Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Research Update: Cultivating a Potential Ecological, Economic and Social Disaster

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Research Update: Cultivating a Potential Ecological, Economic and Social Disaster

Article excerpt

The costs and challenges of marijuana on public lands

Federally managed lands (i.e., the National Park Service [NPS], United States Forest Service [USFS], Bureau of Land Management [BLM], etc.) serve a variety of purpos- es, including sustainable use (recre- ation, timber, etc.) and conservation. A pressing threat to these lands is ille- gal and rampant marijuana cultivation (Marijuana sativa). Although this issue is not new among the many challenges facing public lands, in 2012 the United States Attorney's Office (USAO) stated that illegal drug production on pub- lic lands "pose[s] a safety threat to the public and an environmental threat to the land and to wildlife, [and that] the problem is severe" (USAO 2012). This declaration is partially attributed to the substantial increases in marijuana cultivation on public lands in the last two decades. For example, marijuana plants seized annually on public lands increased from less than one million in 2004 to 2.6 million in 2009. Within a three-year period, 49,105 metric tons of marijuana were confiscated on Califor- nia's public lands alone (Miller 2012).

As a result of these increases, recent eradication efforts have resulted in more than $1.45 billion in marijuana seizures on public lands across seven western states. During the summer of 2012, ap- proximately 67 percent of all marijuana plants captured in the west occurred on public lands (USAO 2012). However, successful seizures represent as little as 15 percent of estimated production efforts on public lands (National Drug Intelligence Center 2012). These data reveal the enormity of an issue that of- ten under-resourced land-management agencies must constantly confront. Consequently, marijuana cultivation threatens the sustainability of public lands, causing grave ecological, eco- nomic and social impacts.

Ecological Impacts

To increase production capacity, mar- ijuana growers often expose sunlight and clear arable land by removing en- demic flora that land managers aim to protect. Furthermore, individuals in- volved in marijuana cultivation often divert streams to irrigate their crops and frequently introduce harmful ro- denticides and insecticides indiscrim- inately. As a result, these toxic prod- ucts contaminate local watersheds by polluting streams and damaging sen- sitive riparian habitats (Murphy 2001, National Drug Intelligence Center 2005). Additionally, cultivators reside at grow sites for extended periods of time and irresponsibly dispose of household litter, human waste, irriga- tion lines and large stores of federally banned fertilizers (USAO 2012).

Economic Impacts

Economically, near-park commu- nities often have high reliance on well-managed public lands (Eagles and McCool 2002), and this reliance can be jeopardized by marijuana cultivation. For example, some visitors or commercial operators may be discouraged from using a specific protected area due to the presence and per- ceived danger of illegal activity. The economic impacts stretch well beyond near-park communities, as cultiva- tion activities place unforeseen burdens on many agen- cies' budgets. For example, the National Park Service estimates that for every acre of marijuana cultivation, approximately 10 acres is damaged with an estimated restoration cost of $11,000 per acre (National Drug In- telligence Center 2005). …

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