The Great Wilderness Garbage Patch

December 6, 2018 / General
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The Great Wilderness Garbage Patch

Above: Working with biologists from the Integral Ecological Research Center (IERC) as they perform research and forest restoration on habitats damaged by trespass growers. This site had a huge amount of carbofuron-based insecticide, a neurotoxin that will kill everything in a local food web. The trash-pile included large propane tanks and hundreds of pounds of fertilizer.

There it is again. That same question about why I’m making Altered State. “What’s the problem with marijuana – wasn’t it just legalized?”

Advocacy groups would like to think legalization just fixed everything. Heck… I would like to think the same thing. The truth is not everybody in the cannabis business is conscientious and responsible. Sadly, the majority of weed grown in California is done so at the expense of the environment. 

I was back in the Hayfork, CA area again last week. Once again, the Integral Ecological Research Center (IERC) teams had coordinated a large-scale, one-day clean-up effort. How large? Roughly 10,000lbs large. For the record, that effort does not mean they are cutting and hauling plants. That heavy lifting (accomplished by helicopter), is pulling out trash that trespass growers have packed into their gardens. 

It goes something like this. An industrious group of entrepreneurs (trespass growers) find a piece of land in a remote area of public lands. They are looking for a constant water source (a pristine mountain spring, stream, or river), and well-hidden slope that can be modified (selectively clear-cut) to let in just enough sunlight to sustain as many plants as they can grow. Once identified, they cut a trail, and begin terraforming the land. First they want to kill as many living things in the food web as possible, so they poison the plants and insects with a deadly insecticide (often containing concentrated “carbofuran”, a chemical banned in the US). The insects and plants are distributed among the “primary consumers” that in short order and large numbers, die. They are eaten by the secondary (scavengers) and tertiary consumers (large carnivores; bears, coyotes, and mountain lions). In about thirty days, every insect, bird, and mammal is dead, the land is cleared of those annoying garden raiders and camp wreckers. 

All the while, a team of these entrepreneurial criminals are hauling in propane tanks, and stoves, camping gear, more chemicals, food, and sometimes miles of plastic irrigation tubing. Whatever stream they’ve identified as their water source is either dammed up, or diverted to a hand-dug, plastic lined cistern, and gravity fed through the tubing and drip lines to hundreds, thousands, and sometimes tens of thousands of plants. In a controlled environment, a greenhouse for example, growers can manage six gallons of water per plant, per day. In the mountains, because it’s less precise and there’s “unlimited water”, they’re blowing through nine gallons per plant/day. Multiplied by 10,000 plants, that’s millions of gallons over a garden’s cultivation cycle. 

Now I need to pause for a second. I’ve been into four or five of these sites now, I’m a novice. But in complete disclosure, I have to say, these growers pick some of the most brutally difficult locations in our public lands. The trail requires side-hilling so steep you can stand straight up, put your hand out and touch the dirt above you. It’s not the going down that’s so hard. The coming back up, and for this old filmmaker, that’s been the biggest wake-up call yet. Say what you want, this kind of gardening is being done by some of the hardest working guys in California. 

When a law enforcement raid finally occurs, and the entrepreneurs are shut down in these sites, all of the infrastructure is left behind until another day when a crew can get in there and haul out the trash. 

There are thousands, possibly tens of thousands of successful grows that made it through the season last year without any pesky enforcement teams. They hauled in the infrastructure, diverted streams, introduced nitrogen via fertilizers and laundry detergent downstream, choking off anything living under the shade of the algae bloom, and have killed any animal within acres of their plots as they continue to add pesticides to the water supply and spray on the plants. After harvest, they haul out their crop, and leave thousands of pounds of trash along a now-worthless water source. 

So. Tell me. Has legalization fixed this? In 2017, estimates of 10 million pounds more marijuana was grown than was consumed, a number expected to increase… the black market must be alive and well. 

I want to share what I’ve seen and heard first-hand, and now just begun to film. The stories are also out there about the growers who do love the environment enough to care for it as though it were their own. We will go there too. 

Before we do, let’s get on the same page… our public lands are worth protecting. I’m convinced that if trespass growers were allowed to run amuck, it would not be safe to hike for fear of assault-rifle-wielding environmental criminals. It would not be safe to drink, or even touch the water. And, the forest would become a festering garbage patch within five years. 

Let’s make a film. I need your help. Please sign up to support Altered State, the documentary here at the “contact” page.