SciSun: High Hopes   Leave a comment

For a few weeks, everything seemed hopeful. The California Drought – a devastating lack of rain and snowfall leading to deletion of ground water sources – was enjoying slight relief last November and December when rain, and light snowfall, looked like the drought could be ending, or at least lessened, if the winter snows would appear as normal. But now, following a winter that has left some mountain areas with no snow at all, the drought – effecting not only California but neighboring states and, through loss of fruit and vegetable crops, the entire United States and much of the world – has become more severe than in any of its preceding three years, leading to drastic measures to reduce water use and find ways to make what little water there is go as far as possible. Of course this means cutting down on any non-essential water use: Parks and playgrounds could loose their lush green (and non-native) lawns; decorative fountains, swimming pools and spas could be turned off; and even the politically untouchable golf courses could be forced to lower their water use from a few thousand gallons of water a week, to a few hundred. But in a surprising discovery, it might not be the obvious water-users that are exploiting this scarce resource; it’s a search for easy profits and fast cash based upon, of all things, an escape some turn to as way to forget the problems of today’s world.

Since 2009, many states and local governments have decided to legalize marijuana (Cannabis sp.). In 2010 California joined this trend, allowing the plant and it’s derived products to be grown, sold and used on a limited basis. This is a question, like many difficult and important questions, that should be thought about by oneself and we’re not here to discuss the pros or cons of these decisions; but the results of these decisions as they impact the natural environments we all share has become a growing concern that’s leading to water waste, harm to wildlife, and even making it dangerous to visit lands that have been set aside for all to enjoy.

In a study based upon stream flow and the health of watersheds – the area of land that’s affected by the water that flows through an adjoining stream or river – California State Environmental Scientists found that of the streams monitored, for the first time ever seen, all but one did not carry sufficient water flow to support water needs of the surrounding environment – the water necessary for plants, animals, and to keep the soil healthy. The water, it seems, was being diverted by illegal marijuana farms, greenhouses, and random ‘gardens’ deep in the forests, hidden from view away from major trails, and only discovered because of the water research. While it is legal to grow marijuana in California – in limited amounts with the proper permits and approvals – it’s not legal to grow unlimited amounts; and never in State and National Forests; open-space public lands; and even National Parks, where illegal growers have been found.

These little guys, the Pacific Fisher, are being killed by poisons set around illegal marijuana farms.

These little guys, the Pacific Fisher, are being killed by poisons set around illegal marijuana farms.

But, there’s a huge market for the plant, and lots of people eager to take advantage of wide open spaces and not enough rangers and wilderness wardens to watch for everything. Just like the gold rush of 1849, today there’s another type of gold in ‘them thar’ hills – it’s just green, not yellow. And just like the ’49’ers who left their mark, literally, by digging, trenching, blasting, and washing away entire hills for a just a few nuggets of gold ore, today illegal marijuana growers are clearing native groundcover, leaving the area open to wildfire; setting traps and poisons to keep away unwanted animal and human visitors; posting armed guards within our public lands; and bleeding irreplaceable water away from its natural cycle, all in efforts to protect their ‘investment’.

The good of the many, it’s been said, is more important than what benefits the few. We would hope that water and other resources would be best used to cultivate California agricultural land, normally the source of food that feeds millions, rather than in support of an opiate which sacrifices native plants and animals – including endangered species; that scars and leaves long-lasting effects on our environment; and could deprive us of an irreplaceable natural and historic legacy; rather than toward the benefit of those whose only regard is a few more dollars in their pocket. But maybe those hopes, are just too high.


Michonne Says: This mary-juana doesn’t sound very nice. I wonder why the men want it to grow? And it doesn’t have any flowers or anything I know of so it can’t be very important. Men do strange things.

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