MARIJUANA CROPS ALSO BAD FOR ENVIRONMENT
Toxic Poisons, Waste Foul Public Lands
Come September, marijuana growers who have labored for five months in some of California's most remote country will abandon their secret gardens, taking their multimillion-dollar crops.
What will they leave behind? Irrigation tubes that snake for a mile or more over forested ridges. Pesticides that have drained into creeks and entered the food chain, sickening wildlife. Piles of trash and human waste in the most rugged and bucolic drainages.
The environmental consequences of marijuana gardens - or plantations, as they're more aptly called - are increasingly apparent as law enforcement continues its statewide crackdown on the illicit operations.
"They basically trash our public lands," said Matt Mathes, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service in Vallejo. Officials in Calaveras County so far have eradicated 26,000 plants in raids on pot gardens in the back country.
The finds in Calaveras are merely the latest of many; a multi-agency campaign counted a record 1.67 million plants seized in California in 2006, half a million more than the year before.
There's not enough money to thoroughly rehabilitate many of these sites, Mathes said. At Sequoia National Park, officials estimate it costs $11,000 per acre to fix the damage.
The trash goes first, packed out sometimes by National Guard helicopters or hotshot firefighters once fire season is over. Restoring native plants and fixing soil erosion problems are longer-term issues which, officials say, are sometimes never addressed.
"Unfortunately, we really can'tclean up all those sites like we would like to," said Ross Butler, assistant special agent in charge of the Bureau of Land Management's Sacramento office.
"We go in, we get the weed," Butler said. "Everything else just kind of ends up staying behind."
Pot is especially a problem in foothill counties such as Calaveras, he said. Gardens as large as 4 or 5 acres are cultivated year after year, and by the time officials find them, the environmental damage is done.
Empty cans, egg containers, food wrappers, gas cylinders, dirty magazines and lean-tos are left behind.
And then there's the makeshift pit toilets, the smell of which sometimes tips off the cops that they're close to stumbling upon a plantation.
"It's just a huge mess," Butler said.
Another concern revolves around endangered species. Pesticides are used to keep rodents out of the marijuana; those rodents, including wood rats, are a primary food source for the California spotted owl.
At Whiskeytown National Recreation Area near Redding, park rangers investigating a tadpole die-off in a creek wandered upstream and found a small dam in which someone had rigged an open can of fertilizer. According to testimony later delivered before Congress, rangers crawled on their bellies up steep slopes and found marijuana gardens perched atop cliffs.
Supporters of legalizing marijuana say the environmental destruction that accompanies these hidden gardens would not occur if pot was treated like any legal agricultural product.
"There is a reason you never hear of anyone planting clandestine vineyards in the national parks," said Bruce Mirken, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project in San Francisco. "Marijuana can be grown safely in an environmentally responsible way, or it can be grown dangerously."
Well, if you're growing pot make sure not to leave dirty magazines and such behind. I would posit that some growers might actually take the time to do a little clean up if they weren't trying to stay ahead of Johnny Law, but maybe not. Then there is always the fact that if people could grow pot legally they would not need to sneak onto parklands for their endeavors. Whatever the case, I'm sure that the combined impact of all grow sites is probably nothing compared to the legal allowance for a single corporations industrial waste...