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Published on December 24th, 2012 | by James Ayre


Marijuana Farming Boom In Northern California Trashing And Destroying The Environment, Studies Find

The large-scale farming of marijuana in California thanks to the legalization of medical marijuana there is causing extensive damage to the environment, multiple new studies have found. Pushing many animals to the brink of extinction, damaging salmon runs and spawning grounds, siphoning rivers dry, causing deforestation, large-scale application of dangerous and sometimes illegal pesticides and animal poisons, and large-scale pollution and littering.


In a specific and very “remote, 37-square-mile patch of forest, researchers counted 281 outdoor pot farms and 286 greenhouses, containing an estimated 20,000 plants — mostly fed by water diverted from creeks or a fork of the Eel. The scientists determined the farms were siphoning roughly 18 million gallons from the watershed every year, largely at the time when the salmon most need it.”

“That is just one small watershed,” said Scott Bauer, the state scientist in charge of the coho recovery on the North Coast for the Department of Fish and Game. “You extrapolate that for all the other tributaries, just of the Eel, and you get a lot of marijuana sucking up a lot of water.… This threatens species we are spending millions of dollars to recover.”

With these illegal or pseudo legal farms, there is “little or no oversight taking place, farmers have illegally mowed down timber, graded mountaintops flat for sprawling greenhouses, dispersed poisons and pesticides, drained streams and polluted watersheds.”

In a recent study done by UC Davis, the researchers “found that a rare forest carnivore called a fisher was being poisoned in Humboldt County and near Yosemite in the Sierra Nevada.”


“The team concluded in its July report that the weasel-like animals were probably eating rodenticides that marijuana growers employ to keep animals from gnawing on their plants, or they were preying on smaller rodents that had consumed the deadly bait. Forty-six of 58 fisher carcasses the team analyzed had rat poison in their systems.”

“Mark Higley, a wildlife biologist on the Hoopa Indian Reservation in eastern Humboldt who worked on the study, is incredulous over the poisons that growers are bringing in.”

“Carbofuran,” he said. “It seems like they’re using that to kill bears and things like that that raid their camps. So they mix it up with tuna or sardine, and the bears eat that and die.”

The insecticide is lethal to humans in small doses, requires a special permit from the EPA and is banned in other countries. Authorities are now regularly finding it at large-scale operations in some of California’s most sensitive ecosystems.”

“It is just one in a litany of pollutants seeping into the watershed from pot farms: fertilizers, soil amendments, miticides, rodenticides, fungicides, plant hormones, diesel fuel, human waste.”

“Scientists suspect that nutrient runoff from excess potting soil and fertilizers, combined with lower-than-normal river flow due to diversions, has caused a rash of toxic blue-green algae blooms in the North Coast rivers over the last decade.”

“The cyanobacteria outbreaks threaten public health for swimmers and kill aquatic invertebrates that salmon and steelhead trout eat. Now, officials warn residents in late summer and fall to stay out of certain stretches of water and keep their dogs out. Eleven dogs have died from ingesting the floating algae since 2001.”

“The effects are disheartening to many locals because healthier salmon runs were signaling that the rivers were gradually improving from the damage caused by more than a century of logging.”

“Now with these water diversions, we’re potentially slamming the door on salmon recovery,” said Scott Greacen, director of Friends of the Eel River.

“In June, Bauer and other agency scientists accompanied game wardens as they executed six search warrants on growers illegally sucking water from tributaries of the Trinity River. At one, he came upon a group of 20-somethings with Michigan license plates on their vehicles, camping next to 400 plants. He followed an irrigation line up to a creek, where the growers had dug a pond and lined it with plastic.”

“I started talking to this guy, and he says he used to be an Earth First! tree-sitter, saving the trees,” Bauer said. “I told him everything he was doing here negates everything he did as an environmentalist.”

“The man was a small-timer in this new gold rush. As marijuana floods the market and prices drop, many farmers are cultivating ever bigger crops to make a profit. They now cut huge clearings for industrial-scale greenhouses. With no permits or provisions for runoff, the operations dump tons of silt into the streams during the rainy season.”

“Scanning Google Earth in his office recently, Bauer came upon a “mega grow” that did not exist the year before — a 4-acre bald spot in the forest with 42 greenhouses, each 100 feet long.”

“Figuring a single greenhouse that size would hold 80 plants, and each plant uses about 5 gallons of water a day, he estimated the operation would consume 2 million gallons of water in the dry season and unleash a torrent of sediment in the wet season.”

“There has been an explosion of this in the last two years,” he said. “We can’t keep up with it.”

“Every grow has its own unique footprint. Some farmers on private land avoid pesticides and poisons, get their water legally, keep their crops small and try to minimize their runoff. Urban indoor growers might not pollute a river, but they guzzle energy. A study in the journal Energy Policy calculated that indoor marijuana cultivation could be responsible for 9% of California’s household electricity use. Other producers, like the Mexican drug trafficking groups who set up giant grows on public lands right next to mountain streams, spread toxins far and wide and steal enough water to run oscillating sprinkler systems.”

“But it’s not just the big criminal groups skirting the rules. Tony LaBanca, senior environmental scientist at Fish and Game in Eureka, said less than 1% of marijuana growers get the permits required to take water from a creek, and those who do usually do it after an enforcement action.”

Source: Los Angeles Times

Image Credits: California and Fisher via Wikimedia Commons

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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

  • Paul B. PARKS

    QWhat? Too strong a message again?Well…somebody is going to tajke matters into their hands, and I hope they start an army & get rid of these earth Suckers for good and make it so soon!

  • Paul B. PARKS

    If you are growing in any other place than your own backyard, anymore than you possibly need for a two year personal/partner supply (7 plants per yr./per prsn.), in anywhere else than self contained barrels, by any means other than ORGANIC (100%), You are doing it wrongly & illegally against nature, yourself & all those partake in the need & use of it…AND WE WILL GET RID OF ANYONE OF YOU who are the destroyers….YOU SELFISH FRIGGIN’ PIGS !!! The WAR is about to truly begin !

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