Officials: Illegal pot growers are a threat to wildlife
Poisons, pesticides killing animals
Poisons, pesticides killing animals
By RICK ELKINS
Damage done to wildlife and the environment by illegal marijuana growers is causing great concern, especially for officials with the state Department of Fish and Game.
The evidence is growing — pesticides used on illegal marijuana grows may be sickening and killing wildlife. Specifically, a new study documents deaths of fishers, a forest carnivore of the weasel family, in remote forested areas due to rat poisons, but Fish and Game Warden Patrick Foy said the damage goes far beyond one species.
“No question. It’s not just fishers, it impacts all scavengers, all the animals that scavenge on carcasses,” said Foy.
The recent study by UC Davis Wildlife Veterinarian Deana Clifford said there is now evidence that pot grows use large quantities of pesticides and poisons and they have a longtime impact on wildlife.
Tulare County Sheriff’s Department Capt. Mike Boudreaux said his officers have found all kinds of pesticides and poisons at grow sites in the forest. On top of that, he said, they have found remains of wildlife killed by the gardeners.
“We find rattlesnakes that are killed, deer and bears. We find rat poison there that’s to kill squirrels and mice,” he said.
And, what they are finding is not your garden variety poison or pesticide. It is illegal stuff brought here from Mexico.
“These gangs are using that (Mexico products) because they’re more effective,” said Foy. “That’s pretty potent stuff,” he added.
Fifth District Supervisor Mike Ennis pointed out that some of the same chemicals are being used on gardens on the Valley floor as well.
Foy and Boudreaux said the poison is used to killed rodents that eat the yards and yards of plastic irrigation tubing used on the extensive gardens. Ennis said the sheriff’s office pulled out nearly 30 miles of plastic tubing a few years ago.
“These systems are impressive and all gravity driven,” said Foy of the gardens that can contain more than 40,000 plants. This month, the TCSD busted 11 gardens, one which contained more than 30,000 plants. They also found piles of pesticides and poisons as well as elaborate irrigation systems and a lot of garbage.
UC Davis researchers discovered commercial rodenticide in dead fishers in Humboldt County near Redwood National Park and in the southern Sierra Nevada in and around Yosemite National Park. The study, published July 13 in the journal PLoS ONE, says illegal marijuana farms are a likely source. Some marijuana growers apply the poisons to deter a wide range of animals from encroaching on their crops.
Fishers in California, Oregon and Washington have been declared a candidate species for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Fishers, a member of the weasel family, likely become exposed to the rat poison when eating animals that have ingested it. The fishers also may consume rodenticides directly, drawn by the bacon, cheese and peanut butter “flavorizers” that manufacturers add to the poisons.
In addition to UC Davis, the study involved researchers from the nonprofit Integral Ecology Research Center, UC Berkeley, United States Forest Service, Wildlife Conservation Society, Hoopa Tribal Forestry, and California Department of Fish and Game.
“Our findings were very surprising since non-target poisoning from these chemicals is typically seen in wildlife in urban or agricultural settings,” said lead author Mourad Gabriel, a UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Laboratory researcher and president of the Integral Ecology Research Center. “In California, fishers inhabit mature forests within the national forest, national parks, private industrial and tribal community lands – nowhere near urban or agricultural areas.”
It is not just poisons, but insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers that are doing damage as well.
And, pointed out Foy, the damage goes beyond the gardens because all of that makes its way into the ground or area streams — streams that are important to the lives of everything.
The illegal growers are also damming up those streams.
“These guys are drying up creek beds, depriving everything downstream, depriving everything of basic needs,” he said.
Ennis and Foy said it often takes more time to clean up the mess than it does to remove the plants. That’s where the High Sierra Volunteer organization comes in. “Those guys are great. I’m very impressed with what they do,” said Foy of their efforts to clean up the sites that can cover several acres in rough terrain. Ennis said a few years ago the estimate was it cost $11,000 an acre to clean up the illegal gardens.
Denise Alonzo, spokesperson for Sequoia National Forest, said they don’t have the resources to clean up the gardens, so the work done by the volunteers is invaluable.
Foy said it is extremely important to clean up the sites. He cited one instance up north where the site was not cleared of the irrigation tubing and three weeks after the plants were pulled, authorities found a new garden had appeared at the same site.
On top of the irrigation plastic and chemicals is the garbage and feces. “The damage that’s being done is amazing,” said Ennis.
Foy praised Tulare County where he said authorities have been very aggressive in combating the illegal gardens in the foothills and mountains.
“Tulare and Fresno counties have aggressive programs to eradicate these gardens so the problem is not as bad,” said Foy. “Tulare County is ahead of the game.”