Pubdate: Thu, 02 Jun 2016
Source: North Coast Journal (Arcata, CA)
Column: The Week in Weed
Copyright: 2016 North Coast Journal
Author: Linda Stansberry


Light pollution in Southern Humboldt

Dear neighbors,

We live in a lonely place.

When I was a kid, I'd sit on our porch with only the radio for 
company and let the big dark swallow me up. The mountains that framed 
the Mattole Valley bit into the star-strewn sky like dark, crooked teeth.

That wild land, owned by the Bureau of Land Management or old 
ranching families, was empty enough to make you feel like you were 
the only person on Earth. Far across the river, there was a 
smattering of household lights - neighbors with whom we shared 
weather reports over the CB radio and occasionally forded the river 
to visit with firewood.

 From the brightness of those lights I could tell who, like us, used 
kerosene lamps, who was close enough to the county road to be on the 
grid and who must be using that most precious of luxuries - bringer 
of television and clean clothes - a generator.

In the midst of the darkness, those tiny, twinkling lights were a 
reminder that there were other hearths and other homes among the 
ubiquity of trees and sky. Twenty years later, some things are better 
and some things are worse.

Cell phones and solar panels make rural living less dark and lonely, 
but half of our neighbors have been replaced by strangers.

And the woods look like they're on fire.

The photo included with this article was taken by Kyle Keegan, who 
lives in Salmon Creek. It is of the upper portion of Mattole Canyon 
Creek, as viewed from Elk Ridge. It is one of the more extreme 
examples of greenhouses lit by artificial sunlight to prolong the 
growing season, but is far from an exception to what you'll now see 
in many rural parts of Humboldt County, where marijuana producers are 
trying to trick their plants into thinking that summer has begun many 
months ahead of schedule.

It's only the latest indignity heaped on the place we all claim to 
love: There are no longer elk on Elk Ridge, nor spawning salmon in 
Salmon Creek and, soon, there will be no shadows in Mattole Canyon 
Creek. From other vantage points, Keegan says, the glow of 
greenhouses equal that of a small city. Small valleys look like they 
have the moon caught in their necks.

The horizon is smudged, the stars erased.

Keegan, myself and other neighbors may risk being accused of NIMBYism 
for mourning the loss of our night skies.

Progress is progress, and over the last decade I watched the 
twinkling lights of homesteaders freckle our ridges in increasing 
numbers, first with dread, then with some small optimism.

You become friendly faster out here because you have to. Ours is a 
lonely place.

Strangers become neighbors through community barbecues and volunteer 
firefighting, and newcomers are often folded in and educated gently 
on how to get along.

And where neighborly nudges fail, legislation will (ostensibly) prevail.

"I believe that every single 'lightshow' you see after dark is in 
violation of [the Medical Marijuana Land Use] ordinance, which calls 
for International Dark Sky standards," says Humboldt County 2nd 
District Supervisor Estelle Fennell. "I believe the time for staying 
quiet about this kind of intrusion into our environment should be 
over. Our community needs to speak up."

Growers, Fennell says, should cover up. Many do, Keegan notes, 
shielding the impact of the light out of respect for their neighbors 
and the landscape.

A restorationist for more than 20 years, Keegan says native flora and 
fauna are adversely affected by the spillage of artificial sunlight, 
which disrupts their natural circadian rhythms. The impacts of light 
pollution on amphibians, nocturnal predators, plants and their 
pollinating suitors have been well documented in scientific literature.

As with many things related to our region's green rush, the practice 
of lighting up the night has happened too quickly, and with too 
little oversight, to be properly studied.

Keegan attributes its spread to "cultural mimicry" and its 
persistence to the increasing number of growers without community 
ties or neighborly instincts. Many of the light systems are on 
timers, he says, and people just aren't making the extra effort to 
cover up once night has fallen.

The county's recent medical marijuana ordinance includes language 
regulating light spillage, with enforcement coming from the Humboldt 
County Planning Division. But, of course, these are only for grows 
that are licensed, and it relies on the often-dubious power of 
bureaucracy to police what should be common courtesy.

Keegan and others believe that real change might come down to the 
power of shame.

"The scale and inertia of this industry is exceeding regulation," he 
says. "We'll have to deal with it as we did in the past, with social 
enforcement. Now, if you put a pump in the upper Mattole, it's 
completely unacceptable. It should be the same if you're stealing the 
stars from the sky."

Last weekend my little nephew and I took binoculars and watched two 
bald eagles build a nest in a snag overlooking the Mattole River. The 
giant greenhouses are commonplace to him; at 10 years old, he's never 
seen anything else. I hope watching the eagles is something we can 
continue to do; light pollution is an increasingly common cause of 
avian deaths.

And I hope he grows up in a place where we know and trust our neighbors.

Those twinkling lights have mostly been replaced by eerie, sanitized beams.

They no longer look friendly; they look alien. TFFFF
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom