Illegal marijuana farms killing wildlife

fisher

Researchers have found that commercial anti-rodent chemicals present in illegal pot farms are poisoning and killing animals. Among the affected are fishers (animals similar to weasels), which are candidates for the Endangered Species List. Their carcasses have been found near Redwood National Park and Yosemite National Park; 79 percent of them were infected with rodenticides.

Pot farmers use those chemicals to protect their illicit crops, many of which are grown on public lands near the aforementioned parks. The hidden farms overlap with animal habitat, including that of fishers, who pay the price, along with other wildlife including martens, spotted owls, and red foxes.

The study was conducted by researchers from the nonprofit Ecology Research Center, UC Davis, UC Berkeley, the U.S. Forest Service, the Wildlife Conservation Study, and several other groups. It was funded by the California Department of Fish and Game.

Scientists believe the animals ingest the rodenticides by proxy when eating smaller prey. It's also possible they consume the chemical directly, as many used by pot farmers include "flavorizers" added by manufacturers, such as bacon or cheese.

Ninety-six percent of the exposed fishers analyzed by researchers were tainted with brodifacoum, a harmful second-generation rodenticide, which can be lethal after just one ingestion. It can take several days before clinical signs of poisoning appear in the animals.

"Our findings were very surprising since poisoning from these chemicals is typically seen in wildlife in urban settings," said Mourad Gabriel, a veterinary scientist and president of the Integral Ecology Research Center. "In California, fishers inhabit mature forests, national parks, and tribal community lands - nowhere near urban areas."

Pathologist Leslie Woods, of the UC Davis California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System, conducted the fisher necropsies. She remarked, "I am really shocked by the number of fishers that have been exposed to significant levels of multiple second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides," which can cause blood-clotting and uncontrolled bleeding in the affected animals by inhibiting their abilities to recycle Vitamin K.

Less than seven miles from one of the study areas, said researchers, law enforcement officials removed 2,000+ marijuana plants, which were surrounded by large amounts of visible rodenticide.

Gabriel added that fishers in particular are probably an "umbrella species," meaning that their protection ensures the simultaneous protection of other local wildlife, as well. Therefore, "if fishers are at risk, other species are [also] at risk because they share the same prey and the same habitat," he noted.

And the poisons used on marijuana crops are not the only reason they are harmful - nor are animals the only victims. Pot farms significantly disrupt and damage the environment, as well.

In Utah, in order to maintain remote marijuana farms, the Mexican drug cartel is "stealing the land, stealing the water, and growing the plants with total disregard for the environment," explained Frank Smith of the Drug Enforcement Agency.

"Last year alone, 61 national forests were affected by outdoor marijuana grows."

Growers are causing damage in various ways, he stated. They use pipes to pump in water from natural streams, which, in many remote areas, are a scarce commodity in the first place. The criminals also strip sensitive land and stack brush (risking creating wildfires in the process), and leave trash around the surrounding area. And then, of course, there's the rodenticide used on the plants themselves, and that puts people at risk, too.

"All that [rodenticide] trickles into our water table," said Smith. "Then they divert the water, either from wells or ranches or streams, which causes all kinds of ecological problems."

Diverting water is a problem for forest life in and of itself: It disturbs the natural landscape and deprives animals of an imperative survival resource.

The destruction wreaked by these illegal farms really adds up - in a very literal sense.

"The average acre of marijuana that's grown affects 10 acres around it and it costs about $20,000 per acre to bring it back to pristine forest," Smith concluded. "It's an environmental nightmare."

Photo: A fisher. U.S. National Park Service/Wikipedia