As Northern California’s cannabis growers prepare to shift their businesses to fit new medical regulations and expand to supply upcoming recreational sales, protecting the local environment has become increasingly important. So while some legal cultivators are actively getting together to discuss ways to improve water and soil sustainability, NorCal is still full of backwoods, illegal grow ops that aren’t as careful in their attempt to cash in on the green rush.
“An armed industry is taking over our national forests,” Mourad Gabriel, a wildlife disease scientist and executive director of Integral Ecology Research Center, told the Sacramento Bee.
Gabriel has been doing research in the hills of Northern California for 10 years now, and has come to one very harsh conclusion - black market cannabis grows are seriously threatening the local ecology and putting entire species of local wildlife at risk.
Black market farms contaminate rivers, bulldoze trees and most notably, use poisonous rodenticide to guard their valuable crops from the region’s abundant wildlife. In doing so, they’ve disrupted an entire food chain and started to kill off whole ecological communities. The primary victim of the rodenticide is the pacific fisher. A close relative of the weasel, NorCal’s fishers have been dying at an alarming rate, and serving as deadly food for larger animals like bears and foxes, both of which Gabriel has found dead at the hands of cannabis cultivators.
In 2012, 79% of the fishers that Gabriel studied had been exposed to rodenticide, with 5.9% of them dying thanks to the illegal poisoning. In his most recent study, Gabriel found that 85% of the fishers had some levels of the rodenticide, with a whopping 10% of the area’s fisher population turned up dead.
Gabriel says that the rodenticide contamination has spread across Northern California, and with the local cannabis industry set to explode more than it already has, shutting down illegal grows will become increasingly important to the local environment.
And while recreational legalization and a new seed-to-sale tracking system being implemented on the medical side will hopefully reduce the profitability of these black market grows, federal prohibition means that lower prices in California still probably won’t deter growers that make their money sending weed across the country.
If legalization won’t stop the backwoods poisoning, Gabriel is hoping that he can. The researcher has been threatened by cultivators and he still suspects that it was growers who killed his dog, but Gabriel says that he won’t be intimidated.
Still, NorCal’s forests are vast, and the money from weed is undeniable. So while new regulations will set environmental standards for legal grows, but the outlaws running rampant in the California mountains will be harder to curb.