The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) cannabis enforcement program recently released its year-end numbers for the 2021 calendar year, revealing that 2.6 million illegal weed plants were eradicated and 487,270 pounds were destroyed.
The CDFW, which investigates illegal cannabis grows as they pertain to environmental damage, said in its recent report that some of the most serious environmental issues involve unauthorized stream bed alterations with water diversions, habitat destruction, illegal use of pesticides and poaching.
“Illegal operators who are trying to bypass the legal system are a threat to California’s fish and wildlife resources, and a detriment to those legally cultivating cannabis,” said David Bess, deputy director of the CDFW.
Though recent statistics showed that illegal cultivation is moving away from public land to private property, this doesn’t mean that ambitiously large crops of weed have not been discovered by the CDFW’s 68 cannabis enforcement officers and other park rangers.
In the spring of 2021, park rangers in Death Valley National Park stumbled across a massive, illegal grow. The 40-acre weed farm was found in the remote and rarely visited Jail Canyon, an area near the border between California and Nevada.
A park spokesperson said at the time that rangers flew over the area to “photograph the extent and to (hopefully) encourage the growers to abandon the site.”
According to local media, the illegal grow was one of hundreds found and eradicated in Death Valley over the last decade. Like the CDFW, officials in the area stressed that marijuana grow sites can damage or cause irreparable destruction of the national park for similar reasons: pesticides, clearing of protected lands and diverting water resources.
Much of the worst environmental damage has been done on public lands, with illegal growers having leveled hilltops, bulldozed Joshua trees and dipped into the water table.
“The natural and cultural resources in these areas are irreplaceable and invaluable, damaging them for profit shows incredible disrespect to our homeland,” Barbara Durham, Traditional Historic Preservation Officer for the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe, said in a statement. The Timbisha Shoshone Tribe’s reservation is within Death Valley National Park.
Many of the grows are thought to be the work of highly organized drug cartels that take advantage of the forests’ thick canopy to help hide their operations. Some sites go undetected for years.
“The true crime here is the fact that they’re killing off basically America’s public lands, killing off the wildlife, killing off our water,” said Kevin Mayer, a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement assistant special agent. “This is stuff that, you know, it’s not gonna repair itself.”