Daily Archives: July 27, 2013

Toke This: The Unexpected Effect of California’s Pot Farm Explosion on Wildlife

By Tracy Ross, NatureEnvironmentCalifornia

Medical marijuana may be California’s next gold rush, with farmers tending to valuable plants worthy of sale by real-life Nancy Botwins. In just one remote 37-square-mile patch of forest in Northern California, for instance, researchers conducting aerial surveys recently counted 281 outdoor pot farms and 286 greenhouses, containing an estimated 20,000 pot plants. The crop, say proponents, helps patients suffering with everything from arthritis to leukemia (and multiple self-diagnosed ADD-sufferers this writer knows to “focus better to clean the house”).

But recently, several California wildlife researchers reported that pot farms are wreaking havoc on wildlife ranging from endangered salmon to black bears to a rare Northern California weasel called the Pacific fisher. 

“There are [growers] that care,” Scott Bauer told TakePart, “who are doing things like capturing winter flows [to offset their need for siphoned water]. But this activity is so large that it’s not enough. There are people coming from all over America to grow marijuana. They’re here to get in on the action—the so-called Green Rush. But when it’s legalized and the bottom drops out, they’ll be gone and we’ll be left with the problem.” 

In a recent L.A. Times story, scientists said that grow ops near just one small tributary of the Eel River were siphoning up to 18 million gallons of water from the river’s watershed. That water is crucial for species like the endangered Coho salmon as well as Chinook Salmon and steelhead, all of which swim up the Eel tributaries to spawn. According to Scott Bauer, the state scientist in charge of the Coho salmon recovery on California‘s North Coast for the Department of Fish and Game, both juvenile Coho and Chinook spend a year or two in a stream before beginning their long swims back to the Pacific Ocean.California is currently in a drought, says Bauer, which is already contributing to stream dry-up. Add in pot farm siphoning, and Bauer says, he is “getting reports, almost daily, that fish are dying.” 

Yet water siphoning is just one impact of the California cannabis boom. The L.A. Times also reports that growers are guilty of several other infractions normally associated with logging, mining, or drilling. “With little or no oversight, farmers have illegally mowed down timber, graded hilltops flat for sprawling greenhouses, dispersed poisons and pesticides, drained streams and polluted watersheds,” reports the paper. “Growers are pumping pollutants like fertilizers, soil amendments, miticides, rodenticides, fungicides, plant hormones, diesel fuel, and human waste into the watershed.” 

Mark Higley, a wildlife biologist on the Hoopa Indian Reservation, told the Times that growers have been using a particularly lethal form of pesticide, called Carbuforan, to kill bears and other animals that raid their camps. Deadly to humans in small doses, the pesticide requires a special permit from the EPA. “But [the growers] are mixing it up with tuna or sardines and the bears eat that and they die,” Higley said. 

TakePart was unable to find the exact number of bears that have succumbed to the poison. But we’ve learned that the Pacific fisher, a rare forest carnivore and smaller cousin of the wolverine, may have been hit even harder. 

Researchers from the University of CaliforniaDavis, told the L.A. Times that the weasel-like animals were probably eating rodenticides that marijuana growers use to keep animals from gnawing on their plants. They reported that 46 of 58 fisher carcasses they analyzed had rat poison in their systems. Mourad W. Gabriel, a scientist at the University of CaliforniaDavis, told The New York Times that the contamination began when marijuana growers in deep forests spread d-Con to protect their plants from wood rats. Scientists have also found d-Con in at least two endangered spotted owls

From the sound of it, there’s no end in sight to the assault on the environment and wildlife by the new agribusiness. Which is ironic given many pot smokers’ (and growers’) professed love of all things wild.

Lake Shawnee Angler Catches Alien Fish

KDWPT advises anglers who catch exotic fish to not return them to water

An unidentified angler landed quite a surprise at Lake Shawnee in Topeka Sunday, July 21, when he hauled in a silver arowana, a primitive freshwater fish native to the Amazon River Basin in South America. Often kept as aquarium pets, arowanas do not belong in Kansas waters. The fish was about 20 inches long and was likely released into Lake Shawnee or upstream by someone who could no longer care for it. Sold as youngsters, arowanas can grow to 2 feet long or more in captivity and can quickly outgrow their aquariums. They grow to nearly 4 feet long in the wild. Arowanas are aggressive and carnivorous, and they may eat other aquarium fish.

Jessica Howell, aquatic nuisance species coordinator for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism (KDWPT), cautioned that people should not release aquarium animals into the wild. “It’s against state and federal law to release any exotic species into Kansas waters, and new regulations also make it illegal to dump any fish into waters where they don’t originate,” she said. “Responsible aquarium owners never release anything, including water, plants, snails and fish into a stream, pond, lake, ditch or storm drain.”

The angler who caught the fish asked Torrey Bevans, who was fishing nearby, for help. Bevans photographed the fish so it could be identified and correctly advised the angler to not return the fish to the lake. The fish died on the bank, although it took some time, as arowanas can get oxygen by drawing air into their swim bladders. Bevans visited a KDWPT office in Topeka on Monday to report the catch and share his photos.

