Federal court records document the toxic toll done on the Sierra National Forest by illegal marijuana growers like Lester Eduardo Cardenas-Flores and Luis Madrigal-Reyes.
Cardenas-Flores, 25, a citizen of Mexico, was sentenced Monday to two years and five months in prison for his involvement in an illegal marijuana operation in the mountains of Madera County.
Cardenas was also ordered to pay $48,000 in restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for damaging public land. Cardenas pleaded guilty in August.
Deadly Pesticides, Diverted Water
According to court documents, the grow had 2,307 marijuana plants. Cardenas was found carrying fertilizer into the grow site and later apprehended there.
The operation caused significant damage to the area, which serves as a habitat for the endangered Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog. Agents found deadly banned pesticides sprayed on the plants.
The grow site was in the Chiquito Creek watershed, which drains into the Fresno River before flowing into the San Joaquin River. Approximately 8.55 million gallons of water were diverted from a stream for irrigation.
This case resulted from an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the California Department of Justice, and the Madera County Sheriff’s Office.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen A. Escobar prosecuted the case.
The environmental damage was documented by the nonprofit Integral Ecology Research Center, acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert said in a news release.
The group has documented damage caused by illegal cannabis cultivations since 2009. Since 2018, the IERC has worked to restore land damaged by illegal grows in the Klamath, Trinity, and Salmon River watersheds.
Illegal Grows in California
Last month, state Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the eradication of nearly 1.2 million illegally cultivated marijuana plants and the seizure of more than 180,000 pounds of illegal marijuana as part of the annual Campaign Against Marijuana Planting program.
During this year’s 13-week sweep, law enforcement officers from multiple agencies conducted 491 operations. They recovered 165 weapons and removed more than 67,000 pounds of cultivation infrastructure, including dams, water lines, and containers of toxic chemicals.
The following totals were reported for Valley counties:
- Kern: 37 sites; 65,229 plants
- Fresno: 30 sites; 25,356 plants
- Tulare: 25 sites; 22,909 plants
- Madera: 22 sites; 10,028 plants
- Mariposa: 6 sites; 8,208 plants eradicated
- Stanislaus: 6 sites; 7,982 plants eradicated