Soil and water

Illegal marijuana cultivation threatens California’s wildlife and water supply | New university

The cultivation of marijuana by illegal growers in California has increased in recent years, with dire consequences as growers steal public resources and abuse the environment.

A bust in the Cleveland National Forest in early October 2021 revealed sprawling illicit operations; officers destroyed more than 1,400 marijuana plants, worth approximately $ 4 million. And that was just one of thousands of potentially active farms in California alone.

As the demand for illicit marijuana grows, growers are turning to larger plots of land to operate their farms. While many growing operations operated indoors, improvements in outdoor greenhouse technology have allowed growers to abuse a variety of new locations, such as isolated desert wasteland and even state forests. protected.

In San Bernardino County, greenhouses growing illegal marijuana dot the desert landscape in multitudes.

Sgt. Jon Anderson, a pilot with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, inspected illegal farms from above with a helicopter in the summer of 2021 to catalog the extent of illegal operations in the county.

“Right here you got one over there, one over there, one over there and here, here, here and here.” You can’t throw a baseball without hitting one, ”Anderson said.

In addition to the desert, many illegal marijuana growers take advantage of California’s forests to hide their operations. Some farms go unnoticed for years as they harm the environment and steal water from public sources. At a site in Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California, more than 3,000 pounds of trash, likely dumped by growers, were found and had to be transported by helicopter.

Much of the worst environmental damage is done on public land, with producers leveling hilltops, razing Joshua trees, and plunging into the water table.

“[They’re] killing… American public lands, killing wildlife, killing our water, ”said Kevin Mayer, a deputy special agent in charge of law enforcement with the US Forest Service.

In drought-stricken California, water theft is a major problem that illegal marijuana farms only compound. In some areas, the water table is dropping and waterways are drying up as dozens of diversions siphon water to illicit marijuana plants. According to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, local watersheds are losing their water flow at an “alarming rate” due to the illegal cultivation of marijuana.

Along with complex water theft systems, dangerous and illegal chemicals are often found at unauthorized marijuana grow sites where they are used as pesticides and herbicides. As chemicals are applied, they enter groundwater and local freshwater supplies, contaminating them and creating environmental hazards.

“[They are] a very fast and efficient way to get rid of insects and wildlife, but [are] equally damaging to humans, water, soil and native tribes, ”said Mourad Gabriel, regional wildlife ecologist for law enforcement and investigations at the US Forest Service.

Illegal growers use a specific rodenticide, d-Con, in forests to ward off wood rats from marijuana plants. The pesticide is persistent and manifests itself in rare and endangered species such as spotted owls and Pacific fishermen, a member of the weasel family.

In early October 2021, U.S. Forest Service special agents found evidence of pesticides so deadly they are banned in the United States near the Ortega Highway in Orange County.

The use of pesticides is particularly visible on farms that operate on protected land.

“There are thousands of these sites in places the public thinks are pristine, with obscene amounts of chemicals at each. Each is a small environmental disaster, ”said Craig Thompson, wildlife ecologist with the US Forest Service.

Elaina Martin is an intern at City News for the fall term of 2021. She can be contacted at elai[email protected]

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