A Sept. 30 Associated Press story that got wide play in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest marked another concern about the ecological impacts of outdoor cannabis grows in the Emerald Triangle. The NOAA Fisheries Service in its new coho salmon recovery plan for the Northern California and Southern Oregon region finds that water use by the marijuana industry further threatens salmon already in danger of extinction. The plan calls for determining and decreasing the amount of water that growers illegally withdraw from creeks where young fish struggle to survive.
Other threats from the unregulated industry include clear-cutting to make way for grows, punching roads that send sediment into streams, and use of fertilizer and pesticides that poison waters. Coho salmon have been listed as a threatened species since 1997, due to loss of habitat from logging, agriculture, urban development and dams, as well as overfishing — issues also addressed in the recovery plan. The highlighting of cannabis stems from a California Department of Fish and Wildlife study that said growers suck millions of gallons of water from salmon streams.
State Fish and Wildlife scientist Scott Bauer is quoted: “Logging is regulated. Vineyards are regulated. It is time this industry was willing to be regulated.” Fortunately, Hezekiah Allen of the Emerald Growers Association is also quoted, saying that regulation is exactly what they want — as long as authorities are willing to work with the growers. “We need regulation that’s going to make sense to the farmers on the ground,” Allen said. “That is also going to achieve the public safety and environmental goals that we all share.”
The recovery plan covers 40 coho salmon populations in the Eel, Klamath, Smith, Chetco and Rogue river basins. This includes the Trinity river, a tributary of the Klamath that drains one of the most remote and rugged parts of Northern California — and one of the parts where there is most fear of criminal cartels moving in on the cannabis industry, squeezing out the hippies and mountain men.
A press release from the Trinity County Sheriff’s Department said that on July 23, officers from the Trinity County Narcotics Task Force and US Forest Service entered an “illegal marijuana garden” in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and “were confronted by two armed male Hispanics.” Deputies ordered the men to drop their rifles, but one suspect “began to raise his weapon” toward the deputies — who of course opened fire. The suspects escaped into the bush, and a manhunt was said to be underway.
Such incidents fuel local fears, with even some of the hippie growers calling for a crackdown on perceived cartel grow ops in the Triangle. The NOAA report will provide another challenge for growers to work out a modus vivendi with federal, state and local authorities. But the biggest challenge remains the herb’s illegal status. Despite the partial daylighting of the industry by California’s medical marijuana regime, this remains at the root both of the uncontrolled environmental impacts and the supposed cartel incursions.