The Bureau of Land Management's Northwest California Regional Advisory Council (RAC) met last Thursday, Feb. 21, at the Inn of the Lost Coast in Shelter Cove to discuss plans and projects for the coming year.
The council includes 12 members representing diverse interests including recreation, environmental groups, the timber industry, transportation, local government, Native American tribes, and the public at large.
Among other topics, Arcata field manager Lynda Roush gave a presentation on illegal marijuana grows on BLM lands.
The BLM employs special agents who take the lead in identification and enforcement, inspecting grow sites and determining whether the site should be eradicated and cleaned up immediately, or whether it would be better to gather evidence for a criminal case against the growers.
BLM law enforcement rangers do surveillance and support the agents once the course of action has been chosen.
Immediate eradication and cleanup occurs when there are public safety issues. It is usually done in collaboration with other agencies, such as the county sheriff's department and, when necessary, federal agencies and the National Guard.
Although it eliminates the immediate hazards, eradication is often ineffective as a long-term deterrent. Growers may return to the same site the following season.
The BLM is currently working on a case in the King Range that has created extensive resource damage because of the terracing of the site.
Ukiah field manager Rich Burns said that in his district BLM staff is planning a cleanup of nine sites. The Cow Mountain area east of Ukiah is particularly notorious for illegal marijuana grows, many of which he characterized as “international” in nature.
Although most people think of “Mexican cartels,” persons from many nations have been caught at these grow sites, Burns said, adding that the word “cartel” has fallen out of favor as a description of the criminal organizations that sponsor the grows.
Both Roush and Burns emphasized that the problem is with the environmental impact of the agricultural activity on resource lands and not with the crop being grown. “If someone was growing tomatoes it would be just as bad,” Roush said. “It's illegal to grow any crop on public lands.”
But they acknowledged that the illegality and high economic value of marijuana leads to agricultural practices with severe impacts, including intense use of toxic substances and alteration of the land.
These large marijuana grows are “not like a cornfield. They're more like a spiderweb,” said Burns, describing small plots scattered over wide areas, interconnected with water lines.
The BLM has funds earmarked for restoration. These were originally intended to pay for cleanup of old mine sites, and support only the costs of equipment and supplies, but not personnel costs.
The Ukiah field office, for example, has about $150,000 specifically set aside for cleanup. If that is not adequate, they have to use funds that could be used for other programs and projects.
But removing infrastructure such as water pipes from cultivation sites does discourage growers, Roush said.
The BLM's efforts have also pushed most of the activity away from roads and public access, Burns added. Workers have to haul materials in and products out on foot, and water has to be drawn from sources a long distance from the sites. In some cases BLM agents have found pipelines running for miles from a source to a grow site.
Speaking for themselves as individuals, council members generally agreed that legalization would make the BLM's job easier, but they did not want to make this an official recommendation.
One member suggested that BLM staff should prepare a “white paper” with all the data on this subject to give to public officials.
The RAC also discussed the process to revise the Northwest California region's Resource Management Plan (RMP), which identifies best uses for the many different resource lands within the BLM's jurisdiction.
The Northwest California region's last RMP was completed in 1994 and then revised after the federal Northwest Forest Plan went into effect in the mid-1990s. The Northwest Forest Plan established special rules for the range of the Northwest spotted owl. All BLM lands in Humboldt County fall under this designation.
BLM works with “partners,” including private industry, to manage many different kinds of use on lands within their jurisdiction. The RMP is intended to identify the best use of each area including forestry and grazing, recreation, environmental protection, reserves for sensitive plant and animal species, minerals, and energy.
Revision to the current RMP is in its earliest stages, development of the preparation plan, which was described as the “plan to plan.” This means determining the methods and timeline for the actual planning process. Once the preparation plan is approved, the Northwest Region can apply for funding from the national BLM budget.
Northwest Region staff hope to begin actually revising the RMP in the 2014 fiscal year. The process will include gathering public comment.
During the morning session, two residents of Southern Humboldt addressed the RAC about the need to set aside some land in Humboldt County for off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation.
The SoHummers pointed out that there is currently no public land in Humboldt County set aside for this popular activity, which would not only provide recreation for local citizens but would be a draw for tourists that would enhance the local economy.
BLM's Northwest Region includes 25 million acres of federal land from the Canadian border to Marin County. The Arcata field office covers 200,000 acres in Humboldt and northern Mendocino counties, including the 60,000-acre King Range National Conservation Area and the 7,500 acre Headwaters Forest Reserve.
For more information, go to BLM's website, www.blm.gov. Click on California on the U.S. map at the bottom right of the home page. On the California page, click on the area you are interested in learning about.
For other inquires, contact the Northwest California Region's public information officer, Jeff Fontana, at email@example.com or call him at (530) 252-5332.
BLM's Arcata field office covers 200,000 acres in Humboldt and northern Mendocino counties, including the 60,000-acre King Range National Conservation Area, shown here, and the 7,500 acre Headwaters Forest Reserve.