absentee owners, claims Little. “Flipping properties for 10 times the market value. I’m seeing Humboldt County–a place I spent a considerable amount of time in when I was young being turned upside down.”
Little said he became part of the Fish and Wildlife cannabis team, “to have influence on what going on in the future so I can spend my retirement days fishing for salmon.”