Wednesday, September 16, 2015

California's 50,000 marijuana farms damaging environment in drought-plagued state

Large quantities of California marijuana grow operations are damaging the environment in a state already in the midst of a horrific drought, Brittany Patterson and Debra Kahn report for ClimateWire. "Growing marijuana triggers a host of environmental problems. Chief among them is its clandestine water use. Then there is the application of rodenticides, some of which are banned in the U.S., and others of which are only for use in the built environment." Another damaging item is baling wire, strung between the trees to dry the marijuana, which cripples eagles that fly into it. (Kahn photo: Volunteers gather up coils of plastic pipes, illegal poisons and other debris after a raid of a grow operation)

Since the passage of the Compassionate Use Act in 1996, "which legalized the use and limited cultivation of medical marijuana in California, the state has experienced a marijuana cultivation boom," Patterson and Kahn write. California is home to an estimated 50,000 marijuana farms, or 60 percent of all marijuana consumed in the U.S.

"Modern-day marijuana operations belie the stereotype of gentle, hippie pot growers," Patterson and Kahn write. "They scour maps for water sources and even pay wildlife hunters to log any water they come across on GPS devices. They raze forests and create roads, shoving thousands of pounds of sediment into nearby water sources to the detriment of salmon and steelhead."

Nick Goulette, executive director of the Watershed Research and Training Center, a nonprofit based in Trinity County, where the local economy revolves around marijuana, told Patterson and Kahn, "Few people fully recognize the vast scope and scale of illegal trespass grows. We're only just beginning to count the ecological costs, and at a moment when climate change, drought, private water demands and wildfire are pushing ecosystems and species to the brink."

Lawmakers last Friday sent a package of bills—which includes environmental rules for its cultivation and funding to rehabilitate grow sites, to fully regulate medical marijuana—to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, Patterson and Kahn write. One bill "instructs the state Department of Pesticide Regulation to write standards for the use of pesticides in growing marijuana and the maximum remaining residue allowed to be left in the end product. Three other agencies will outlaw water use that affects fish that are migrating through, spawning in or living in rivers. It also sets a deadline of 2020 for the state to create standards for organic certification."

"A companion bill directs the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the State Water Resources Control Board to make permanent a year-old joint task force that addresses environmental enforcement and authorizes them to increase the cost of stream diversion permits in order to fund remediation," Patterson and Kahn write.

No comments: