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Cannabis farms kill owls in California

The northern spotted owl. photo: USFS Region 5 (Pacific Southwest)
The northern spotted owl. photo: USFS Region 5 (Pacific Southwest)

Strix occidentalis caurina, the northern spotted owl, is a threatened species, so logging has been forbidden on millions of acres of federal land in California, Oregon and Washington since the 1990s, devastating local economies. This owl would oppose the legalisation of cannabis. Such birdies are dying from rat poison dispensed at thousands of unpermitted cannabis farms in the counties of Del Norte, Humboldt and Mendocino in northwestern California, the so-called Emerald Triangle where cannabis is grown.

Traces of rodenticide were found in seven of 10 northern spotted owl carcasses collected by scientists from the University of California, Davis, and the California Academy of Sciences as part of a study published on Thursday 11 January 2018 in the journal Avian Conservation and Ecology and funded by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Barred owls have been struck, too

Barred owls use the same space and resources as northern spotted owls but are larger and more aggressive, leading to a decline in the population of the latter, so as many as 3,600 were killed in a four-year experiment that began in 2014. Barred owls have been similarly affected, with rodenticide showing up in 34 out of 84 stiffs – more than 40 percent. Rodenticide reduces the ability of a body to clot blood, making unchecked internal bleeding more likely. It also kills pets and sickens children. Mice and rats are attracted to cannabis plants, which are aromatic, and chew the base of the stems, so growers set out to poison them. These are owls’ main food source – 70 to 80 percent in the case of the northern spotted owl and 40 percent for barred owls.

This is a struggling species that many conservationists have spent decades trying to save from extinction, this is

Mourad Gabriel of UC Davis, who led the study, remarked that spotted owls, “this struggling species that many conservationists have spent decades trying to save from extinction,” tend to feed on forest edges, which are cleared for the planting of cannabis farms. Now that California has legalised cannabis for both medicinal and recreational purposes, there will be more of them. There are, the state estimates, already 50,000 in California – more than 90 percent of the US total. Legal growers are more likely to use greenhouses for better product control. Illegal growers employ fertilisers and pesticides that have been banned in the United States for years.

Looking at Humboldt County, there are between 4,500 and 15,000 cannabis farms, but only a handful – eight to 13 percent – are subject to government oversight. Gabriel fears that with “only a handful” of biologists covering several counties, there are insufficient conservation measures in place. Cannabis farms are in the frame because there were no nearby urban or agricultural areas.

How to solve the problem

Cannabis farms aren’t entirely bad for the environment: they absorb four times as much carbon dioxide as trees. Consumers generally prefer legal suppliers, as the legal system can be used in disputes over quality, service and payment. One way around the problem would be for consumers to pay more attention to where their dope comes from.

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