The New Eco-Terrorists: Pot Growers

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In the last couple of years, California’s medical marijuana boom has transformed pot into the new gold. But in the rural, mountainous region between San Francisco Bay and the Oregon border, known as the North Coast, pot farmers are starting to look a lot like eco-terrorists.

Researchers have recently discovered that marijuana growers routinely chop down trees, poison wildlife, and are diverting millions of gallons of water each year from rivers and streams. Moreover, greenhouse operations sap so much water and electricity that indoor pot cultivation may account for nine percent of the state’s total household electricity use.

Growing pot, even for medicinal use, is legally a bit fuzzy: Federal law forbids it and the state of California doesn’t regulate it. Already operating on the fringes, marijuana farmers who could get water permits regardless of their preferred type of crop often illegally siphon it instead.

On the Eel River, where scientists from the state’s Fish and Game Department have been trying to rehabilitate endangered coho salmon, growers are diverting an estimated 18 million gallons of water each year.

“You extrapolate that for all the other tributaries, just of the Eel, and you get a lot of marijuana sucking up a lot of water,” the department’s head scientist for coho recovery, Scott Bauer, told the Los Angeles Times. “This threatens species we are spending millions of dollars to recover.”

Other scientists have discovered that pot farmers are wielding a poison called carbofuran to kill bears and other animals that raid their camps. A rare carnivore called the fisher is dying in large numbers thanks to rat poison used to protect plants.

The list of pollutants and poisons that are scattered into the environment as a result of marijuana production isn’t short. It includes fertilizers, human waste, plant hormones, diesel fuel, miticides, rodenticides, fungicides, soil amendments.

People and dogs that swim in the region’s waterways are susceptible to health threats created by toxic blue-green algal blooms — blooms that are believed to be the result, in part, of nutrient runoff from marijuana grows.

The environmental fallout isn’t likely to end any time soon. The scale of the operations is enormous, and only getting bigger. As the market is flooded with product and prices have dropped, farmers have begun planting industrial-size crops as a way to turn a profit.

A recent raid by local law enforcement turned up a 26,600-plant operation on a Trinity River tributary, and a Google Earth scan revealed a four-acre parcel of land dotted with 42 greenhouses.

Enforcement of the litany of violations is a Sisyphean task for the Fish and Game Department, which only fields a staff of 27 within a region that’s thousands of rugged square miles in size.

“There has been an explosion of this in the last two years,” Bauer said. “We can’t keep up with it.”

Environmental coverage made possible in part by support from Patagonia. For information on Patagonia and its environmental efforts, visit www.patagonia.com. Photo by Shutterstock

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{ 6 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Matt Wisniewski

    No shit, you need water to grow plants. Where do you think the water for your organic kale comes from? Pot farmers are the least of our concerns. Sensationlist environmental horseshit. Millions of gallons of water isnt that much water in a huge state. Also, no one cares about trees getting chopped down. Theyll be back. Trust me.

  • Jim

    Wow – you make that sound almost as bad as the way we’ve been growing food for the last fifty years. Legalize it, tax it and then create a few hundred jobs to regulate it. (Then again, food is legal and regulated, and that’s not working out so well either.) How about marketing and certifying Organic pot farms? What self-respecting hippie (or intelligent person) would smoke anything else?

  • Traceur333

    Very sad argument, not even a good try really, just more wasted bandwidth. This argument could be made about anything on earth almost. Could it be a problem? Yes. Is over regulation the answer? No.

  • Chris

    The problem with the environmental costs of growing pot isn’t because its grown irresponsibly, but because its ILLEGAL. A pot farmer has to grow on sub-optimal plots of land and clandestinely pipe or transport all the resources they need to have a crop.

    One of the biggest concerns that present Humboldt marijuana farmers have right now is how they will be priced out if/when it becomes legal. There are a lot of legal-crop farmers perfectly placed to grow a higher-quality, larger crop per acre, and an entire industry already established with a great distribution system (thanks to tobacco).

    Still, once pot becomes legal I think the sudden demand for clandestine pot farms tucked away on public lands will suddenly plumet, don’t you?

  • Emerson

    I think if this article causes one to question the impact of “kale” production or any other factory farmed or mass farmed product than that is a positive. To alleviate marijuana of its negative environmental impacts is dismissive of the actuality of the product yielded. Sure other crops are sprayed, mass produced, and otherwise force grown in an unnatural way, but that doesn’t alleviate the users of pot of some form of responsibility of where the product is coming from. This article is just emphasizing the neglected aspects of the growth of marijuana, which often isn’t addressed critically the same as other cash crops or factory growth operations…,
    Maybe if it makes you uncomfortable or critical you should question your source.
    Any form of agriculture has a footprint and being aware of that footprint and lessening it is a positive. Whether it be meat, dairy, produce, cloth, or marijuana.
    Marijuana should not get a free pass. The industry is as filthy as the oil industry

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