The extremely dangerous pesticide carbofuran is turning up on illegal cannabis farms in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. According to experts, a single teaspoon of carbofuran is poisonous enough to kill a full-grown bear. But bears aren’t the only part of the Sierra’s delicate ecosystem that are at risk.
Forest officials say they’ve detected traces of the deadly chemical in streams and rivers, in soil and in animals both living and dead. And the origin appears to be a network of illegal grow sites hidden among a rugged stretch of the Sierra National Forest in Madera County. Law enforcement say the sites support about 6,000 cannabis plants, and the pesticide carbofuran is visible on their leaves.
“Web of Death” Pesticide Used on Illegal Cannabis Farms
On Monday, U.S. Forest Service agents raided an encampment adjoining several cannabis grow sites at Dutch Oven Creek in the Sierra National Forest. The forest in the surrounding area had been clear-cut by the farmers, and cannabis plants were growing in the clearing. Amid the camp’s bed frames and sleeping bags, officials found bottles of fertilizers and hazardous chemicals.
One of the bottles contained the ultra-toxic pesticide carbofuran. “It’s a web of death that happens,” said Mourad Gabriel, an ecologist who tracks the environmental impacts of illegal grow sites and leads a team that cleans them up. In addition to the contamination from chemicals and fertilizers, Gabriel says that clear-cutting, stream diversion and water consumption all threaten the forest ecology.
“These are federal lands, and they are being systematically destroyed through clear-cutting, stream diversion, chemicals and pesticides,” said U.S. Atty McGregor Scott. Scott will prosecute the criminal case against two of the farmers police apprehended during the raid Monday.
Legalization Cuts Down on Environmentally Destructive Grows
The remote areas of the United States’ national and state forests are popular locations for illegal cannabis farmers and drug traffickers. In fact, illicit grows in Oregon, Colorado and California feed the bulk of the illegal market’s supply. And their unregulated use of pesticides and fertilizers, clear-cutting, terracing, water consumption and wildlife poaching create real and lasting environmental damage.
So reducing illicit forest grows is an urgent demand. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution: legalization. Even though the unregulated, illicit cannabis market still dominates, legal, regulated markets are starting to make a serious dent in illegal cultivation. One recent study identified how recreational legalization significantly lowers the number of illicit grows reported on national forests. So does reducing taxes on cultivators and processors.
The illegal cannabis farm at the Dutch Oven Creek site, for example, was poaching at least 5.4 million gallons of water a year to grow 6,000 plants. And that’s just one illegal farm. With California facing water shortages and unprecedented dry seasons, diverting water toward more responsible uses is extremely important. “Water is the most important issue in California, and the amount being used to grow an illegal product in the national forest is mind-boggling,” Scott said.