YOSEMITE – California is one of the largest supplying states of both legal and illegal marijuana. In 2006, it was estimated that 22 million marijuana plants are grown and cultivated in California alone. That number has since grown.
In the Sierra Nevada mountain region there are hundreds of thousands of acres that provide marijuana growers with opportune growing conditions – a beneficial climate, adequate water saturation, and privacy from law enforcement.Yosemite National Park is a significant portion of the Sierra Nevada mountain region and offers marijuana growers even more solitude because of the limited visitation in its wilderness areas.
Some may remember the marijuana bust and arrests from 2007 when thousands of marijuana plants were removed from Yosemite National Park. Over the past few decades, tens of thousands of marijuana plants have been removed from within and around the park boundaries.
As managers of federally protected land, Yosemite’s lead rangers have a strict policy against the growth of marijuana plants within or near the boundaries of the park. Professional or large supply marijuana growers use irrigation systems, insecticides and rodenticides. They also disturb the soil and remove the native plant species in cultivation areas. All of these practices directly violate the laws protecting national parks.
In Yosemite National Park, irrigation systems remove or alter natural water sources in order to provide water for marijuana gardens. The removal of native plant species radically changes the local ecosystems and sometimes causes irreparable damage. Insecticides and rodenticides not only affect insects, rodents and plants, but they also get transported through the soil by flowing ground water and are ingested by other animals, causing them to become sick or to die. Rodenticides have been prevalent in marijuana gardens in Yosemite.
Yosemite is also the home of the Pacific fisher, a weasel species that is close to making the endangered species list. While fishers are protected by most anthropogenic activities in Yosemite, rangers and researchers have found a possible link between marijuana gardens and Pacific fisher deaths.
Charles Cuvelier, Yosemite’s current chief ranger, stated that some of Yosemite’s “deceased fishers have been found with rodenticide chemicals in their system. It’s unknown as to whether the fishers are directly ingesting the rodenticide or ingesting the chemicals through secondary means.”
Pacific fishers’ diets consist of rodents and other small mammals. Researchers are postulating that the fishers are either directly ingesting the rodenticide through drinking contaminated water or are consuming small mammals that have eaten plants sprayed with the chemicals.
“We’ve noticed that deceased fishers are being found in regions that are popular for marijuana cultivation,” Cuvelier explained. The Yosemite Pacific fishers were first recognized in the Park less than five years ago and the Yosemite fisher population is very small, as only a few fisher families inhabit the Park.
Yosemite’s Education Branch, stationed in Wawona, has developed Ranger Programs to educate student groups and visitors about the Pacific fisher and to advocate for their protection. Shauna Potocky, the Education Branch Chief, has acquired a passion for protecting the fisher populations in Yosemite.
While the Pacific fisher is a popular species for conversation in Yosemite (because it is nearly on the endangered species list), the fisher is not the only species in the Park affected by rodenticides. Any species that preys on small mammals and rodents near marijuana garden regions are susceptible to illness and death by rodenticides. This includes larger mammals and large bird species, like owls.
The purpose of the national parks is to protect and preserve all resources within their boundaries, thereby providing a safe haven for threatened or endangered species. However, future research may solidify the proposed link between marijuana gardens and Pacific fisher deaths in Yosemite.
Marijuana growers developing gardens within and near the boundaries of Yosemite National Park are not only breaking strict state and federal laws, but could be playing a part in the endangerment of protected species.