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The Island Mountain Pot Bust

Notes from Friday afternoon’s press conference convened by Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman with participation from Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey and Trinity County Sheriff Bruce Haney and a Fish and Game spokesperson who together reported on the big marijuana raid in the Island Mountain area near where Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity Counties intersect, an area where third generation grows have thrived virtually untouched since the days when the pioneer hippies began making their back-to-the-land mortgage payments growing the magic herb.

Sheriff Allman said the nearly week-long raids were "complaint-driven." The sheriff's offices of the three affected counties received complaints from residents in the area who were upset over ecologically abusive grows in an area remote even by the standards of remote, an hour from the closest paved road. Off the grid, beyond the beyond. Allman conceded that law enforcement had not paid much attention to Island Mountain in the last few years compared to other areas.

The raids had started with aerial surveillance, and talks with locals. Allman said Island Mountain represented some of the most flagrant grows in NorCal, some of them clearly visible from the dusty dirt roads that crisscross that part of the Mendo-HumCo-Trinity outback. From the ridge it was easy to see numerous curved-pole greenhouses, the Sheriff said, that were "typically 100 feet long with about 300 pot plants."

The Sheriff emphasized the raids were locally mounted without federal manpower. Fish and Wildlife participated and they found many environmental crimes, and illegal water diversions. "The more we looked the worse it got," he said. “We couldn't put it off anymore.”

Several dozen search warrants were "served" at residences and in open fields. Allman said 83,578 plants were eradicated in the three counties in the four day period, representing an estimated $26 million in street value. These weren't seedlings but adult plants in greenhouses or free-standing.

There wasn't much resistance to the arrival of law enforcement's small army. Apparently a single road was bulldozed to slow the raid teams down, but the police hand-shoveled it so it was passable by vehicle. The growers had fled, indicating that at least some of the labor consisted of recent immigrants. Authorities considered the Island Mountain neighborhood the site of the most egregious environmental damages in all three counties.

Were they true enviromental problems or just an excuse to conduct raids, some have asked. Allman replied: "They were not minor or casual. Take the number of plants seized times an estimated 6 gallons per plant per day just to water the plants they eradicated. 500,000 gallons of water per day."

ALLMAN denied that a 50k gallon water tank was maliciously emptied by his raiders. He said the three police departments will always consider complaints and respond to areas where they are found to be valid.

Biologists were at the scene and videos taken of the abundant stream alterations. "Watershed enforcement teams" discovered 97 violations just for stream alterations from small to large. Heavy equipment had been used in and around waterways. "Some of these were as bad as I've seen," said the Fish and Wildlife crew leader, with debris and soil pushed into creeks, pads adjacent to streams. Dams. Holding tanks and ponds. "Unreal" amounts of water storage, "all of it prevented from running to the Eel River."

The Fish and Wildlife rep (who name we didn’t catch because he tended to garble his words) said water looked stagnant and algae-ridden in low flows made more hazardous to the natural world by fertilizer run-off.

Nearly every parcel from one end of the search area to the other had at least one Fish and Wildlife violation.

Allman was asked why small 25 plant grows were eradicated? Because they were connected by the same waterlines in a series of connected grows. It was an attempt to fool law enforcement, he said, but it didn't work.

“September we will go back,” said Allman. “And I have every reason to believe the growing will continue. We will see people taking water from the river to supply private grows, which is not the intent of Proposition 215."

Seven parcels were visited in Humboldt County. 40 separate greenhouses. Several participants said the watershed seemed to have been drawn down to lowest levels they've seen. Huge amounts of water diversions. All of the grows they raided were commercial grows by people who picked Island Mountain because of limited law enforcement in that area. Four grows in Trinity County; 14,000 plants. One arrest with a case filed. More are pending in Trinity County.

Mendocino County: Nine search warrants.

Mendo arrested 3, Trinity 1, Humboldt: 0 which is “indicative of the issue, said Humboldt Sheriff Downey. “If people were doing this legally, why didn't we encounter anyone to plead their case?”

