SANTA CRUZ COUNTY (CBS SF) — Two male suspects were arrested and 180 marijuana plants were removed last Tuesday from private property following the discovery of a marijuana cultivation site in a Santa Cruz county waterway.
Acting on an anonymous tip, wildlife officers with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and other law enforcement agencies located the large marijuana grow operation in the upper reaches of the south fork of Santa Cruz County’s Vicente Creek.
Besides the illegality of the grow operation, the natural environment of Vicente Creek, which is the southernmost salmon stream in California, was threatened by the cultivation site.
The irrigation system used to bring water to the marijuana plants was diverting water from the creek, wildlife officials said.
The CDFW said that lower Vicente Creek is a historic waterway that supports anadromous steelhead as well as endangered Central Coast Coho salmon.
With assistance from Cal Fire, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office and Santa Cruz County Code Enforcement, wildlife officers raided the illegal marijuana cultivation site off Robles Drive near Bonny Doon.
According to CDFW officials, the plantation was set up on private property without the landowner’s consent.
Law enforcement officials are concerned that hikers could be in danger should they accidentally come across a marijuana cultivation site because illegal growers often carry weapons.
The two suspects were taken into custody and will be charged with streambed alteration, pollution and placement of hazardous materials on the property of another among other charges.
The 180 fully mature marijuana plants found on the property, estimated to be valued at $360,000, were cut down and removed, officials said.
Officers also removed several pounds of hashish, fertilizer, dozens of butane canisters used to manufacture concentrated cannabis, as well as other harmful materials that cause damage to the Vicente Creek streambed, officials said.
CDFW Assistant Chief Brian Naslund said the trash left behind at this site and similar grow operations causes tremendous damage to the
“Our officers are working hard around the state to find and remove these cultivation sites, keep harmful chemicals from entering state waters and ensure public safety,” Naslund said in a statement released Monday.
According to Naslund, illegal marijuana growers steal water, which exacerbates severe drought conditions in California.
He estimates that each of the 180 marijuana plants required six to eight gallons of water per day.
Naslund also said his department is concerned that wildlife that eats the marijuana is put in danger.
Californians Turn In Poachers and Polluters (CalTIP) is a confidential secret witness program that encourages the public to provide CDFW with information leading to the arrest of poachers and polluters.
Anyone who witnesses a poaching or polluting incident, any fish and wildlife violation, or has information about such a violation, is encouraged to call (888) 334-2258, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.