Cannabis cultivation is shaping up to be a massive financial boon for the state of California, but both legal and illegal grows are posing a serious risk to the state’s natural forests and wildlife. A new report by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has recommended that the Humboldt marten, a cat-sized mammal related to otters and minks, be listed as a threatened or endangered species due to its natural habitat being threatened by pot cultivation.
Cannabis is currently completely legal in the Golden State, but that hasn’t stopped a thriving black market from growing an estimated 11 million pounds of weed a year, much of which is being trafficked to states where pot is still illegal. Unhampered by the state’s tough new regulations on cannabis cultivation, black market farmers often use cheap, federally-prohibited pesticides and rodenticides, and often fail to properly clean up their grow sites at the end of their harvest.
The toxic runoff from these grows has been seeping into the state’s forests and waterways, and at least one species of mammal is now being threatened with extinction. The Humboldt marten, which lives on a diet of rodents, birds, fruits, and reptiles, once thrived in Northern California forests, but decades of trapping, wildfires, climate change, logging, and urbanization destroyed the animals’ habitat and decimated their population.
Even legal cannabis grows are threatening these little creatures, as acres of natural forest are bought up and cleared to make way for new, state-licensed cannabis facilities. “The extent to which land clearing for legal and illegal cannabis cultivation will contribute to future Humboldt marten habitat loss and degradation is unknown,” the report said, according to CNN.
The number of Humboldt martens declined so thoroughly over the late 20th Century that the animal was thought to be extinct. But in 1996, the Center for Biological Diversity reported that a small population had been discovered on national forest land in Northwestern California. It is currently estimated that fewer than 200 of these animals survive in California today, and this number is under constant threat from cannabis cultivators and other forest-clearing developments.
The California Fish and Game Commission will evaluate the Fish and Wildlife Department’s request to grant the martens endangered status. In the meantime, U.S. Attorney for Eastern California McGregor Scott announced he was leading a $2.5 million offensive against illegal pot grows across the state, in full partnership with state law enforcement.