When the Butte Fire swept through Calaveras County in the fall of 2014, it razed vegetation from grasses to large trees and scorched much of the soil. Most of the land affected was privately owned. For local and nonlocal cannabis growers, the fire became an opportunity to convert foothill acreage into cannabis farms. As the number of farms boomed, residents became concerned about related unpermitted building, soil erosion, water quality and streamflow impacts, and noise.
On May 10, 2016, the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors passed an urgency ordinance that set a moratorium on cannabis farm permits. More than 700 growers submitted permit applications by the June 30, 2016, deadline. Eight months later, over 500 applications have yet to be reviewed by county staff. Of those that have been reviewed, many have been rejected.
The supervisors extended the urgency ordinance on February 14 and the county is preparing an environmental impact report for a permanent ordinance. While the extension allows current regulations to remain in effect, Calaveras County residents will have the opportunity to completely ban all commercial cannabis cultivation and related activities in the county by voting in favor of Measure B on May 2.
Should voters decide in favor of continuing cannabis farms in Calaveras County, the Foothill Conservancy will review proposed regulations and county government actions to ensure they protect the streams the benefit humans and wildlife and prevent degradation of critical soil resources. Entities that have already published handouts and manuals on best management practices for cannabis cultivation include the State Water Resources Control Board and Mendocino Country Resource Conservation District.