Marijuana “grows” are the new environmental menace. Teams of sheriff’s deputies from three northern California counties found ample evidence of this in raids on several illegal grows last week. They were in a remote area called Island Mountain, where the three counties of the “Emerald Triangle” (Humboldt, Trinity, and Mendocino) converge.
The deputies served 20 search warrants, then seized and disposed of 86,578 “adult” marijuana plants, 4,394 pounds of processed marijuana, and 15 pounds of marijuana hashish in brick form. Along with these they seized 25 guns, 50,000 rounds of ammunition, and $8,877 in cash. They estimated the “street value” of the marijuana haul to be $26.5 million.
Officials of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife accompanied the teams to assess the effect of the grows on watersheds. They found 97 environmental violations. (Note: Combined, the seized plants required 50,000 gallons of water a day. One ounce of processed marijuana requires 34 gallons of water.)
They found several reservoirs that were used to water the marijuana grows. These had been bulldozed out of hillsides to divert (that is, steal) water from local streams. There was other land grading—without permits—as well as evidence of diesel fuel spills, dumped oil, and garbage. Most of these grows were in large greenhouses which use huge amounts of fertilizer. This leeches into local watersheds, causing algae “blooms” downstream.
Diesel fuel is used in the generators that provide illumination and growth lights for the crops.
In earlier raids, when most grows were smaller and outdoors, growers spread rodenticides to kill rats. These also killed small animals such as ferrets and martins.
Both legal and illegal marijuana is grown in California. In 1996 voters approved the use of medical marijuana. A user first needs a physician’s letter of recommendation. This can be shown at a licensed dispensary in order to get a “215” card. This permits a few plants to be grown by the holder or allows a third person to do it. Several growers may grow plants for several card holders.
The county sheriff’s office estimates there are 5,000 marijuana growers in Humboldt County alone, with a large percentage being illegal. As for the Island Mountain raids, “Growers in the area have an early warning system,” the local Times-Standard reports, “with people calling up the road when official vehicles are seen, allowing growers to leave the premises before police arrive.”
It makes no difference, a Humboldt County sheriff told the paper: “We don’t need anybody around to prove who lives there.” Since the Island Mountain area is not promising lumber-harvesting or cattle ranching land, about the only activity around is marijuana-growing.
California’s dry and wet spells come and go. The current dry one is in its second year, so there is widespread worry about the health of the area’s streams and rivers. If there is not enough water coming down from the creeks of the watersheds, there will not be enough for young salmon and steelhead to thrive in the rivers so they can later head out to sea.
Area environmentalists, who were largely silent when small mammals were being killed by growers’ rodenticides, are now joining the law enforcers in decrying the theft of water from public lands to feed large illegal grows. A group of legal growers is asking for definitive regulations as a way to reduce the number of those grows.
The Island Mountain raid was only the beginning. The sheriffs’ teams are preparing to mount more raids on illegal grows throughout the summer.
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