Hilltops have been leveled to make room for the crop. Bulldozers start landslides on erosion-prone mountainsides. Road and dam construction clogs some streams with dislodged soil. Others are bled dry by diversions.
“In my career I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Stormer Feiler, a scientist with California’s North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board. “Since 2007 the amount of unregulated activities has exploded.” He added, “They are grading the mountaintops now, so it affects the whole watershed below.”
The idea that the counterculture’s crop of choice is bad for the environment has gone down hard here. Marijuana is an economic staple, particularly in Humboldt County’s rural southern end, called SoHum. Jennifer Budwig, the vice president of a local bank, estimated last year that marijuana infused more than $415 million into the county’s annual economic activity, one-quarter of the total.
It is a thriving agribusiness. Derek Roy, a special agent enforcing endangered species protections for the National Marine Fisheries Service, said, “These grow sites continue to get larger and larger.”
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