Homepage | The Durango Herald Mobile

Marijuana crops in California seen as deadly threat to forests, wildlife

By FELICITY BARRINGER
New York Times News Service

ARCATA, Calif. – It took the death of a small, rare member of the weasel family to focus the attention of Northern California’s marijuana growers on the effect that their huge and expanding activities were having on the environment.

The animal, a Pacific fisher, had been poisoned by an anticoagulant in rat poisons such as d-Con. Since then, six other poisoned fishers have been found. Two endangered spotted owls tested positive.

Mourad W. Gabriel, a scientist at the University of California, Davis, concluded that the contamination began when marijuana growers in deep forests spread d-Con to protect their plants from wood rats.

That news has helped growers acknowledge, reluctantly, what their antagonists in law enforcement have long maintained: Like industrial logging before it, the booming business of marijuana is a threat to forests, the redwoods that preside over vibrant ecosystems.

Hilltops have been leveled to make room for the crop. Bulldozers start landslides on erosion-prone mountainsides. Road and dam construction clogs some streams with dislodged soil. Others are bled dry by diversions. Little water is left for salmon whose populations have been decimated by logging.

And local and state jurisdictions’ ability to deal with the problem has been hobbled by, among other things, the drug’s murky legal status. It is approved by the state for medical uses but is still illegal under federal law.

The environmental damage might not be as extensive as that caused by the 19th-century diking of the Humboldt estuary here, or 20th-century clear-cut logging, but the romantic outlaw drug has become a destructive juggernaut, experts agree.

“In my career I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Stormer Feiler, a scientist with California’s North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. “Since 2007, the amount of unregulated activities has exploded.”

Scott Bauer, of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said, “I went out on a site ... where there was an active water diversion providing water to 15 different groups of people or individuals,” many of them growers. “The stream is going to dry up this year.”

For the professed hippies who moved here decades ago, marijuana farming combines defiance of society’s strictures, shared communal values and a steady income.

“In 2013, you’re asking that we reframe it in people’s minds as just another agribusiness,” said Gregg Gold, a psychology professor at Humboldt State University. “That’s a huge shift.”

Most Read in News

Newsarrow

Sportsarrow

Arts & Entertainmentarrow

Opinionarrow

Columnistsarrow

Classifiedsarrow

Call Us

View full site


© The Durango Herald