[env-trinity] Times-Standard: Operation Yurok seizes thousands of marijuana plants, no arrests made

Tom Stokely tstokely at att.net
Tue Jul 29 07:44:34 PDT 2014


Operation Yurok seizes thousands of marijuana plants, no arrests made
Thousands of plants seized, no arrests made
By Will Houston
whouston at times-standard.com @Will_S_Houston on Twitter

Click photo to enlarge
The multi-agency "Operation... (Andrew Hughan — California Department of Fish and Wildlife)
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A multi-agency offensive against illegal marijuana grows on Yurok tribal lands near Weitchpec yielded several thousand plants and uncovered an array of environmental damage, but no arrests have been made, officials said Monday.
Dubbed "Operation Yurok," the four-day marijuana eradication mission took place from July 21 to July 24. Thirty-five representatives from a cohort of federal, state and tribal agencies served 20 Humboldt County Superior Court search warrants and nine tribal court search warrants. In total, the operation yielded 12,898 marijuana plants, 300 pounds of processed marijuana and seven firearms from about 20 different properties.
"The unlawful pot plantations, which are located on and above the Reservation, are responsible for what amounts to unprecedented water theft," a Yurok Tribe release states.
Multiple attempts to speak with the Yurok Tribe officials on scene at the operation were unsuccessful, partially due to the remote locations of the grows.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife Information Officer Andrew Hughan was one of 14 members of the department who participated in the raids and found numerous instances of environmental damage, including streams sucked dry by illegal diversions, abandoned vehicles, illegally graded roads, and abandoned fertilizer and gasoline.
The total damage was so extensive on each site that it would take a crew of 50 people about six months to clear it away, Hughan said.
A six-acre grow site with about 4,200 plants that Hughan visited had several structures, operational toilets and a pond filled by diverted stream water.
"The biggest grow site was a little city," he said. "All of these were well designed and well concealed."
Humboldt County Sheriff's Office Lt. Steve Knight said the main reason the operation took place was due to the large water diversions taking place in the midst of a statewide drought.
"They were tired of the environmental damage happening to their land that they value very highly," he said. "A lot of these grows had no regard for the land."
Hughan said stopping illegal water diversions was the department's No. 1 priority.
"They are taking what clearly is the most valuable resource in the state right now because of the drought and converting it into these marijuana plants," Hughan said. "Mature marijuana plants will use six to eight gallons per plant (per) day. Now, times that by 4,200."
Recognizing the increased number of trespass grows on their land, the Yurok Public Safety Department wrote a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown requesting that he send aid to help eradicate them. Brown responded by sending 12 members of the California National Guard Counterdrug Taskforce to help with the operation, according to the Yurok release.
The Yurok Tribe anticipated that they would removed 100,00 plants from 70 different properties, which if left standing, would use up to 72 million gallons of water from watersheds "hit hard by three years of drought."
The tribe's water system has been designated as vulnerable by the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, meaning that they are likely to run out of water in the next 61 to 120 days.
Along with the environmental damage, Hughan said they found several snares meant to catch small animals, but no animals were in them when they arrived on the sites.
"We did find some small crabs though," he said. "One of the suspects had been crabbing the night before and had several Dungeness crabs and two stone crabs."
While search warrants were served and citations were written by Fish and Wildlife wardens, Knight said no arrests were made.
"There were some property owners on site," he said. "The officers are putting cases together to submit to the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office. We'll be seeking a variety of charges."
Knight said his office will continue to target environmentally harmful marijuana grows, which Hughan echoed.
"As long as these grows continue, and as long as the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office wants our help, Fish and Wildlife will be there," Hughan said.
Representatives of the Yurok Police Department, Eureka Police Department, Bureau of Indian Affairs, California Department of Justice, Marin County Sheriff's Office, and the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office also participated in the operation.
Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.
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