Pot farms wreaking havoc on Northern California environment
“It wouldn’t matter if they were growing tomatoes, corn and squash,” he said. “It’s trespassing, it’s illegal and it borders on terrorism to the environment.”
We’ve seen this before and it doesn’t help the situation.
The above headline, from an article in the L.A. Times, December 23rd issue, details the environmental problems caused by water diversions, mega-grows, rat poison, land grading and forest clearing done by pot growers.
Or, more to the point, some pot growers in Humboldt County.
Just last night, at a solstice party attended by many local enviro activists and many pot growers and many who are both, one of the main topics of our discussion around the fire pit was how the hell to deal with exactly the problems L.A.T. author Joe Mozingo details. We have, at best, a few suggested directions to explore and develop. These include various means of education, community pressure and enforcement, in that order of importance. It’s a huge problem, requiring a far more sophisticated understanding of the culture, economics and legalities of growing than most reporters or policy makers will ever be able to come to grips with. Any effective solution will most likely have to originate from within the grower community and marijuana industry, with agencies and organizations following the lead.
But, that’s a separate post. I’m going to take this opportunity to give you all a reason to support my film and to challenge reporters to put their J-school degrees to use.
In the L.A.T. story, Mozingo hints that not all growers are “terrorizing the environment”:
Some farmers on private land avoid pesticides and poisons, get their water legally, keep their crops small and try to minimize their runoff.
That line, from the top of Page 2, is buried in a paragraph detailing yet more environmental horrors of pot growing.
To make it worse, like a slap in the face to those trying to make a difference, the article contains this quote from Scott Bauer, Dept. of Fish and Game biologist: “I started talking to this [grower], and he says he used to be an Earth First! tree-sitter, saving the trees,” Bauer said. “I told him everything he was doing here negates everything he did as an environmentalist.” Seriously, Scott, did this really happen? It sounds so unlikely in reality, but dovetails with the tone of the story. Not only are pot growers greedy, violent and destructive but, in this narrative, environmentalists are as well. In the event that it is a true story, including it does nothing to further public understanding. Oh, but it helps sell papers.
And, so, once again, the public gets an awful picture of marijuana farming on the North Coast, stripped of any nuance or subtlety. When it comes to medical use, legalization, crafting regulations and so on, that is the picture that citizens and officials will have in mind. The subsequent regulations will then sound like they were written to regulate the asbestos or methamphetamine industry.
[late edit] And guess what? They won’t work.
In this sense, Mozingo’s article fits neatly into the Drug War narrative, but with an eco-twist. Pot is not just an illicit drug, it’s un-green as well.
All of us living on the North Coast know that there is a long-established community of responsible growers, from those with a-few-plants-in-the-yard to family farmers to “large” growers (i.e. anyone growing more than you) who are community-oriented and environmentally responsible; who farm organically and improve the private land they’re living and farming on; who don’t use poisons; and who store water (with or without a permit) in the winter for use during the dry months instead of sucking it from dwindling creek flows.
My film is about these people. You can see the trailer by clicking here. They exemplify the heart of the Humboldt pot culture and the family farmer lifestyle. Many people here are afraid of legalization or efforts to regulate medical marijuana growing because those laws will likely be written with the destructive operators in mind, not family farmers.
By showing another side of the grower community here—and, I’d argue, the more traditional side, the one that made Humboldt famous—ONE GOOD YEAR will help undermine the Drug War ideology, the first step to undermining the Drug War itself. This is where I’d like to challenge journalists to pass up the low-hanging, sensational fruit and look for the alternative stories, the ones that don’t fit the Drug War formula; the ones that challenge the dominant narrative and look for solutions.
There is a great story to be written about the segment of the pot-growing community that does it right. Another to be written about how local growers helped turn the tide on out-of-control diesel spills from generators powering indoor grow light systems. There are also the environmentalist/growers, like the ones at the solstice party, actively working out ways to combat the environmental problems caused by greedy, unscrupulous operators.