Howell said Bevans gave the correct advice. “If you catch an exotic fish, do not return it to the water. Instead, let it die and photograph it or put it on ice for later identification by a KDWPT biologist. If you own exotic fish, visit ProtectKSWaters.org for suggestions on responsibly handling unwanted aquarium specimens so you don’t break the law.”

With sharply upturned lower jaws and eyes high on the sides of their heads, arowanas are specialized for feeding at the surface where they pick off insects, small fish and other animals. Two barbels (“whiskers”) on their lower jaws help arowanas sense movement and locate prey in murky water. Sometimes called monkey fish or water monkeys, they are spectacular jumpers in their native waters and can leap up to 6 feet out of the water to catch birds, snakes or frogs.

For information on aquatic nuisance species, visit www.ProtectKSWaters.org 

Lovewell State Park to Host Annual Fun Day August 3

For the price of a daily park permit, visitors at Lovewell State Park can enjoy outdoor activities to keep the whole family entertained

Lovewell State Park staff, in conjunction with Lovewell Marina, will host the 2013 Lovewell Fun Day, Saturday, August 3. The annual event, which runs 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m., will kick off with a 5K walk-run and all-new 10K walk-run, open to all ages. Registration for the walk and run will begin at 7 a.m.

Following the race, there will be a co-ed mud volleyball tournament starting at 10 a.m. Pre-registration is required for the tournament and must be turned into the state park office no later than August 1. The cost to participate in the tournament is $20 per team, with a 10-team limit.

For those interested in more family-oriented activities, visitors can enjoy a minnow race at 10 a.m., a sand pile treasure hunt at 11 a.m., a rock-paper-scissors tournament at 12 p.m., and a log race at 2 p.m. The Just-For-Fun Waterslide will also be open from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

All events are open to park goers of all ages and require no pre-registration, with the exception of the mud volleyball tournament. A vehicle permit is required to enter Lovewell State Park. Daily permits can be purchased for $5.00, annual permits for $25.00.

For more information, contact the Lovewell State Park office at (785) 753-4971.

Timely information for ‘bluebird landlords’

by SeEtta Moss

Birds & Blooms Birding e-newsletter

When someone puts up a bluebird house they become a ‘bluebird landlord.’ The North American Bluebird Society’s Facebook page provides information needed on a timely basis to be a good ‘bluebird landlord including the following important information (headers and emphasis are mine):

Bluebird Monitoring TipBy Day 13-14, males have bright blue feathers. STOP ACTIVE MONITORING NOW to avoid premature fledging, unless you suspect a problem. You can still check the box from a distance to verify that the parents are feeding the young. One way to tell they are at this age is that the parents tend to only dip their heads into the box to feed (but may still enter to remove fecal sacs. Females have white edging on outer tail feathers.   
By this stage, babies are strong enough to cling to the entrance of the nestbox to look out. They have a narrow ring of white feathers around each eye, and their breasts are speckled with gray.

Mealworm & suet precautions:  Natural food is plentiful in most areas of the country this time of year and should make up the primary source of nutrition for wild birds. Supplemental foods such as mealworms and suet mixtures should be offered in limited amounts, if at all, as baby birds need the nutrition of insects and berries for their bodies to be healthy and strong. Supplemental foods can be helpful during extended periods of rainy weather (when insects are not available) and during the colder months when natural food sources are scarce. Supplemental feeding also depletes calcium from the diet of egg-laying female birds. resulting in weak, thin-shelled eggs. If you do feed suet or mealworms to your wild birds, please limit the amounts so that they can also obtain necessary nutrients from natural food sources.

The North American Bluebird Society has a great webpage with lots of information about bluebirds including a number of ‘Fact Sheets’ with plans for bluebird houses, mealworms, monitoring and more.

Are you a ‘bluebird landlord’ this year?

Morphing Chicken Pathogens Behind House Finch Deaths

Scientific detective work has partially reconstructed how a bacteria causing respiratory illness in domestic poultry jumped to the wild House Finch population and morphed to cause an eye disease, killing at least half the population of that songbird in eastern North America. Wesley Hochachka, assistant director of Bird Population Studies at Cornell’s ornithology lab, talks about the importance of understanding how diseases evolve and jump to new hosts.

Hochachka says: “Even a zombie apocalypse needs a good backstory, because no disease emerges out of thin air. Learning these backstories is important because we expect that the same general process of disease emergence will occur repeatedly.

“One of the major causes of new diseases is when a bacterium or virus switches hosts. For a new disease to emerge this way, the pathogen must physically travel between different host species and likely also mutate genetically so that it can reproduce and spread in the new species.

“All the lineages of bacteria that have successfully spread in House Finches can be traced back to a single progenitor. The descendants from this progenitor traveled from east to west across North Americaand adapted to changing conditions by becoming either more or less virulent.

“These results do more than reveal the origins of the House Finch eye disease – they show that it is often easier than people think for a disease organism to come into contact with one or more potential new hosts, with emergence of new diseases limited by the ability of pathogens to adapt to new hosts.”

NOTE: This research, from a collaboration that includes the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

More at: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/