Marijuana farming deforestation in northern California, a Google Earth view (video)

I was watching a very cool video on Mother Jones’ Web site about a guy who used Google Earth to show marijuana farming’s devastating effect on forests in northern California.  Basically, the pot farmers are razing the forest.

So I thought it might be fun to pull up Google Earth and try to find some pot farms of my own in northern California, and what do you know, it’s relatively easy.  I made a quick video of three likely farms I found.  You can easily see how the forests have been cut down for each of the enterprises.  Here’s my video, and after that some more info on how marijuana farms are wreaking havoc with the environment in California.

The LA Times reports that there’s been a negative water impact to the marijuana farms as well:

The marijuana boom that came with the sudden rise of medical cannabis in California has wreaked havoc on the fragile habitats of the North Coast and other parts of California. With little or no oversight, farmers have illegally mowed down timber, graded mountaintops flat for sprawling greenhouses, dispersed poisons and pesticides, drained streams and polluted watersheds.

Because marijuana is unregulated in California and illegal under federal law, most growers still operate in the shadows, and scientists have little hard data on their collective effect. But they are getting ever more ugly snapshots.

A study led by researchers at UC Davis found that a rare forest carnivore called a fisher was being poisoned in Humboldt County and near Yosemite in the Sierra Nevada.

The team concluded in its July report that the weasel-like animals were probably eating rodenticides that marijuana growers employ to keep animals from gnawing on their plants, or they were preying on smaller rodents that had consumed the deadly bait. Forty-six of 58 fisher carcasses the team analyzed had rat poison in their systems.

It’s kind of amazing. You think of pot smokers as being more progressive (I’d be curious if that’s really true – in the poll below you can see that marijuana supporters are more progressive, at least), and then you see the environmental devastation being wrought by this progressive liberalization:

Democrats narrowly oppose legalizing marijuana (48-46) and Republicans overwhelmingly oppose legalizing marijuana (70-25). Yet Independents, including majorities of both Independent-leaning Democrats and Independent-leaning Republicans favor legalizing marijuana for recreational use 71-28 and 53-46 respectively.

UPDATE: A number of folks have noted in the comments that these operations are likely illegal.  They would argue that this is one more argument in favor of legalization – so that the industry could be regulated, and these kind of illegal, environmentally-unsound operations could be put out of business.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • disqus_S69d0Z4xFW

    I know someone who has worked on a pot farm and earned a lot of money doing it. This person says the way this farm operated was legal. the land must have been privately owned and used for it. the workers stayed there and everything. I’m thinking that these illegal operations are done in the middle of forests owned by the state that are supposed to be protected. and they’re doing harm to those environments as a result. I doubt every marijuana farm in California is like that.

  • Lousie Thomas

    In such situations i would like to recommend the growers, How to be an environmentalist marijuana grower , would like to share some tactics mention in the below link.

    http://bigbudsmag.com/grow/article/marijuana-environmentalism-growing-ecology-legalization

  • DMC

    i rather doubt it-clearcuts and mountain top leveling would make it TOO EASY to be seen by Sheriffs planes and Helicopter-ill bet the writer has an agenda against MJ and is probably using the made-up ‘deforestation’ as a covert way of doing this

  • Rudy McGrudy

    It’s too bad the state government does not have a coupld of AC-130 aircraft to handle this situation!

  • htfd

    Deforestation cuts down on the carbon exchange to oxygen, but marijuana is still a plant so carbon exchange is still taking place so there is a trade off. Look what’s happening in the South American rain forest. Oil is killing off any and all plant matter and poisoning the streams and rivers. Is that a good trade off? I think not. Regulation of marijuana field size could be made.

    From the little I’ve read on Hemp, it can grow anywhere. Requires little care and it can be used to make anything that petroleum is now used for and it’s bio degradable, plus does the carbon exchange. It also replenishes the soil. Now that’s a good trade off.

    The US hasn’t had a good land management policy since Teddy Roosevelt. Even Al Gore was lacking in this area. Why take land to put solar panels on when roofs, a part of a house not used for habitation, would be better leaving the ground to plant on,

  • http://www.facebook.es/people/Jim-Morrissey/583382528 Jim Morrissey

    This actually doesn’t look as bad as I thought.

