Pubdate: Mon, 06 Aug 2007
Source: Record, The (Stockton, CA)
Copyright: 2007 The Record
Author: Alex Breitler, Record Staff Writer
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project
Bookmark: (Marijuana - California)
Bookmark: (Environmental Issues)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


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." 
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