Cannabis Grow Damage Like ‘Worst Of Timber Industry’ – January 18, 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Daniel Mintz

Eye Correspondent

HUMBOLDT – A five-county program assessing impacts on salmonids has named unpermitted grading as a major impact and one county supervisor said the effects of illegal grading connected to marijuana grows are as bad as those seen during the dark years of the timber industry.

Supervisor Mark Lovelace, who was one of the county’s most active environmentalists before being elected, made those comments as a result of a new regional study on habitat protection policies presented at the Jan. 10 Board of Supervisors meeting.

Dr. Richard Harris, the researcher who coordinated the study, said unregulated and illegal grading – including the grading that enables marijuana grows – is a problem. And Lovelace described its scale as massive in Humboldt County.

“It’s phenomenal,” he said, referring to photographs of grow-related grading that he’s seen. “And it’s shocking – and it compares with the worst of the worst from some of the bad years of the timber industry.”

Lovelace suggested that some of the culprits may even fashion themselves as environmentalists. “I think some people have a tendency to think that because they want to consider themselves good stewards of the land, that alone should mean that the work they’re doing is OK,” he said.

He added, “It’s very clear that there’s a tremendous amount of earth being moved around without any engineering, without any analysis and without any consideration of the potential impacts.”

Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said the effects of restoration efforts are being offset by the illegal grading, which he called a “huge elephant in the room.” He’s also seen the photographs and is disturbed by them.

“It’s massive amounts, it’s shocking how large and how many there are,” Sundberg said. “All that stuff has to go straight into the stream, so we’re focusing on fixing stuff here and then there’s someone upriver or up the hill that’s making it for naught.”

Sundberg recommended that the county try and get funding to “define what those impacts are and try to address them.”

County Public Works Director Tom Mattson said unlike many other counties, Humboldt has a grading ordinance – which sometimes isn’t heeded.

Speaking generally about the problem, Mattson said his department works with local non-profit groups like the Southern Humboldt-based Mattole Restoration Council and Eel River Watershed Improvement Group and the Redwood Community Action Agency to improve compliance.

The Five Counties Salmonid Conservation Program began in 1997 and the study described by Harris evaluates how the policies and procedures of each county have improved watershed protection.

Harris said that overall, municipal practices associated with land development, road maintenance, fish passage construction and repair and culvert work have improved since the program started.