  • UncleBucky

    Or mayonnaise??? or Miracle Whip? Yikes.

  • MyrddinWilt

    The pictures on Google Earth are fairly old, often several years out of date. So these pot farms were likely planted before the decriminalization passed.

    It does not look like the acreage used for the farms is excessive either.

  • Matthew Cunningham

    are looking at very little acreage for these grows less than to or three acres each this is not wide spread clear cuts involving large tracks of timber.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    And because they have to hide the farms, else risk arrest.

    End the need to hide from the Feds and people will be growing it in their back yards — like they used to do in the 1800s.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    First of all, it’s not so much the medical marijuana users but all those folks who want to use MJ recreationally who create the demand and therefore the market for as much as can be grown. Alcohol prohibition failed, and so has the ‘war on drugs.’ People like to muck with their brains to feel good.

    Secondly, if those farms weren’t buried in the woods, the Feds would come along and shut them down, because even in states where it’s ostensibly legal, anybody growing the stuff is at risk of arrest. It’s not like you can just plant a couple hundred plants on a farm in Fresno.

    The other observation I’d add is I’d wager those pot farms found on Google Earth are already gone, moved elsewhere — precisely because if you can find them that easily, so can the Feds and in realtime. It wouldn’t be that hard to build a sustainable in-place MJ farm, but it’s the prohibition itself and the aerial surveillance that prompts the illicit farmers to grow one crop, then move elsewhere and do it again, destroying yet another spot in the woods.

    Finally, as others have already pointed out, the illegality itself attracts the most unsavory types, who don’t really care about anything other than making money. Just like in the original Prohibition (which never really ended).

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    The deforestation results as a result of criminal activity. Licensed growers don’t do that in CA.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Yeah, I searched for a number of the ones in the other video, that you show in your comment – none of the ones I found were particularly large.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Ha, true.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Can you just imagine: a Mac & Cheese flavor? uugggg

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    As soon as the Feds stop interfering in CA’s ‘legal’ business, the sooner criminal Mexican cartels can be put down.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    That’s nonsense and an over generalization. In this county M is regulated and the farms reviewed. It is the dimwitted Federal gov. that is interfering with state’s rights and legal local ordinances.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    “then you see the environmental devastation being wrought by this progressive liberalization:” Because it’s unregulated.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/SI-Reasoning/1031151295 SI Reasoning

    pot growing is still illegal with very harsh sentences, ergo only organized criminals can be successful growing it over an extended period of time, and therefore the lack of concern over the environment and the forests by the growers. Legalize and regulate it and these issues have a better chance to subside.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    Legalize it. Pot farms are up in the pristine hills because that’s where people can’t find them.

    As for that video, I was expecting to see some of the massive farming spots but was struck by how tiny those farms seemed, especially give the amount of non-pot-farm cleared area nearby.

  • UncleBucky

    I want legalization AND micro-grower associations. I DO NOT WANT something like Kraft Foods to dominate that market! ;o)

  • Bill Griggs

    There would be no need to grow it in forests if it was legal, and while Americans may consume tens of thousands of tons of it every year that amount could actually be grown on a very tiny portion of our farm land. There would be no need whatsoever to grow it indoors. Mostly it would be grown in large fields like other crops. Higher grade premium product could be grown in row after row of greenhouses like hothouse tomatoes.

    As it is we have relatively tiny fields of it being grown. It has to be hidden so growers do things like kill trees for it to grow under and so on. They spread their fields out to try to camouflage the pot with other plants. They run lots of hoses for watering plants, make little camps in the woods and leave their trash when they’re done. Often they set up booby traps for people who would try to steal their crops. Unscrupulous growers will use dangerous pesticides and mold inhibitors and so on not fit for human consumption and pollute the land they’re using.

    And think about all that the government seizes. The feds seize something like 2,500 tons of finished product every year. State and local police seize a whole lot. Millions and millions of plants are pulled up every year. Less land would be used if so much wasn’t being seized and if pot farmers weren’t spreading their crops out so much to hide them among other vegetation. If they can produce a thousand pounds of bud per acre then the amount of farm land it would take to supply the entire U.S. demand would only be in the tens of thousands of acres. That may seem like a lot of land until you think about the seventy some odd million acres of corn we grow every year, over 10 million acres of cotton, three million acres of rice. We’re not talking about a lot of farm land here. There’s no need for deforestation.

  • magekillr

    All the more reason to support legalization, John.

  • Bill Griggs

    And the choice isn’t quite that simple because quite a lot of marijuana grown in this country is now grown by Mexican cartels. They produce an awful lot in our national forests and are getting in on the indoor game. Asian gangs that have proliferated in Canada are also making great inroads into the indoor grown marijuana industry in the U.S. Not that there aren’t a lot of little closet grows, but organized crime groups of various stripes produce most of the product on the market. The market is huge, with millions of participants trading in tens of thousands of tons of product every year.

    You can avoid seedy compressed Mexican brickweed but that doesn’t guarantee that you aren’t buying product produced by Mexican organized crime groups or other organized crime groups made up of bad people who do bad things. Unless you are getting it from a grower you know, and rule number one for growers tends to be to tell no one what they’re doing, you’re getting it from a middle man who probably doesn’t know where it comes from up the line, even though he might have a bogus sales pitch. Even if he does know where it’s coming from he’s likely misdirecting those he talks to about the origin of his product. Mostly it’s just fungible product of various grades and people rarely know what variety they’re getting or who is producing it or whether the producers are damaging the environment or using bad chemicals for fungacides, pesticides, etc. That’s just the nature of this black market business.

  • HolyMoly

    This is an example of how sometimes, without intention, certain viewpoints can come into contradiction with each other once put into practice (another example: the Surgeon General issues warnings about the negative health effects of tobacco use, yet the government licenses and subsidizes tobacco farming).

    I am of the opinion that those in favor of legalizing marijuana tend to be progressive, just as those who are environmentally conscious (most probably favor BOTH environmental protection and legalized marijuana). I guess you could say that this has not been thought out entirely (I didn’t realize that deforestation would be the result), but it’s not an insurmountable problem.

    Think of farmers who receive government subsidies NOT to grow certain crops in order to keep prices from plummeting. What if they stopped taking subsidies and instead used their fallow fields for the production of marijuana?

    The crop can also be grown indoors with the proper lighting and temperature controls, and I’m sure there are tons of empty buildings that could be used for that purpose (I know there are more than a few here in Virginia where pot is still illegal, but I’m sure California has the same).

  • Mike Meyer

    Nothing(NOTHING) comes without a price. WE didn’t learn from Prohibition. Couldn’t, wouldn’t,or just didn’t learn those lessons. When ya won’t learn, then what can be done for YOU?

  • Bill Griggs

    This is just one of the many problems caused by this failed prohibition. “Progressive liberalization” isn’t bringing on this environmental devastation. It’s our stupid laws that make it such that unregulated organized crime groups supply so much of the marijuana on the market. Pot smokers just buy what’s available and hope that what they’re getting isn’t being produced by people out wrecking the environment. This has been going on for a long time and will continue to go on until we finally regulate the marijuana industry. According to federal statistics over half of all American adults under 65 have smoked pot. Millions are current users. Americans consume tens of thousands of tons of marijuana every year and have for decades now. It could be grown in a regulated environment on farms like other crops. Many consumers would pay a premium for “certified organic” pesticide free product. Most all would love nothing more than to be able to walk into nice clean shops and select from a variety of quality product produced by tax paying Americans in a regulated environment. It is only a matter of time before it’s legalized and regulated and the sooner we do that the better because we wasting a fortune and doing society far more harm than good trying in vain to keep up this wholly ineffective ban.

  • Mike Meyer

    American grown or support the Mexican Drug Cartels? Quite a quandry, eh.

  • serge

    Wow, this is eye-opening. It’s another aspect to obtaining weed that we’d better think closely about. I think it’s another very good reason to legalize it and regulate its production and not just its sale where it’s already de-criminalized.

  • perljammer

    Of course, just how conscious the pot smoker is, depends on how much pot he’s smoked.

  • sane37

    You’re confusing pot smokers with capitalists capitalizing on the profits from growing and selling canabis. The pot smoker might be environmentally conscious, but the capitalist only cares for profit.
    See how they’re different?

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