Cannabis Destruction Shocks Lawmakers – March 1, 2012
HUMBOLDT – The watershed impacts of marijuana growing were described as being highly destructive at a state hearing and legislators have vowed to take action.
The effects of marijuana cultivation on watersheds and fish were part of a Feb. 22 Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture Hearing in Sacramento. Committee Chairman Wes Chesbro paid heed to the North Coast’s cultural acceptance of marijuana but called attention to its worst aspects.
“This not an anti-marijuana discussion – this is about how to protect the environment from the irresponsible growing of marijuana,” he said.
The impacts are being seen statewide and John Baker, a state Department of Fish and Game enforcement officer, told committee members that he’s seen drastic impacts in the central valley from large-scale use of pesticides, fertilizer and water diversion.
Baker’s presentation mostly focused on grows in Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and national parks lands. Greg Giusti, a U.C. Extension forest advisor, related his experience in the North Coast region and said massive grading and earth-moving is being done on private property.
“These are not being purchased and moved around by the elusive ‘cartel,’ whoever that is,” he continued, showing a photo of grading and creek damming in Trinity County. “This excavation work and tractor work is being done by contractors throughout the North Coast.”
Giusti’s presentation also included a photo of an “illegal reservoir” supplying a large commercial-scale grow downstream.
Seeing it, Chesbro reacted strongly and told Giusti, “I have to say – that’s brazen, the scale of that is just astonishing.”
Scott Greacen of Friends of the Eel River said there’s been a “boom” in marijuana production since the legalization of medical marijuana and negative impacts compound the legacy effects of liquidation logging.
In the Eel River system, low flows intensify the effects of grow-related pollution and sedimentation from grading and road building. Water diversion and diesel contamination are also problems, Greacen continued, and he linked them to marijuana’s status as an illegal drug.
“The failed prohibition policy has given birth to some of the worst practices,” Greacen said, adding that “conscientious growers” and non-profits have shown that marijuana can be grown sustainably.
After the presentations, Chesbro said that legalizing and regulating marijuana production and gaining federal cooperation would help. But absent that, he said he wants to “continue to dialogue” with environmentalists, law enforcement and state and federal agencies on advocacy and “enforcement strategies.”
The outcome of the discussions will be new legislation, Chesbro said. “This is as much of a threat as forestland practices that are destructive to the environment and practices that lead to conversion of timberlands for development,” he added.
Committeemember Jared Huffman emphasized the seriousness of the impacts, saying that if any regulated industry was shown to be guilty of them, “The unified outcry would be deafening but it’s not, with this, and we need to change that.”
That led Chesbro to “issue a challenge” to environmental groups across the state. He asked them to “join the North Coast environmental community in focusing on this as a serious issue, every bit as serious as the other threats to the forest that they focus on.”
Chesbro acknowledged that illegal marijuana growers are not easily-defined targets but he said the assistance of environmental groups is needed to “educate the public and the legislature about the need to take steps.”