Everyone who is paying attention knows that it is a complex problem with complex solutions. My film will help break the discussion out of the Drug War rut. Hopefully mainstream journalists will start getting the picture as well. I’m currently raising money for the film’s editing expenses. If you’d like to help with that, contact me. Thank you.
(P.S., the irony of a journalist from Los Angeles writing about environmentally destructive water withdrawals in Humboldt has been duly noted.)
Be sure to read my follow-up to this in the next post “More Drug War Hysteria For The North Coast Part 2”
I have a couple of ways to respond to this, but let’s start with a thought experiment. Here’s someone — Mike Jackson of Rio Dell, let’s say — writing in the spring of 1990:
What do you say to this guy? Is he right to be pissed at the LA TImes for “sensationalizing” timber issues by writing a story about Maxxam?
Thanks for reading my blog and commenting. To be clear, I’m not criticizing anyone for writing about the problems we’re facing here. I’m criticizing the simplistic and confusing way the problems are being written about. That said, while mildly amusing, the comparison you’re trying to make between logging and pot growing is not valid in this case.
Logging in Humboldt began with aggressively destructive practices across an entire landscape, pursued by violent, greedy men who stole land, murdered Native people, destroyed streams, bought governments and crushed unions or those who attempted them. Over the years there have been numerous smaller operations, but the massive clearcutting has largely been carried out by the few large corporations of the day.
In comparison, there never has been a WeedMaxx Inc., or a GreenEmerald Corp. that all growers were beholden to, that owned all the land, that bought-off the regulators, that bought-off U.S. Senators, that was likely in cahoots one way or another with federal law enforcement in attempts to assassinate and discredit protesters, and so on. Nor was the Humboldt timber industry ever made up of thousands of small-parcel-owning loggers who are now embroiled in controversy because newcomers have left behind the industry founders’ ecological, sustainable, community-oriented counter-cultural value system and practices.
Further, the most rapacious practices of the timber industry were—and many still are—legal and permitted. When citizen activists and professional organizations try to change these regulations, they run up against the economic and political power of corporate monopolies who control the California Department of Forestry, who have bought off the likes of Senator Feinstein, gagged the Dept. of Fish and Game and so on. Activists and concerned citizens trying to do something about the destructive actors in the pot biz are not having to hold sit-ins at CDF in protest of the lax pro-rodenticide regulations that WeedMaxx Inc. bought through their connections in Sacramento and Washington D.C.
The comparison you’re trying to make is simply not there, from any direction.
What I’m trying to do with my piece is point out that we face a unique situation here: we’re trying to change the behavior of a diverse mix of good and bad actors, networked in a diffuse black market economy, spread across an inaccessible landscape, almost completely beyond the reach of regulation and enforcement, with a community steeped in decades of don’t-ask-don’t-tell social norms. Throw in some percentage of paranoid, armed growers and a foreign “cartel” here and there just to make it even more difficult.
There is a lot of work to do and it will require informed and intelligent discussion, not
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The rest of my response, mostly things I was too tired to write last night, got so extensive that I’ve made it into a subsequent post. See “More Drug War Hysteria For The North Coast, Part 2“.
I’ve never seen rat poison at my spot, or any of my friends. I have made no new roads, the made plenty on these properties in the logging days. All my water is collected over winter when there is excessive run off and no spring touched after January. A simple investment of a large water bladder. I cut one tree down this year, only because it was a danger. Work with the land, don’t force it to do what you want. I’m just one of thousands who do/feel this way. If only everyone knew the true story….but I guess that’s not fun to hear. Rather than curse the darkness, it’s better to just light a candle.
Exactly. And those “other” stories, the ones that aren’t spectacular or sensational, need to be told. If you haven’t, check out my documentary trailer. You’ll see that presenting this view is what I’m doing. Or, rather, what the film participants are doing and I’m just enabling through my filmmaking. Trailer is here http://vimeo.com/56136277
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