Environmentalists say proposed cannabis grow rules fail to protect wildlife
Four environmental groups have faulted proposed state rules for commercial cannabis cultivation for failing to protect imperiled species, including the reclusive Pacific fisher, from rodent poison frequently used at unregulated grow sites.
The Center for Biological Diversity, a national conservation nonprofit, and three allies filed a 36-page comment alleging numerous shortcomings in the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s draft report on the proposed standards for growing legal marijuana.
In particular, the groups said, the standards fail to protect wildlife — fishers, foxes, eagles, owls, bobcats, raccoons and others — from harm that comes from eating poisons or rodents killed by toxins.
Federal and state regulators, as well as University of California researchers, have documented the impact on wildlife from the rodent poisons dispersed at illegal pot gardens to prevent damage to plants and irrigation lines.
“We can’t allow the expanding pot industry to snuff out imperiled wildlife like Pacific fishers,” said Jonathan Evans, environmental health legal director for the center.
The proposed standards represent “a real lost opportunity” for California to be a national leader in setting appropriate rules for cannabis cultivation, he said.
The state department’s 484-page report asserted that “adverse effects on wildlife due to rodenticide use” are “less than significant” and therefore require no mitigation measures under state environmental law.
The report cited guidance from the state Department of Pesticide Regulation in suggesting that capsicum oleoresin, the active ingredient that makes chili peppers hot, and other nontoxic repellents be used around marijuana plants instead of rodent poison.
But that stops short of a prohibition on the use of poisons that Evans said are readily available at farm, feed and hardware stores.
“The best thing to do is to be explicit about what you are prohibiting,” he said.
A Pesticide Regulation memo in 2013 noted the U.S. Forest Service had cleaned up 335 illegal marijuana grow sites in California’s national forests, removing 300 pounds of pesticides, including rodent killers. It also said more than 200,000 pounds of rodent poison containing blood thinners were sold or used in California each year from 2006 to 2010.
The memo concluded that rodent killers “present a hazard” to wildlife.
The fisher, a relative of weasels and otters, is about the size of a large house cat with short legs and a long bushy tail.
Despite its name, the fisher neither eats fish nor lives by the ocean. Its California population, estimated between 630 to 1,200, ranges from Mendocino County to the Oregon border on the North Coast and in the Sierra Nevada.
Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, said in an email there is no reason to use rodent poison in cannabis cultivation, noting that growers in his group have been operating without if “for generations.”
The fatal impact on wildlife, he said, is primarily associated with “criminal grows” on public lands or trespassing on private property.
“Unfortunately these growers are not likely to respond to regulations as they have no intention of complying with requirements or moving into the regulated system,” Allen said.
Law enforcement should crack down on pot crops on public lands, and groups like the center should educate cannabis consumers about “the cost of buying unregulated product,” including “significant harm to natural resources,” he said.
The environmental groups’ comment challenged other portions of the state report, including the assertion that legalization will move cultivation within the law without expanding the size of the crop.
Disputing the claim of an essentially stagnant industry, the comment noted that marijuana acreage in the Emerald Triangle doubled following the move in 2010 to reduce possession of an ounce of pot from a misdemeanor to an infraction, similar to a traffic ticket.
The public comment period on the Food and Agriculture Department’s proposed cannabis cultivation rules ended July 31.
Steve Lyle, a department spokesman, declined to comment on the center’s criticism regarding rodent poison. The agency is now reviewing all comments, as required by state environmental law, and each one will “receive a response” in the final report, he said in an email.
Joining the Center for Biological Diversity in its comment were three other nonprofits: the Environmental Protection Information Center in Arcata, Sequoia Forestkeeper, a defender of Sequoia National Forest in Kern County, and Preserve Wild Santee, a San Diego County conservation group.