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Watershed Enforcement Program (WEP)

Large Grow

Cannabis Cultivation

Light pollution from cannabis cultivation greenhouses
© Melissa Walbridge

Light pollution from cannabis cultivation greenhouses
© Kyle Keegan

Landslide due to cultivation

Post Mountain Trinity National Forest 2012 - Cannabis Cultivation

Post Mountain Trinity National Forest 2016 - Growth in Cannabis Cultivation

Dead Lamprey due to poor water quality

Grading and clearing for cultivation

Timber Clearing/Conversion Activities

Grading in Oak woodlands for cultivation

In-stream excavation

Trash and Fuel next to creek due to cultivation

Dead Steelhead due to poor water quality


Mission

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife's (CDFW's) Watershed Enforcement Program (WEP) consists of Watershed Enforcement Teams (WET) throughout the State. WEP works collaboratively with the link opens in new windowState Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) in pursuance of link opens in new windowFish and Game Code Section 12029 to prevent, investigate, enforce, and remediate environmental damage resulting from cannabis cultivation on private land. Together, CDFW and the State Water Board work to implement a link opens in new windowStrategic Plan (PDF) that describes a multi-agency approach for regulating environmental impacts and enforcing civil violations associated with cannabis cultivation. The link opens in new windowStrategic Plan (PDF) directs CDFW to investigate and enforce violations of the link opens in new windowFish and Game Code associated with cannabis cultivation, and the link opens in new windowState Water Board to investigate and enforce against violations of water quality laws, regulations and objectives as well as unauthorized diversions of surface water.


agricultural clearing surrounded by tall trees
Forest clearing due to cultivation
large tank set into hillside with hoses attached to bottom
Illegal water diversion

The environmental impacts associated with cannabis cultivation and the legal or illegal diversion of water can have severely detrimental effects on fish and wildlife and their habitat, capable of lasting for several years after remediation. Managing and protecting these diverse resources, held in public trust by the State for the benefit of all California’s citizens, is part of CDFW's core values. As such, CDFW is part of a multi-agency approach for regulating environmental impacts and enforcing against crimes and civil violations associated with cannabis cultivation. CDFW’s Watershed Enforcement Program is directed to permit, enforce, educate, and coordinate with other agencies to prevent, assess, and remediate environmental damages and investigate violations of illegal streambed alterations associated with cannabis cultivation.

Land-use practices, such as the removal of permanent cover like upland forests to make room for cannabis cultivation, can be the source of wide-ranging impacts on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. These impacts include loss and fragmentation of sensitive habitat due to road construction, grading and burying of streams, increased sediment delivery, mass wasting, and erosion. The agricultural practices of cannabis cultivation can result in terrestrial wildlife mortality from use of prohibited rodenticides; chemical and sediment pollution from the use of petroleum-based products, pesticides, and fertilizers; and reduced instream flow needs (or complete dewatering of streams) for spawning, migration, and rearing of salmonids.

Reduced or altered stream flow regimes can be a significant threat to aquatic species, particularly because the timing of water demands for cultivation can dampen spring base flows and accelerate the recession of critical summer flows as water demand increases for the agricultural growing season. This reduction in flows diminishes the amount of suitable habitat available for sensitive species like salmonid fishes that are dependent on high-quality cold water, or desiccation-intolerant amphibians such as the southern torrent salamander (Rhyacotriton variegatus) and coastal tailed frog (Ascaphus truei). Reduced stream flow can also lead to decreases in food supply, production, dissolved oxygen, and habitat complexity that provides shelter for foraging or cool water refugia. It can cause increases in water temperature, transmission of disease, physiological stress, turbidity and suspended sediment, algal blooms, and predation due to intra- and interspecific competition. In the case of juvenile salmonids, reduced flow has been found to cause changes in behavioral tactics that have biological consequences, such as aggression, sheltering, drift foraging, roaming, and rock picking. Complete dewatering of stream reaches can result in stranding of fishes and mortality.

