Why Reward our County's Pot Predators?

In recent years, Humboldt County’s marijuana industry grew exponentially in size and destructive impact. Dubbed the “Green Rush,” greed and disregard for the environment prevailed. In an effort to assert local control over the marijuana industry, Humboldt County recently issued a draft Medical Marijuana Land Use Ordinance. As written, however, the draft ordinance would grandfather in, and sanction much of the damage inflicted during the “Green Rush.” Even so, the Board of Supervisors bemoans the proposed regulations as too onerous for growers. This absurd stance makes clear exactly whom the supervisors aim to represent. Otherwise, why reward the local growers who expanded during the “Green Rush?” Why reward people who came here from across the country, and around the world, to take advantage of prohibition prices and Humboldt County’s lax law enforcement? These people looked at Humboldt County’s forested mountains, which offer vital habitat to wildlife, and only saw money. These people chopped down trees, opening up giant holes in the forest canopy. They scraped away native vegetation, exposing great swaths of bare soil. They bulldozed roads and diverted streams to water their grows. Why reward this tremendously damaging activity with county permits?

To hear the supervisors talk, these permits have the magical ability to transform and mitigate the environmental damage done to Humboldt County. In reality, there is no mitigation for land conversion and habitat fragmentation, except to let it grow back. Granting permits to all of these grows, would simply sanction the damage.

The proposed medical marijuana cultivation ordinance possesses numerous flaws. First, it allows grows on land zoned agricultural exclusive and rural residential, without differentiating. While zoned to allow agricultural use, rural residential parcels are typically forested or otherwise covered in native vegetation functioning as habitat. We should strictly limit marijuana cultivation in habitat, while encouraging cultivation on real farmland. Secondly, the ordinance allows grows far too big for habitat. The larger the holes in the forest canopy and native vegetation, the greater the fragmentation and degradation of the habitat. It doesn’t matter what size the state laws allow. Those laws weren’t written by ecologists seeking to protect habitat from land conversion. Similarly, Humboldt County’s zoning laws and draft Medical Marijuana Land Use Ordinance reflect political pressure and economic desires more than ecological concerns. Finally, there are no limits given to the number of permits the county would grant. This dangerously overlooks the tremendous cumulative impacts of the current grow sites. The Planning Department was unable to tell me how many parcels are zoned to allow agriculture, and are therefore eligible to receive permits, but I estimate it to be in the tens of thousands. Without strict limits to grows placed in habitat, this ordinance would not only sanction current damage, but also encourage greater growth and destruction in the future. It’s also worth noting that the greater the number of permits, the less likely any one of the grow sites will actually be inspected. So much for oversight.

In light of the importance of protecting Humboldt County’s habitat from rampant development, I am asking the Planning Department to strictly limit the total number of grows on rural residential parcels. I also ask that no permits be granted to grows larger than 2,000 square feet on rural residential parcels. Larger grows on agricultural exclusive parcels are fine, and should be encouraged, to shift the industry out of habitat. I ask you to make the same requests yourself, by sending comments to slazar@co.humboldt.ca.us by Wednesday, Nov. 4. Whether you care about habitat and wildlife, or you simply don’t want to see the large growers given yet another free pass, this is an issue that deserves your attention. You don’t have to live in the hinterlands of Humboldt County to be affected by the marijuana industry. This industry affects the character of the county as a whole, both ecologically and socially. Allow a limited number of growers who have demonstrated care and restraint to move into the regulated medical market, and tell the others they are not welcome to continue. For far too long, the economic benefits of this industry have been exaggerated, while the ecological and social damage has been downplayed. Let’s not encourage an irresponsibly large industry in Humboldt County’s vital habitat.

This opinion piece by Amy Gustin, resident of Ettersburg and host of “The Living Earth Connection” and co-host of “Wildlife Matters” on KMUD, was published in the Eureka Times Standard, 11/2/2015.