WILLITS, 10/4/18 -- Editor's note: We are republishing here an opinion column written by the editor of our sister paper, Kym Kemp at Redheaded Blackbelt. Have you spotted the California Department of Fish & Wildlife conducting cannabis enforcement this year? We've spoke to a few people who have -- if you have a story to share, give us a call or get in touch at [email protected].
A silent storm has whirled through Humboldt County this summer. It has sucked up plants, property, and cash as well as occasionally led to arrests. We’d like to think this storm actually protected the environment but we don’t know because the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the agency that led the storm, refuses to answer questions.
As recently as October 1, approximately 10 law enforcement vehicles swept out Hwy 36, slipped across the Blocksburg Road and stopped somewhere in the 22000 block of Alderpoint Road. Local residents reported that one of the vehicles pulled a chipper so presumably this was related to marijuana as that machine is commonly used to destroy plant material. However, that has not been confirmed. Like so many raids conducted by the Department of Fish and Wildlife this summer, the residents of this county (and those counties surrounding us) are not being given even a skeleton account of what occurred.
A spokesperson for the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, wrote in reply to our question about the incident, that it was related to a “Fish and Wildlife warrant served on the 22000 block of Alderpoint rd.” This is the normal policy by law enforcement agencies. The lead agency is the only one to release information about an investigation.
Normally, this makes sense. It keeps agencies from duplicating effort.
Unfortunately, the Department of Fish and Wildlife instituted a new policy sometime around the middle of May of this year not to release information on marijuana-related raids–which as they are now often the lead agency leaves the community with little in the way of answers as to what is driving armed officers onto private property to confiscate and destroy what they choose. Questions posed prior to the middle of May received press release answers–which was a reasonable if somewhat canned response that allowed the public to have a rough idea of why the raids were conducted, what the suspects allegedly did that got them raided, and what occurred as a result of those raids.
The last report we received from the Department of Fish and Wildlife in answer to our questions was on May 9–it was the slightly delayed but relatively detailed description of the confiscation of more than $3 million in cash among other items seized on April 30 and May 1 at marijuana cultivation sites west of Redway.
After that, the only information on marijuana raids in Humboldt County that we received came through the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office usually about search warrants served by their Drug Enforcement Unit. The storm of raids headed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife crept stealthily under the radar.
It was impossible to learn what occurred as no agency would acknowledge that they were happening (except the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office would say if they assisted which at least confirmed what witnesses in these rural areas were telling us.) We here at Redheaded Blackbelt have used a formal public records request to try and get even basic responses…to no avail.
We can tell you that there have been repeated raids throughout the summer both here in Humboldt and in the surrounding counties but we don’t have answers on where the convoys went, what was found on the properties that were raided, what happened to the owners/workers (though in some cases we have obtained arrest records), so we can’t make even good guesses about how many raids have been conducted this year compared to last year, or how much marijuana was confiscated, or what were the violations that lead to these raids.
The community is without even basic information that would allow it to make informed opinions about whether human rights are protected and tax dollars are being spent effectively.
Off the record reports from local residents are our only window into what is happening in remote areas of our county. Some residents of the area have reported being handcuffed and held even though they weren’t involved in the properties that were ultimately raided. (We haven’t been able to confirm that because we don’t know what properties were raided.) One resident who said he was handcuffed and eventually released said he felt that the DFW treated him like he was “guilty by association” simply because he lived in the area.
In our opinion, the new policy by the Department of Fish and Wildlife is doing the community and the people who work for it a disservice. Off the record, two employees told us that they don’t understand the need to hide what they feel is a good program that helps get those who are destroying the environment to stop. But they say all employees are forbidden to give specific information on individual raids to reporters.
The latest request we sent to the DFW for information hasn’t received a response. Jordan Traverso, their public information officer said in a mid September response to a request for information,
I’m afraid I don’t have information about this specific detail. If I did, much of it might be confidential as it’s likely part of an ongoing investigation. If the California Department of Fish and Wildlife is involved, it is usually because we are working to enforce violations of Fish and Game Code, which typically involve environmental harm, habitat destruction, illegal water diversions, illegal take of fish or wildlife, and other such crimes. Our officers enforce all state laws. In regard to cannabis, we usually focus efforts on unpermitted cultivation sites doing the most environmental damage. Our enforcement efforts are largely coordinated. Our goal is to preserve resources for everyone, whether or not they are growing cannabis. We encourage anyone who wants to engage in a highly regulated activity like commercial cannabis cultivation to obtain both local authorization and a state license, as well as any necessary permits from us or the Water Boards. Otherwise, it is unfair to those that invest resources to do so and contrary to the will of the majority of Californians in 2016.
That said, if you see a convoy of wildlife officer vehicles, you can be sure they are there to protect California’s natural resources and provide public safety through effective and responsive law enforcement.
Meanwhile, some of the biggest economic and political questions in Humboldt County currently revolve around marijuana cultivation and the attempt by law enforcement of various types to enforce governmental rules. And, our community doesn’t have even the barest of answers on how much cannabis and cash has been seized, how many properties were raided, and what were the alleged violations that led to the raids.
Yes, we’re frustrated. And, we think you should be frustrated, too.
Kym Kemp is the editor-in-chief and owner of Redheaded Blackbelt at Kymkemp.com.