Illegal cannabis cultivation in our forested lands has never been as prevalent as it is today. The cumulative impact of the tens of thousands of grow sites across our forests and wildlands are of concern because of public safety and environmental impacts. The negative environmental impacts of “gorilla grows” range from water diversions, water pollution, the poisoning of wildlife, litter, vegetation removal, and erosion issues. In California, the environmental impacts of cannabis cultivation have been further exacerbated by drought conditions, compounding the impact of less water and higher temperatures for already vulnerable species and ecosystems. While only a limited number of scientific studies have been produced, there are hundreds of news articles on the topic, many of them highlighting the impacts to water and wildlife. It is estimated that the water demand to grow cannabis from both illegal and legal grow operations exceeds the amount of available surface water in many watersheds (Bauer et al. 2015). The use of rodenticides to deter grazing have poisoned wildlife and have pushed the Pacific fisher even closer to extinction (Gabriel et al. 2013; Thompson et al. 2014). Illegal grow operations also produce a significant threat to public safety as armed growers protect their grow sites.
The South Yuba River Citizens League (SRYCL) began working on understanding the impacts of cannabis cultivation in the Yuba watershed in 2013 with the formation of a Marijuana as a Watershed Issue committee. The committee recommended that SYRCL begin working on combating the impacts of illegal grows in our public lands as well as providing education and outreach on environmentally friendly growing techniques in order to further protect our watershed.
The three main goals of this work are:
- Establish a working group of stakeholders who can work together within the watershed to combat this issue,
- Provide site assessment and remediation resources to those already working in the field, and
- Identify opportunities for volunteers to help with the clean up efforts.
This work is supported by the National Forest Foundation and is in partnership with the US Forest Service.