two greenish frogs with spots
Mountain yellow-legged frog (Rana sierra)
small brown owl flying
Northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina)
brown furry head of a Pacific fisher
Pacific fisher (Pekania pennanti)
small spotted fishSteelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss)
bat hanging from cave ceilingTownsend's big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsend)
black salamander with white-yellow spots in grassCalifornia tiger salamander (Ambystoma californiense)
 

CDFW prioritizes investigation and inspection activities and works collaboratively with the link opens in new windowState Water Board, local law enforcement, government officials, and the public to ensure enforcement efforts have maximum benefit for fish and wildlife. Violations associated with cannabis cultivation sites include, but are not limited to, the following link opens in new windowFish and Game Code Sections:

Code Section Short Description of Law Penalty – Violator Owns/Leases Land [§12025(b)]
F&G § 1602 Obstruct flow, change, or use material from stream; substantial diversion water $8,000
F&G § 5650 Water pollution - state waters $20,000
F&G § 5652 Littering near a stream $20,000
F&G § 2000 Unlawful take of bird, mammal, fish, reptile, or amphibian $8,000
F&G § 2002 Unlawful possession of bird, mammal, fish, reptile, or amphibian $8,000

For non-trespass grows, each day a violation “occurs or continues to occur” shall constitute a separate violation.(F&G §12025(b)(2))

CDFW may refer violators to the district attorney or Attorney General for criminal or civil action. Additionally, CDFW has the authority to administratively impose civil penalties on those found to have violated Fish and Game Code Sections 1602, 5650 and/or 5652 in connection with the production or cultivation of a controlled substance (i.e., cannabis) on public or private lands.

link opens in new windowHealth and Safety Code 11358
Every person who plants, cultivates, harvests, dries or processes more than 6 living plants in violation of Fish and Game Code Section 5650, 5652, 1602, 2000, 2080, or 3513, or causes substantial environmental damage - may be imprisoned pursuant to Penal Code Section 1170.

To Report a Polluter or Poaching
If you witness a polluting or poaching incident or any fish and wildlife violation, or have information about such a violation, immediately dial the toll-free CalTIP number 1-888-334-CALTIP (888-334-2258), 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you witness a poaching or polluting incident or any fish and wildlife violation, or have information about such a violation, immediately dial the toll-free CalTIP number 1-888-334-CALTIP (888-334-2258), 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Or you may submit anonymous tips to CDFW using tip411. tip411 an internet based tool from CitizenObserver.com that enables the public to text message an anonymous tip to wildlife officers and lets the officers respond back creating an anonymous two-way conversation. Anyone with a cell phone may send an anonymous tip to CDFW by texting "CALTIP", followed by a space and the message, to 847411 (tip411).

Or download the free CALTIP smartphone App which operates similarly to tip411 by creating an anonymous two-way conversation with wildlife officers to report wildlife and pollution violations. The CALTIP App can be downloaded for free via the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store.

CDFW seeks to reduce or eliminate the direct or indirect adverse impacts on fish and wildlife and their habitat caused by unlawful activities by working with landowners to remediate project sites. In order to help facilitate these projects, CDFW has created an attachment for the Lake and Streambed Alteration Notification (PDF Form) entitled “ATTACHMENT E - Remediation of Marijuana Cultivation Sites (PDF Form)” which helps streamline the review and permitting of remediation projects. Common site remediation activities include, but are not limited to, installation of erosion control measures, installing properly sized culverts, screening water diversions, stabilizing streambanks, and replanting native vegetation.

Crossing upgrades and restoration efforts
Crossing upgrades and restoration efforts along a bladed low-flow stream in Lassen County.


Severe erosion from a cultivation pad constructed in decomposed granitic soils is re-contoured and protected with jute fiber blankets and stabilized with native seed. Straw bales further control sediment discharge at the toe of the slope.

CDFW and WET staff participates statewide in public education and outreach. In addition, WET staff regularly meets with cannabis cultivators, local government officials, and attends cannabis industry workshops to discuss how cannabis cultivators can operate in compliance with the Fish and Game Code and minimize their impacts to the State’s fish and wildlife resources. If you would like more information, please contact your local Regional CDFW office.

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Best Management Practices

Reports and Publications



CDFW Water Branch
830 S Street, Sacramento, CA 95811
(916) 445-8576