Going to Pot: A Look at Local Marijuana Practices and How They Affect the Environment
Greenhouses [Photo from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office.]
On April 18, an article about how the marijuana “green rush” has damaged our local environment appeared in Takepart, an independent online news site that works to promote positive social change. We’ve received permission to reprint the article. But knowing mere words can’t compete with the lush photos and dramatic videos that accompany the writing, we’re only going to share a bit from near the beginning to entice you to follow this link to the actual article.
The author of “Going to Pot” begins by describing a flight over Humboldt:
With California poised to fully legalize marijuana, a “green rush” has hit Humboldt as outsiders—Bulgarians, Laotians, Texans—flood into the county and set up industrial-scale marijuana farms. The environmental impact from more than 4,000 pot “gardens” is ravaging the redwood ecosystem that Humboldt environmentalists have spent decades fighting to save and restore. And not just in Humboldt. The marijuana boom in the two other pot-growing counties that form California’s Emerald Triangle threatens a wide swath of the state’s woodlands. Like forests worldwide endangered by development, Humboldt County’s redwoods absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide, making them crucial to the fight against climate change.
“The single biggest threat to our environment right now has been unregulated cannabis,” says Natalynne DeLapp, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center, a grassroots group that spearheaded the effort to protect the Headwaters and its wildlife. “In the last 20 years we’ve seen a massive exponential growth in cannabis production in the hills of Humboldt County, and we’ve seen really devastating environmental effects.” Growers have fragmented forests by cutting trees to build greenhouses and roads on steep hillsides, choking creeks home to endangered salmon with sediment, fertilizers, and pesticides and sucking streams dry during a record drought to irrigate marijuana crops. Once-still forests echo with the racket of hundreds of diesel generators. Rat poison and other toxic chemicals used by some growers to protect their plants are killing rare wildlife like the Pacific fisher.
“It’s just been really sad, actually, really sad to see what’s happened to the environment and a lot of work people have put into restoration efforts, to see those things unravel because people continue to bulldoze hillsides for clearings to grow more cannabis,” DeLapp says.
In a community where there long has been a very thin green line between environmentalists and marijuana growers, DeLapp, 35, is leading a campaign to regulate an out-of-control industry. She’s getting help from unlikely allies: a timber company and a group of marijuana farmers determined to create a truly green and sustainable cash crop.