Welcome to Habitat Forever. We are a grassroots group dedicated to addressing the extinction crisis, especially through the protection, restoration and expansion of habitat. We also encourage the exploration of more compatible ways of living in habitat.
We are in the midst of the largest extinction crisis, since the Cretaceous Extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. Habitat loss is the number one cause of extinctions. Converting, fragmenting and degrading habitat must stop.
Our first campaign addresses the expansion of the marijuana industry in habitat. We are based in Humboldt County California, where the ongoing green-rush inflicts tremendous damage in vital habitat. We are pro-legalization and pro-habitat. The industry as a whole needs to change under legalization, starting with the realization that a major agricultural industry should not be located in habitat. When you start by chopping down a swath of forest, you are damaging habitat and harming wildlife, no matter what your subsequent actions may be. California’s permit process has failed to address the impacts of land clearing on forest habitat and terrestrial wildlife.
How Humboldt Pot Harms Wildlife and Degrades Habitat
Land clearing in forest habitat, for marijuana cultivation, reduces animal populations and species diversity. It fundamentally degrades the quality of a significant portion of the remaining habitat. These effects cannot be mitigated. While some of the ecological impacts of marijuana cultivation have been exposed, the effects of land clearing on terrestrial animals has not yet received the attention it deserves. Wildlife biologists Scott Bauer and Mourad Gabriel both reference land clearing in forest habitat, identifying it as harmful, but their main focus is on water use and rodenticides. It is time to look at the impacts of land clearing.
Humboldt County has some of the best wildlife habitat left on the coast of California, and gives refuge to many species that have dwindled in numbers elsewhere, due to habitat loss from development. The land where marijuana is being cultivated in Humboldt, has the same wildlife values that we find in our parks and National Forests. It is just as damaging to cultivate marijuana in Humboldt’s forest habitat, as it is to cultivate in the National Forests. As of yet, California’s marijuana regulations have ignored this damaging impact.
When a grower decides to cultivate marijuana in forest habitat, the first act is to clear the desired area of all the native vegetation. All of the trees are chopped down, and the shrubs and herbaceous plants removed. Then the land is bulldozed to remove the roots and level the steep ground. This is a very destructive act, in and of itself. For many small animals, that area was the sum total of their home range. Animals that are too small or too slow to flee the onslaught are killed. Babies in the den or nest are also at risk. Land clearing also harms the soil ecology and destroys native earthworms.
These marijuana clear cuts were formerly an integrated part of the forest habitat. Now these scars on the land are holes in the habitat. To understand the impact, look at it from an animal’s perspective. That hole is in the home range of a number of different animals. A home range is the area an animal travels to find what they need to survive and reproduce. It is where they find food, water, denning and resting spots, and potential mates. The clear cut formerly had vegetation, insects and rodents, that were food for many other animals. It also had denning and nesting sites. Now there is a significant deficit in the home range of many animals. To compensate for the decline in food availability, many animals will need to enlarge their home range. Since all of the available land has been utilized prior to the marijuana clear cut, this enlargement has a ripple effect. Other animals have to enlarge their home range as well. With larger home ranges, only a smaller population can be sustained. Keep in mind that there has been a huge growth in the number and size of these clear cuts in the last decade, from around 4,000 to 12,000. Also keep in mind that enlarging a home range means that an animal has to expend more energy just to survive.
This reduction in food availability, is exacerbated by marijuana cultivators war on woodrats. Woodrats are native rodents that are an important prey species for many carnivores, including weasels, ringtails, foxes, bobcats, numerous owl species, and even mountain lions. Woodrats are attracted to marijuana plants that grow in their home range. Most cultivators kill woodrats preemptively. Rodenticides are obviously the most damaging method, but traps and cats have a negative impact as well, by reducing the number of prey species available to native carnivores. A reduction in prey species leads to enlarged home ranges. Enlarged home ranges leads to a smaller population.
In addition to decreasing populations of animals, these marijuana clear cuts degrade the quality of a significant portion of the remaining forest habitat. This negatively impacts animal diversity. The area around the clear cut is impacted in every direction out for a hundred meters, or about the same distance as a football field. This area has been turned into edge habitat. Edge habitat is not as prime as forest interior habitat. It is sunnier, drier, warmer, and windier. Edge habitat experiences more dramatic environmental fluctuations than the forest interior. When wind and sun dry our the forest edge habitat, it reduces the abundance and diversity of insects and other invertebrates. These are important food species for many animals.
Forest interior habitat is sheltered from the influences at the edge. It is moister, and gives more protection from predators as it has more complex vegetation structure. Larger trees and snags provide food and denning sites for numerous species. Many species depend on forest interior habitat for breeding, or for food, or both. Many songbirds, especially those that nest on or near the ground, need the protection found in forest interior habitat. Some of the species that are associated with forest interior habitat are douglas squirrels, Humboldt flying squirrels, townsend chipmunks, northern spotted owls, northern saw whet owls and pileated woodpeckers. The Pacific fisher and Humboldt marten depend on forest interior habitat. They need the canopy cover and brushy undergrowth that protects them from larger predators, while providing excellent habitat for the rodents that they hunt.
Why is this important? Because we are in the midst of the largest extinction event since the Cretaceous Extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. Since 1970, the Earth lost 58% of its biodiversity, according to the Living Planet Report of 2016. Here in California, we rank #1 in the United States, for species diversity, but also #2 for species at risk, and #3 for extinctions. We must do better. Many species in California are in decline. It is a mistake to wait until a species is critically endangered before we act to protect them. Since habitat loss is the leading cause of extinctions, protecting quality wildlife habitat, such as the forest habitat of Humboldt County, needs to be a priority. Humboldt holds great promise as an area that fosters animal abundance and diversity, but only if we act to correct the harm of the green-rush. Since the harm to wildlife and habitat from land clearing cannot be mitigated, California needs to show environmental leadership, and limit the size and number of grows that it will permit in Humboldt’s forest habitat.
Marijuana should be grown in ecologically appropriate locations such as pre-existing agricultural land and near population centers, where prior development has already lowered wildlife values. To educate the public about the environmental cost of Humboldt marijuana, we’ve produced a micro-documentary called Humboldt is Habitat.
What can California do to remedy this crisis? California’s legislators and regulators can limit the size and number of grows that can receive permits in habitat, and they can allow large grows (in ecologically appropriate places) NOW, not five years from now. California needs to put the black market out of business.
Humboldt in the news: “The image of the happy hippie cultivating the land doesn’t exist anymore.”
Contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.