Question: I follow the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) social media pages, and it seems like recently there have been a lot of posts promoting cannabis growing workshops and other cannabis activity. This makes no sense to me. Your department regulates fish and wildlife, not marijuana! Isn’t this the responsibility of the Bureau of Cannabis Control? (Bill)
Answer: At the heart of CDFW is a mission to protect California’s natural resources.
Like other farming activities, commercial cannabis cultivation has the potential to harm fish and wildlife through water diversions, alterations to rivers, lakes and streams, habitat destruction and pesticide use.
With the passage of Proposition 64, thousands of new and existing commercial-size cultivators are entering the legal cannabis market. Many are unaware that seemingly harmless farming activities can have big impacts to the environment.
In California, all commercial-size cannabis activity is regulated by three state agencies. The Bureau of Cannabis Control is responsible for licensing retailers, the California Department of Public Health’s Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch licenses all manufacturing of cannabis products and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CalCannabis) oversees commercial cannabis cultivation.
While CDFW does not directly issue a license for commercial cannabis activities, any CalCannabis commercial license application must include either a CDFW issued Lake or Streambed Alteration (LSA) Agreement or written verification that an LSA Agreement is not needed. Cultivation activities that alter the bed, channel or bank of a river, stream or lake may require an LSA Agreement to protect fish and wildlife resources. Each grow is unique and specific compliance requirements may vary accordingly.
CDFW has been partnering with CalCannabis, the State Water Resources Control Board and other state agencies that regulate commercial cannabis cultivation by holding workshops for those trying to navigate the regulatory and licensing process.
At these workshops, state agencies are on hand to provide information and answer project questions so cannabis cultivators can succeed in this newly regulated industry. Social media is one of many tools used to promote these important outreach events.
CDFW supports the regulated cannabis market and appreciates those cultivators who obtain county permits, apply for commercial cannabis licenses and take steps to reduce environmental impacts. Visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/cannabis to learn more about CDFW’s role in commercial cannabis regulation.
Shutting down illegal grows
Question: How does CDFW decide what illegal marijuana grows to shut down? (Anonymous)
Answer: CDFW has a long history of combatting illegal marijuana grows on public lands where some of the state’s worst environmental violations have been documented. The biggest concerns with illegal marijuana grows are water diversions, pesticide use, poaching, pollution and habitat destruction.
Today, CDFW focuses on illegal grows found on both private and public lands and uses a variety of tools when prioritizing enforcement efforts.
For illegal marijuana grows on private property, CDFW usually focuses on sites having the most environmental damage and areas with a history of illegal cultivation.
Parcels near sensitive watersheds and areas with threatened or endangered species are usually a big priority. Before a parcel is targeted for a search warrant, a thorough records check is conducted with CalCannabis and the county to verify what steps may or may not have been taken to obtain a commercial cannabis license.
During an enforcement action on private land, wildlife officers will document any state law violations and may eradicate any illegal plants. CDFW science staff will document environmental violations. From there, the case may be referred to the county District Attorney’s office or state Attorney General’s Office for prosecution. CDFW may also file a complaint for civil penalties. It’s up to the property owner to remediate the damage to the land. County officials may also step in and require a clean-up depending on the circumstances.
With public land marijuana grows (federal, state or county property), CDFW works with several allied agencies to determine what resources are available. Public land grows are a huge safety risk on properties that can be accessed by CDFW staff or the public. Illegal grows are usually guarded by armed individuals who will do what they feel is necessary to protect the plants.
Many grows are also found in once-secluded, pristine areas, now decimated by huge amounts of garbage, land clearing and banned pesticides. Many of California’s threatened and endangered species are victims of this egregious behavior.
Remediation efforts to restore the land are handled by various government agencies which can take days or weeks to complete and cost thousands of taxpayer dollars.
That said, it’s a huge task to combat illegal grows. CDFW takes immense pride on the efforts to protect California’s fish and wildlife, and the habitats they depend upon to live and thrive.
Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.