by Victoria Brandon, Redwood Chapter Chair
The Chapter is delighted to report that on our recommendation the Sierra Club has endorsed HR 2735, a measure directing that additional penalties be established for environmental damage caused in the course of the “unlawful production of a controlled substance on Federal property or intentional trespass on the property of another”.
As detailed in the bill’s findings, large scale illegal marijuana cultivation has been found to cause immense damage to wildlands, water sources, and wildlife habitat in many places in California and in at least 19 other states from Virginia to Hawaii. News sources have reported that California’s biggest cash crop may be marijuana, with by far the largest portion being grown illegally under the management of large-scale foreign drug trafficking operations. This illegal cultivation takes place primarily on federal lands managed by the National Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, but other federal, state, and local public lands are also affected, as are private lands that have been taken over without the knowledge or consent of the rightful owner. The adverse effects of these activities include the destruction of large expanses of natural vegetation, the diversion of natural water sources, and the pollution of entire watersheds with dangerous pesticides and fertilizers, some of them so toxic that their use is not allowed in the United States under any circumstances. Wildlife habitat is degraded, and many kinds of animals systematically slaughtered to protect the crop. Even after the growing season ends, harm continues from massive amounts of equipment, trash, and human waste that are left on site post-harvest. In addition, heavily armed growers pose a danger to hikers, campers, and other persons who use federal and state lands.
HR 2735 (which is sponsored by North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman and co-sponsored by Congressmen Mike Thompson, Doug LaMalfa, and Doug Lamborn) explicitly recognizes the existence and severity of this problem, and directs the Sentencing Commission to amend its Guidelines to impose additional penalties when environmental damage takes place. The hope is that extended sentences will act as a deterrent, but whether or not this happens the inclusion of a detailed description of the environmental consequences in federal statute may help shift the lines of discourse on a complex and tricky subject.
Here in Redwood Chapter, which contains the so-called “Emerald Triangle” counties of Mendocino, Humboldt, and Lake, we know all about this problem. A recent letter expressing support for HR 2735 was signed by nearly every environmental organization in northwestern California—except the Sierra Club. Now the Chapter and other affected local entities in California are free to do anything we can to promote its passage — and so we shall.