CDFW officers bust large marijuana grows that threatened South Valley bird habitat

TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- Atwell Island isn't really an island.

It's 8,000 acres of restored grass and wetland at the southern edge of Tulare County, near Alpaugh.

According to the Bureau of Land Management, it's an important wintering area for waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds.

Though rural, there are also humans that inhabit the area, including some bad actors who were busted growing large amounts of illegal marijuana.

During a search warrant last month, California Department of Fish and Wildlife officers seized more than 1,500 plants and 1,000 pounds of processed pot, as well as a few guns and some meth.

CDFW officials say this isn't their first time at the property-they've previously destroyed 900 plants there.

"There are some characteristics here that look like obviously, this is a drug trafficking organization," said CDFW Public Information Officer Janice Mackey.

Amid the vital habitat for wildlife, officers found that the suspects were using pesticides and fertilizers, including a 55-gallon drum of Roundup, and had an open trash pit and water pit used for premixing chemicals.

"That unsecured site was particularly alarming because of the neighboring bird population," Mackey said.

Officers also found another illegal grow in the area.

In all, ten people were arrested on charges including drug sales and water code violations.

If convicted, they could be forced to clean up the sites.

"They do have sensitive wildlife in the area and we want them to clean up the property," Mackey said.
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