Pacific fishers, the weasel-like critters that live in California forestlands, have become the latest victim of the U.S. pot war. Over a five-year period, UC Davis researchers found for the first time that 80 percent of dead fishers recovered in remote stretches of the Sierra Nevada had high concentrations of a toxic chemical used by professional pesticide applicators to kill rats.
The dead fishers were found between mid-April and mid-May, the season when marijuana plants are just beginning to sprout the tender shoots that small rodents nibble on.
Illicit marijuana farms in remote forestlands throughout California have long been recognized as a threat to public safety. Innocent hikers who unknowingly wander onto these sites have been attacked by armed growers out to protect their illegal drug operations.
The threat to the environment and to wildlife from massive and increasingly sophisticated marijuana grows is even greater. Pot farmers use powerful pesticides and herbicides to kill rodents and weeds that reduce their yields. Not just fishers, but porcupines, beavers, deer, bobcats and owls have died after eating poisoned pellets or feeding on animals that have eaten the pellets.
The deaths are not pleasant. The poisons cause massive internal hemorrhaging, turning the exposed animal's organs to mush.
Growers regularly dam creeks and divert streams to irrigate their crops.
They chop down trees to clear fields and to provide more sunlight for their plants. After the pot is harvested, growers often abandon the poisons, diesel fuel and other chemicals used in their farm operations. The toxic waste washes into creeks, killing fish and plant life.
State parks officials have raided dozens of marijuana farms on state lands in the last few years and pulled up hundreds of thousands of plants. Even when they raid a farm and pull up the plants, an overwhelmed and underfunded park service frequently doesn't have the resources to clean up the mess growers leave behind.
Tougher regulations may be needed to make it more difficult to purchase the most deadly forms of rat poison, which are available to commercial pesticide applicators and at farm supply shops. As the UC Davis research shows, illegal pot farmers apparently have no difficulty getting the stuff. That should prompt users of marijuana to consider what's in the smoke they inhale.
As for the state and the U.S. Forest Service, both lack the capacity to rid our natural areas of pot farms. That means these places will continue to become collateral damage in a drug war that offers no hope of victory. A recent New York Times Magazine article documented how the federal crackdown on Mexican marijuana smuggling has prompted the drug cartels to increasingly grow their crop in remote parts of California and other Western states -- closer to the markets. Our most pristine areas are doomed to become pockets of illicit drug cultivation unless we can somehow reduce the demand (unlikely) or recognize that current crackdowns on marijuana smuggling are merely shuffling these problems around to different venues.