More Than $3 Million in Cash Seized at One Spot During Raids
On April 30 and May 1, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) issued citations for more than 50 violations at four unregulated cannabis cultivation sites after executing search warrants in Humboldt County.
CDFW, which works collaboratively with local law enforcement and others to investigate and enforce environmental damage related to cannabis cultivation, inspected the sites and found violations of the state Fish and Game Code, including impacts to watersheds critical to three federally listed salmonid species. The violations included streambed alteration, illegal water diversion and water pollution.
In addition, law enforcement officers found violations related to illegal cultivation and possession of marijuana for sale, and conspiring to commit a crime.
“The department’s law enforcement efforts focus on protection of our natural resources,” said David Bess, CDFW Deputy Director and Chief of the Law Enforcement Division. “Each of these non-permitted cannabis cultivation sites was in gross violation of several laws in place to protect the State of California’s fish, wildlife and their habitats.”
None of the four sites inspected had permits, and all were operating outside of the local and state permitting process. The California Department of Food and Agriculture permits cannabis cultivation sites in the state. Humboldt County permits cultivation sites in the county.
The first site searched was in the Miller Creek area, a watershed that is deemed a priority for three federally listed salmonid species (including coho, which is also state listed). One property had eight structures growing marijuana plants without claim of medical or paperwork for legal commercial cannabis operation.
CDFW inspected the property and discovered several violations relating to the growing operation. Staff found 20 violations of Fish and Game Code related to detrimental environmental impacts to fish, wildlife and habitat, and additional Health and Safety Code and Penal Code violations related to the illegal cultivation and possession of marijuana for sale, and conspiring to commit a crime.
The inspection teams eradicated 1,714 plants, and destroyed more than 1,000 pounds of processed marijuana. During the search, more than $3 million in cash was discovered and seized for asset forfeiture.
Jesus Olea Vielma, 31, of Fortuna was taken into custody and booked into jail.
At the second site in the China Creek area, one property was found with eight plastic covered buildings growing marijuana plants inside without claim of medical or paperwork for legal commercial cannabis operation. CDFW inspected the property and found six violations of Fish and Game Code, and the same Health and Safety code and Penal code violations listed above. Inspection teams eradicated 5,177 plants and destroyed approximately 43 pounds of processed marijuana.
Alejandro Navarro Ruvalcaba, 43, of Garberville was booked into jail.
The third site searched is in the Blue Slide Creek area, a high priority due to the watershed containing coho and Chinook salmon, and steelhead trout. Records show the property began the permit process in 2016 with Humboldt County but never completed the application. Inspection teams found five grow houses with marijuana plants. No medical or legal commercial cannabis paperwork was on site. CDFW found six violations of Fish and Game Code, and the same Health and Safety code and Penal code violations. These growers were using a direct water diversion from Blue Slide Creek. Teams destroyed 1,276 marijuana plants and 100 pounds of processed marijuana.
William Bert Paulsin, 59, of Hemet was booked into jail.
At the final site, also on Blue Slide Creek, one large structure had marijuana plants growing inside. No medical or legal commercial cannabis paperwork was on site. CDFW found 22 violations of Fish and Game Code, and the same Health and Safety code and Penal code violations. The growers had constructed several large ponds onsite. Teams destroyed 301 marijuana plants and 203 pounds of processed marijuana.
State and local efforts to eliminate illegal and environmentally harmful operations like these helps legal cannabis cultivators thrive in this newly regulated industry. CDFW will continue working with Humboldt County and other local entities to address non-permitted grow sites.
The affected creeks are heavily impacted by cannabis cultivation and their watersheds are very important to salmonid recovery efforts. Californians have made investments through the Fisheries Restoration Grant Program to restore salmon and steelhead populations in these watersheds.
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