Illegal crops pose environmental and safety risks – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News
While cannabis has been legalized in Oregon since 2016, growing cannabis on public lands, such as national forests, remains a serious problem. These “intrusion grows” are exploited almost entirely by cartels, exploiting natural resources, poisoning wildlife and posing a danger to outdoor enthusiasts. While most of these operations have historically been located in the national forests of northern California and southern Oregon, they span both public and private lands, as is the case in the Josephine and Jackson counties, where hundreds of greenhouses now cover land throughout the valley. The health consequences couldn’t be worse.
The intrusions and growth of illegal cartels weigh heavily on our environment. Cartel growers remove native riparian vegetation essential to many species of wildlife and illegally siphon waterways. Using water indiscriminately, they are drying up key habitats and playing a role in the extinction of native salmon. As has been shown, they also engage in extensive human trafficking and violence.
In California, it is estimated that each year, trespassing producers divert enough surface water to supply the annual water budget of 50,000 residences. The per capita diversion rate is likely similar in Oregon, which shares the Klamath-Siskiyou ecosystem and a multitude of special-status species. In Oregon, every drop of our water matters, especially in times of drought. Water for residential and agricultural use is an integral part of rural livelihoods and is currently being stolen by upstream intrusions.
Not only are water sources depleted, but they are also contaminated. These crops routinely use EPA-banned pesticides, including Carbofuran — the deadliest carbamate pesticide manufactured in the world, and one that law enforcement has confirmed has been found in Josephine and Jackson counties. .
In recent years, growing intrusions have caused large wildfires, destroying homes, lives and watersheds. According to research by NBC News and the Cannabis Removal on Public Lands Project, trespassing crops have burned a minimum of 285,000 acres on California public lands, costing billions in removal efforts. We are a wildfire intrusion of a million acre landscape fire that will destroy communities and destroy public lands for generations.
Firefighters and law enforcement are reporting clashes between armed growers and the weaponization of deadly pesticides, including carbofuran (a quarter of a teaspoon of which can immediately kill a 600-pound black bear). Carbofuran’s combustibility makes it even more dangerous in a hot fire, where it could be inhaled by firefighters.
Congress must act. Bipartisan members of Congress are now working to increase enforcement and cleanup efforts on public lands. The 2022 House of Natural Resources budget increases funding for the Forest Service, which includes directive language acknowledging the problem of growing trespass and mandatory action. It is critical that the US Senate, and in particular Senator Merkley, who chairs the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, show leadership and affirm these increases and directive language in the budget reconciliation. The growth of trespassing on public lands is a clear and present danger, and bold and swift action is needed to protect our land, water and environment. The legacy of Oregon’s wild lands is at stake.
Jackson County’s Rich McIntyre is the director of the Cannabis Removal on Public Lands Project (CROP).