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Chris Cantella, cultivation manager at Avalon Wellness Center, tends to his indoor crop of marijuana in the Closed Grow Environment room last March. Cantella, a licensed California general contractor, set up the grow room and installed the high pressure sodium lights, air conditioning and emergency Co2 early warning system at the medical marijuana dispensary.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

Pot flourishes under special lamps in a grow house at a medical marijuana dispensary.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

Assistant grower Roady Cervantes carries a potted marijuana plant in front of a wall of Solis-Tek ballasts, which help maximize electrical efficiency, at the Avalon Wellness Center last March. The ballasts also keep the lights on in the grow rooms and have a safety feature that prevents surges in electrical circuits and prevents breakers from overloading.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

George Unsworth tends to his plants in Mendocino County, where residents can grow 25 if they buy $25 zip-ties for each one from the Sheriff's Department and let a deputy inspect their gardens. Unsworth was one of 12 people to sign up the first year. He says he grows his crop for medicinal reasons.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

George Unsworth rests in the small trailer on his property where he grows marijuana. A spyglass stands at the ready on a tripod so he keep an eye out for unwanted visitors. He also keeps a rifle on hand for protection.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

Aaron Pole, a tribal wildlife technician, walks a log over a creek deep in the forest of the reservation in eastern Humboldt County where Mexican nationals are suspected of growing marijuana. Water from the creek has been diverted to marijuana crops. Pole suspects that environmental fallout from huge marijuana operations is killing wildlife in the area.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

Wildlife technician Aaron Pole surveys the forest where marijuana growers left piles of trash when vacating the area. The operation was raided by the Sheriff's Department in August, and deputies cut down 26,600 plants in eight interconnected clearings along Mill Creek.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

Boots lie abandoned at a campsite used by illicit marijuana growers on reservation land.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

Wildlife technician Aaron Pole checks out an area deep in the reservation forest that was clear cut by marijuana growers.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

A giant Pacific salamander waits on leaves deep in the forest where illicit marijuana operations have been found. The huge pot grows are suspected of killing wildlife in the area through runoff from pesticides, the use of poisons against vermin and the diverting of water from fish habitat -- specifically, coho salmon that the state spends millions trying to rehabilitate.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

Remnants of an illegal marijuana operation that was raided in August are found deep within the forest in eastern Humboldt County.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

A lone car drives down Highway 299 on the road to the reservation in eastern Humboldt County. It's an area where huge illicit marijuana operations are taking a heavy toll on the environment.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

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Environmental impact of marijuana-growing in California

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Environmental impact of marijuana-growing in California

State scientists, grappling with an explosion of marijuana-growing in the North Coast, recently studied aerial imagery of a small tributary of the Eel River, spawning grounds for endangered coho salmon and other threatened fish.

In the remote, 37-square-mile patch of forest, they counted 281 outdoor pot farms and 286 greenhouses, containing an estimated 20,000 plants — mostly fed by water diverted from creeks or a fork of the Eel. The scientists determined the farms were siphoning roughly 18 million gallons from the watershed every year, largely at the time when the salmon most need it.

“That is just one small watershed,” said Scott Bauer, the state scientist in charge of the coho recovery on the North Coast for the Department. of Fish and Game. “You extrapolate that for all the other tributaries, just of the Eel, and you get a lot of marijuana sucking up a lot of water.… This threatens species we are spending millions of dollars to recover.”

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 the state. 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 impact. But they are getting ever more ugly snapshots.


  1. December 22, 2012, 10:23 pm

    I see this as just another reason to legalize and regulate. Then growers would have to abide by the rules just like everyone les.

    By: Guest
  2. December 22, 2012, 11:07 pm

    What a load of refer madness tripe! Why do tomato and pepper green houses not pollute? Because they are legal and regulated.

    Water pollution my my! Hows that Gulf shrimp tasting? Anyone? BP? HELLOOOOO!

    We are witnessing the death throes of prohibition while its advocates make a desperate and frantic last stand, their final frenzy. In years to come, the attitudes that now prevail towards people that choose cannabis will be as politically incorrect as racism, homophobia or denying women the vote.

    By: Polardiscoball
  3. December 23, 2012, 10:06 am

    That double-edged sword is a-swinging

    By: John Rogers
  4. December 23, 2012, 11:08 am

    No better time than now to legalize. When something is illegal it can be neither taxed nor regulated. End the insanity, end the 'war on drugs.'

    By: bbb
  5. December 23, 2012, 3:23 pm

    So basically all of the comments that were posted earlier have vanished?

    I really wish the local media up in Humboldt County would reprint this very important article.

    By: swedefinn101
  6. December 23, 2012, 4:53 pm

    Ugly snapshots are the grape vineyard megalopolises sucking up far more of the watershed.


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