Forest Pot Grows Bring Range Of Destruction – August 31, 2012
HUMBOLDT – A senior environmental scientist from the state’s Department of Fish and Game (DFG) has told county supervisors that there’s a regional “gold rush mentality” but its bounty isn’t gold, it’s medical marijuana.
He said unpermitted activities related to cultivation on private property are causing environmental problems.
The Board of Supervisors got another briefing on the destructive effects of unpermitted marijuana-growing activities at its Aug. 21 meeting. But the focus of this presentation was on medical marijuana production on private property.
Tony LaBanca of the DFG said cultivation has increased since medical marijuana was legalized. “I’m not speaking about cartel-sized grows today, I’m focusing on something that is much more on a rapid growth – what we like to refer to in our office as a ‘gold rush mentality’ here on the North Coast,” he told supervisors.
It’s not about “clandestine” backwoods grows on public lands, he continued. “These folks are in our front country, on private lands,” he said, adding that medical marijuana legalization has “allowed a new type of situation.”
Showing a series of aerial Google Earth images, LaBanca explained that private property grows are sucking water out of streams and rivers. A map of southern Mendocino County featured a pervasive cluster of dots and squares described by LaBanca as grow areas and greenhouses.
Watershed areas near Willits “provide water to the south fork of the Eel River in Humboldt County – that water is being intercepted in the headwaters of the south fork of the Eel,” he said. “We should be concerned about water being diverted prior to it getting to our location.”
Municipal water sources also provide marijuana irrigation, he continued. Projecting a Google Earth photo of southern Redway, LaBanca pointed out numerous orchard-like gardens which he said weren’t there the year before the photo was taken, suggesting annual crops of marijuana.
“This location takes water out of the south fork of the Eel,” LaBanca continued. “They have a water company in Redway which takes water and uses it for these types of domestic uses, agricultural uses.”
He said there’s been a puzzling recent trend – low river flows are being noted in wet years. While LaBanca acknowledged that numerous factors could be relevant, he said diverting water in summer and fall months is a problem and a 10,000 square foot outdoor marijuana grow uses 250,000 gallons of water in a five-month growing season.
Lack of screening on water diversion siphons causes juvenile fish deaths, he continued, and some grows are ripe with various types of pollution. “Concrete, fertilizers and other petrochemicals, trash, debris – all kinds of things are deposited in streams and near streams,” he said.
Another concern is use of “killing agents” – herbicides, pesticides and rodenticides. Rodent poisons have meat products that also attract predators and LaBanca said his agency is noting second-hand poisoning of fishers, martens, spotted owls and bob cats that have eaten poisoned rodents.
The state invests in restoration projects to benefit salmon and endangered predators like the spotted owl, he continued. “And what’s happening to them? We’re seeing them have another impact from another direction.”
Showing more photos, LaBanca added that unpermitted road grading and forest clearing in grow areas has led to sediment loading and loss of riparian cover.
The DFG will work with growers on permitting their operations, LaBanca said, and outreach is one solution that’s being pursued. Some growers “would not come to us at any cost,” he said, but “I think there is a large contingent that is simply ignorant of environmental regulations and a lot of times, through our outreach process, we get people saying, ‘I want to be environmentally groovy, I want to be organic.’”
Responding to a question from Supervisor Ryan Sundberg on whether the DFG is willing to focus solely on growers’ farming practices, LaBanca said, “We will work with them – yes.”
The county is also working on regulating outdoor medical grows and County Administrative Officer Phillip Smith-Hanes said another draft of an ordinance will be before supervisors in late September, to be followed by community meetings on it.