An issue quietly plaguing Northern California’s forests for decades is finally coming to the surface as legalization sweeps the Golden State and mountain growers are forced out of the woodwork.
A press release issued Wednesday from the office of North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) expressed the immense concern the California Governor’s office holds regarding trespass grows in the Humboldt, Trinity, and Mendocino counties.
According the release, Governor Jerry Brown has earmarked $1.5 million to fund the Fisheries Restoration Grant Program, which will address the environmental cleanup of trespass grow sites throughout the forests of Northern California. The funding was part of the Governor’s May Revision budget which was published yesterday.
“Our beautiful pristine forests have become havens for these illegal grow sites,” said Assemblymember Jim Wood, who represents these North Coast counties.
According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, as many as 5,000 organized crime-operated illegal grows are discovered each year in the state.
One of the biggest issues facing the pristine ecosystem of Northern California is the heavy use of pesticides, herbicides, and rodenticides at these unregulated grow sites. The movement of organic farming hasn’t made its way deep into California’s woods, and many growers still carry chemicals into remote parts of the forest to keep away pests, weeds, and mold. These toxic chemicals end up leaching into the environment, killing native flora and fauna such as deer, bear, mountain lions, bobcats, and spotted owls. According to the press release, “One-eighth teaspoon of the pesticide carbofuran, a banned pesticide which is used by rogue growers, can kill a bear.” This contamination isn’t just one and done, the toxins can remain in the ground for years poisoning the land and eventually running off into rivers and streams, “destroying everything in their path, including endangered fish species such as Coho salmon.”
Some other harmful practices include illegal clear cutting of forest land, which not only destroys ecosystems and homes of native animals, but unremoved fallen timber creates dangerous fuel for forest fires. Many of these illicit growers dig natural reservoirs (ponds) which they mix their chemical nutrients in, creating a toxic concoction for the surrounding environment. The press release also lists the trash left behind by growers (weapons, generators, butane canisters, fuel, etc.) as an issue for firefighters, law enforcement, and recreational hikers.
Craig Thompson is a Wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service who knows the problem first hand. In a March interview with the Atlantic, Thompson voiced serious concerns about the safety issue when performing field work near cartel-related grows in the area. “It’s an entirely different paradigm than five or ten years ago. It pervades every aspect of the job,” said Thompson. With personal safety as a primary concern, his department is sending out two people to perform the job that one person used to do.
With so many states enacting some form of cannabis legalization, it’s time to make the move toward responsible and conscious cannabis cultivation — cleaning up the mess is definitely a step in the right direction.
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