Brad Job: Rapacious Grows Destroy Habitat, Undo Restoration Work – January 29, 2012

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Nightmare mosaic photo from a raid on private land in the King Range National Conservation Area. Photo courtesy Brad Job

I’ve been fascinated by water and the organisms that live in it since I was a child. When three years of sea duty made me fall in love with the ocean, I decided to pursue a degree from HSU in Environmental Resources Engineering, which I completed in 1993.

Since then, my career has focused on water quality and water resources. For the past 10 years I have had the honor and privilege of being part of a team of professionals that steward some of our nations’ most spectacular public land. In this occupation I have also been witness to many environmental sins that have occurred as a result of marijuana cultivation.

As a pragmatic environmentalist, it is not my job to deride marijuana or its use. But, similar to the environmental effects of logging, the problem is not necessarily that one grows pot, it’s about how one grows pot.

Regardless of how one feels about marijuana and its legal status, anybody that understands just a little about aquatic ecosystems has to admit that widespread cultivation has bad consequences for fish. It degrades the quality of our rivers and streams, which to me, are the core of what makes northwest California special.

In reference to one of last week’s cover stories about illegal excavation and un-engineered fill (‘Shocking’ environmental damage from outdoor grows, Eye, Jan. 18) I can attest that the additional input of sediment eroded from grow-related excavations permanently damages habitat for imperiled salmon and trout populations and undoes the benefits of millions of dollars’ worth of watershed restoration work.

However, increased sedimentation is not the only or necessarily the worst environmental consequence of rapacious pot growing out in the hills.

The giant hunk of failing fill is located on private land right above Bear Creek where it exits the King Range NCA could not be in a worse spot as far as fish habitat goes (notice the clear creek in the upper right corner).

Recent research has shown that 80 to 90 percent of the nitrogen in coastal watersheds historically came from the ocean, much of it in the form of return runs of salmon and steelhead. However, dwindling fish populations and environmentally oblivious pot growers have turned that dynamic on its head.

Now, growers dump hundreds of tons of excess fertilizer into these watersheds annually. The most obvious consequence of fertilizer overuse is increased algal growth, which is most likely why toxic concentrations of blue-green algae have been observed in the Eel River in recent summers. Excessive algal growth kills fish and the organisms that they feed upon.

In addition, outdoor grows frequently discharge rodenticides, insecticides and fungicides into the environment; divert springs and creeks for long distances; and leave vast quantities of trash and black poly-pipe behind.

And then there are the diesel dope grows. These operations often improperly and illegally store large quantities of diesel in plastic tanks that are prone to failure. And those that do use metal tanks almost never have secondary containment and often have leaks and spills.

A pile of dumped cannabis root balls, surely laden with fertilizers and other soil amendments, cascades down the banks of Liscom Slough into sensitive marine habitat last week. Photo courtesy Ted Halstead

It is worth noting that fuel distributors that dispense fuel into such tanks are also committing a felony. If anyone wants to observe the environmental consequences of petroleum spills in aquatic ecosystems, they need only to travel to an urban stream to witness the reduced abundance and diversity of invertebrate species, which are the base of most aquatic food webs.

Then consider the water diversions, air and noise pollution from inefficient generators, and the random dumping of fertilizer-laden potting soil. And I can hardly bear to ponder the sad irony of burning fossil fuel to make light to grow plants in a manner that is literally 99 percent inefficient, all while it is warm and sunny outside.

As long as the marijuana status quo and large profit margins remain, it appears inevitable that some of the worst crimes at marijuana gardens will be environmental ones.

The citizen’s suit provision in the Clean Water Act might be a big enough hammer to change some landowners’ behavior if a motivated team of attorneys and environmental scientists were to respond to a specific incident.

However, the sad fact remains that the underground economy is creating really bad consequences for the increasingly fragile ecology of our rivers and streams. But, if this letter makes only one grower reduce their fertilizer and agricultural chemical use or cause less erosion, the time it took to write it will have been well spent.


Brad Job, P.E.

Environmental Engineer


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9 Responses to “Brad Job: Rapacious Grows Destroy Habitat, Undo Restoration Work – January 29, 2012”

  1. common sense police

    Yet another side effect of marijuana prohibition. The only danger from marijuana is CAUSED by its prohibition. There is no argument that can be made to keep it illegal so the government just stonewalls us and continues it’s war on American citizens. As Americans it is our duty to rebel against this tyranny. Growing marijuana is the patriotic thing to do honestly, if for no other reason than as a means to fight our oppressive government. If you have the seeds then plant them everywhere and when the government cannot sustain it’s war trying to destroy patriotic Americans we will have won. Overgrow the government!
    End welfare for law enforcement.

  2. Maybe, common sense police, we could just show up at the voting booth and legalize cannabis rather than fight wars and misuse apostrophes?

  3. Humboldt Rick

    The blame is misdirected. Cannabis cultivation is NOT the problem. The problem (aside from the legalization issue) is stupid people! Maybe science education (and education in general) should be broadened and made effective so that Americans can be an educated group of people and know how to treat the environment. This article seems to be nothing more than a hit-piece written by some anti-marijuana crusader. You really shouldn’t publish such nonsense, Kevin.

  4. What’s nonsensical about it?

  5. […] Legal cannabis grower speaks out The grower says he uses only organic soil and fertilizers and filtered water to grow his plants. There are currently 631 people in Alberta who are licensed to buy medical marijuana. A Calgary man who runs a legal marijuana grow operation in his home … Read more on Brad Job: Rapacious Cultivates Destroy Habitat, Undo Restoration Work – January 29 … However, increased sedimentation is not the only or necessarily the worst environmental consequence of rapacious pot growing out in the hills. The giant hunk of failing fill is located right above Bear Creek where it exits the King Range NCA could not … Read more on Arcata Eye […]

  6. Hydro-nerd

    What are the odds of an environmentally ignorant grower (a stupid person, if you insist, Humboldt Rick) reading a letter to the editor and then slightly changing their behavior so that salmon and steelhead populations are less likely to go extinct? Oh, that’s right, they’re stupid, so they probably don’t read the Eye. But, Rick did… Now I’m confused. Oh hell, now this has turned into a hit piece on him. Sorry dude.

  7. Diff Timezone

    Bravo, Mr. Job, and The Eye, bravo. I’ve been waiting years for someone to raise this topic. I got out of the grow scene a long time ago, partly because of this issue. I’ve never seen the scale of clearing depicted in the photos, but the high-powered fertilizer, water consumption and pollution, animal traps, rat poison, abandoned plastic grow bags and PVC pipe, fuel leaks, latrines, not to mention the firearms and paranoia, were all too much. Ironically, or should I say, hypocritically, most of the growers I know who are responsible for what I saw are avid and active environmentalists. Some are environmental lawyers. Don’t let the growers bullshit you, Brad, it’s all about the money, period. Maybe legalization is the answer, but in the meantime, don’t get your hopes up.

  8. Local Fish Biologist

    Yes Rick, growing is the problem, legal or not. The illegal withdraw of water from fish-bearing creeks is HUGE and getting worse. Then add in the fertilizers, desiel fuel, chemicals and trash. These folks think they’re so groovy, yet in their greed to make more $$$$, they trash and dewater the creeks all over northern CA that steelhead and coho salmon require for summer rearing. In 2010 we had to deal with a huge grow on State Park property just upstream from a restoration project site. It was utterly disgusting, including the fertilizer they dumped directly into two dammed tribs where water lines were located. No regard for the environment……just money, baby, money. Glad they got their plants ripped out of the ground!

  9. […] presentations have been made across the region and to those who have been at them or read news reports on them, none of it is […]


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