Pubdate: Fri, 31 Aug 2012
Source: Arcata Eye (CA)
Copyright: 2012 Arcata Eye
Author: Daniel Mintz


HUMBOLDT -- A senior environmental scientist from the state's 
Department of Fish and Game (DFG) has told county supervisors that 
there's a regional "gold rush mentality" but its bounty isn't gold, 
it's medical marijuana.

He said unpermitted activities related to cultivation on private 
property are causing environmental problems.

The Board of Supervisors got another briefing on the destructive 
effects of unpermitted marijuana-growing activities at its Aug. 21 
meeting. But the focus of this presentation was on medical marijuana 
production on private property.

Tony LaBanca of the DFG said cultivation has increased since medical 
marijuana was legalized. "I'm not speaking about cartel-sized grows 
today, I'm focusing on something that is much more on a rapid growth 
- -- what we like to refer to in our office as a 'gold rush mentality' 
here on the North Coast," he told supervisors.

It's not about "clandestine" backwoods grows on public lands, he 
continued. "These folks are in our front country, on private lands," 
he said, adding that medical marijuana legalization has "allowed a 
new type of situation."

Showing a series of aerial Google Earth images, LaBanca explained 
that private property grows are sucking water out of streams and 
rivers. A map of southern Mendocino County featured a pervasive 
cluster of dots and squares described by LaBanca as grow areas and greenhouses.

Watershed areas near Willits "provide water to the south fork of the 
Eel River in Humboldt County -- that water is being intercepted in 
the headwaters of the south fork of the Eel," he said. "We should be 
concerned about water being diverted prior to it getting to our location."

Municipal water sources also provide marijuana irrigation, he 
continued. Projecting a Google Earth photo of southern Redway, 
LaBanca pointed out numerous orchard-like gardens which he said 
weren't there the year before the photo was taken, suggesting annual 
crops of marijuana.

"This location takes water out of the south fork of the Eel," LaBanca 
continued. "They have a water company in Redway which takes water and 
uses it for these types of domestic uses, agricultural uses."

He said there's been a puzzling recent trend -- low river flows are 
being noted in wet years. While LaBanca acknowledged that numerous 
factors could be relevant, he said diverting water in summer and fall 
months is a problem and a 10,000 square foot outdoor marijuana grow 
uses 250,000 gallons of water in a five-month growing season.

Lack of screening on water diversion siphons causes juvenile fish 
deaths, he continued, and some grows are ripe with various types of 
pollution. "Concrete, fertilizers and other petrochemicals, trash, 
debris -- all kinds of things are deposited in streams and near 
streams," he said.

Another concern is use of "killing agents" -- herbicides, pesticides 
and rodenticides. Rodent poisons have meat products that also attract 
predators and LaBanca said his agency is noting second-hand poisoning 
of fishers, martens, spotted owls and bob cats that have eaten 
poisoned rodents.

The state invests in restoration projects to benefit salmon and 
endangered predators like the spotted owl, he continued. "And what's 
happening to them? We're seeing them have another impact from another 

Showing more photos, LaBanca added that unpermitted road grading and 
forest clearing in grow areas has led to sediment loading and loss of 
riparian cover.

The DFG will work with growers on permitting their operations, 
LaBanca said, and outreach is one solution that's being pursued. Some 
growers "would not come to us at any cost," he said, but "I think 
there is a large contingent that is simply ignorant of environmental 
regulations and a lot of times, through our outreach process, we get 
people saying, 'I want to be environmentally groovy, I want to be organic.'"

Responding to a question from Supervisor Ryan Sundberg on whether the 
DFG is willing to focus solely on growers' farming practices, LaBanca 
said, "We will work with them -- yes."

The county is also working on regulating outdoor medical grows and 
County Administrative Officer Phillip Smith-Hanes said another draft 
of an ordinance will be before supervisors in late September, to be 
followed by community meetings on it.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom