Saturday, December 28, 2013
Last winter I was fortunate to do a multi-day float down one of California's most historic steelhead and salmon rivers, the Eel. Although we never felt a pull, it was an amazing place to be and at the same time very disheartening viewing the devastation man has caused to that ecosystem. There were many hillsides where you would look up and see evidence of deforestation from the logging industry, which subsequently loosened the fragile soil and sediment that has found it's way into that river. To just say the siltation in that river is bad is in fact a huge understatement. The tent I used on that trip still has Eel River silt in it that I've deemed near impossible to eradicate. It's wild how quickly a solid rain can muck up that system. I recall a different trip in which I was fishing a run on the Eel, it started to rain, and by the time I finished the run the river had completely gone chocolate.
Although the effects of logging in that area are still being felt, there is a new epidemic looming and already making its presence felt in the State of Jefferson. It's pot farming. Growing marijuana in the emerald triangle isn't a new phenomena by any means, but it appears in recent times to be skyrocketing, and there are estimates that there is $7 BILLION worth of marijuana coming out of that area.
With the avenue of Prop 215 passing in 1996 legalizing medical marijuana and the subsequent growth of marijuana culture, there is a huge demand for the product. With that comes also an increasing number of people wanting to become suppliers (i.e. illegal and/or legal growers) and an influx of Mexican cartels growing in the area as well. Check out this video and it will show via Google Maps just a small sample of how many farms are popping up in the last few years.
Albeit is a tempting way to make a substantial amount of money and it can be done in a relatively short season, it is creating huge detrimental effects on the ecosystems in which the crops are farmed. Pesticides and fertilizers used for growing can get into the systems resulting in poisoned water. Road and farm clearing ands more to the already terrible siltation problem. Irrigation lines placed in small spawning tributaries can sometimes suck up so much water that it leaves it dry. Not to mention the inherent danger of working one of these farms. Do a quick search on marijuana murders in the area and you'll find a treasure trove of violent stories. There's money in this product and many are more than willing to risk their lives for it.
So what needs to be done? Like anything, there are always two sides. If marijuana and marijuana farming is legalized in California, it would be an interesting unfolding of events. From a simple economic standpoint, by legalizing it, commercialized interests would get involved, produce the product on a large scale, and subsequently the price would plummet. If this did happen, one would believe that these Mexican cartels and local farmers wouldn't continue their small-scale farms due to the fact that it would not make financial sense for them and they would no longer see the exorbitant profits they once enjoyed. What would happen if things remain the same and marijuana is still illegal? For starters, there is hope that maybe the market will soon become saturated by itself due to the already increasing influx of farming and the price of pot will plummet on it's own. Then again though, where is that proverbial point at which supply greatly exceeds demand and starts causing a huge price decrease? And then once that happens, do these farmers just up and stop producing marijuana? One thing is for certain though, marijuana use and farming is ingrained in part of the culture in the emerald triangle. Legal or not, those types of people will always continue to grow. It's hard to tell what the future holds for both the marijuana industry and steelhead in that area. I guess only time will tell. Undoubtedly though, this is a beautiful area and it needs to be protected.