Mendocino teams encountered four very large gardens for which they didn't have warrants, so they were not eradicated. But the investigation is ongoing. Several dozen guns were located and seized, but no one so far has been charged with being armed in the commission of a felony. Not much cash seized. $8,777 total.

Many of the plants were smaller than the typical tree sized plants that have become popular in inland Mendocino County lately, but they were adults, not starts or juveniles. About two dozen deputies were involved, plus support and logistics from Fish and Wildlife and the National Guard.

Allman said he didn't yet have the cost of the operation but lots of overtime was used. The Sheriff said he would soon have the totals for the raids.

What percent of greenhouses eradicated? Probably 50% of total greenhouses. "Still a lot of greenhouses to go.”

Black pipe: Since these raids were on private property we won't spend public funds to remove it, Allman said, adding that tracking black pipe by serial number is being discussed.

168 parcels involved in total. They don’t have an estimate of the total acreage. Many grows were "in your face," apparently because they didn't think law enforcement would ever make it out there.

Allman said that the paucity of people on site was at least partly due to KMUD announcing the dispatch of the raid teams, allowing many of the people in the grow areas to "voluntarily evacuate. We did not find many people there because apparently they were listening to the radio."

Allman said the grows they raided did not appear to be trespass grows. “I don't know if the property owners were doing the grow, but they were either grown by the landowner or with the landowner's permission.”

Hank Sims of Lost Coast Outpost: “We heard reports that water impounds were spilled onto land.” Allman said he was not aware of any. If somebody has a complaint we will take a report “because law enforcement does not participate in this type of activity.” [Vandalism]

KMUD’s Kerry Reynolds “clarified” that KMUD didn't really mention anything more than that a convoy was in the area, but not its direction. She said she thought that phone tree operations were going on in that community, not just KMUD.

* * *

BRUCE McEWEN attended the Sheriff’s Friday afternoon Press Conference concerning the big Island Mountain Pot Raid — Operation Emerald Tri-County — and provided these additional notes:

Lieutenant Christopher Stoots of the California Fish & Wildlife’s Watershed Enforcement Team (WET) was the name the AVA didn’t get at the Sheriff’s Press conference on Friday afternoon. He described the blade work from bulldozers and graders as amateurish, “looked like it had been done by people who didn’t know what they were doing, just push the sluff off from an area graded for a grow and right into a streambed.”

Lt. Stoots pointed out that the water diverted into storage tanks and irrigation pipe has left the Eel River even more depleted than usual in an unusually dry year after four dry years prior. When the water does finally runoff into the river, after having been used to irrigate the pot grows, it carries nitrates from the fertilizers which feed the algae blooms in the stagnant pools along the riverbed. Stoots described the result as “complete devastation for fish and other wildlife.” The Lieutenant also mentioned the impact on the deer herd. Pot growers loathe deer, as we know, because deer don’t consider marijuana a sacred plant. Deer like to browse on pot plants, so growers use repellents, poisons and firearms to kill or drive them off. Ditto for rabbits and other wild animals.

Assemblyman Jim Wood and DA David Eyster had also been taken on the Island Mountain Raid. No sign of the pot growers who threatened to show up and “upstage” the press conference. Musta got stoned and missed it.

Most of these were light-deprivation grows (Light-Dep). The pot plant begins to bud on June 22, the summer solstice, in a natural, outdoor grow; it’s all attuned to the lengthening and then the shortening of daylight, and therefore can be manipulated by growing the plants in a hoop-style greenhouse with dark sheets of plastic or other materials to be pulled over the plants at a certain hour each day. This way, two or three crops can be grown in the same season.

Sheriff Allman was furious with KMUD radio for telling listeners that the eradication team was towing a large tank of herbicide to spray the area with. He said this was not true — it was water — and he was “disappointed” in the responsibility of the press. The Sheriff brusquely dismissed an apology from The Mudd’s correspondent. He was red in the face and made a curt, dismissive gesture with his hand.

Sgt. Bruce Smith came forward at the end to remind the Sheriff that there was indeed one trespass grow in the area, on BLM property, approximately 11,000 plants.

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