Game warden's job description expanding; lack of water has become big concern

The life of a game warden has changed dramatically in the last few years. Shane Embry from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife (formerly the Department of Fish & Game) was the guest speaker at last week's Garberville Rotary Club.

Embry grew up in Arcata and always wanted to return to Humboldt County. He spent time as a game warden in Monterey County waiting for the opportunity to move back up here. When Larry Bruckenstein retired in 2010 after many years working, living and raising his sons here, Embry put in for the transfer and the rest is history.

Embry spoke very highly of Bruckenstein and said he had some big shoes to fill. Embry said Bruckenstein probably spent 150 percent of his time enforcing laws and keeping an eye on hunters and fishermen to make sure they took care of the wildlife and the land.

But Embry said his job description has completely changed since then. Using Google Earth Embry showed one commercial marijuana site with 40 greenhouses that were each approximately 100 feet long. Although he couldn't say exactly where the operation was located, he did say it was in our area.

The photo showed where creeks had been backfilled that went right through the middle of the property. A large log-deck was located on one portion of the property, and the entire area had been clear-cut to accommodate the greenhouses. Large mounds of used soil are also common at these kinds of sites.

After walking down one creek, he said there was evidence of large quantities of vermiculite and other additives used to grow marijuana along the banks and in the creek. The used soil is washed down the creeks causing other biological damage.

After receiving a call of a fish kill in a local creek, Embry drove to the location where he noted carcasses and some remains of dead fish. He said wildlife had drug off and eaten a lot of them, but the evidence was still visible.

Embry decided to do a survey of some of the people living on one of the area's rural roads. He polled about a dozen people and when asked where they got their water, the most common answer was, "From a spring. I don't pump water out of the creeks or rivers."

Embry said that obviously this has just as much affect on the fish as pumping water right out of the creeks and rivers. Water which was destined to end up in the tributaries doesn't make it there, causing the creeks to dry up earlier in the season than they would normally. And with the drought-like conditions we are facing this year, it will be much worse in the months to come.

Information provided by the Humboldt Growers Association says that approximately six to seven gallons of water are used per plant, per day for a 100-day growing cycle. And this is what concerns Embry. These huge marijuana operations are literally draining our creeks.

A member of the audience asked why it is the large environmental organizations Humboldt County is so well known for don't publicly condemn these practices. He said they would scream and yell and protest if a logger tried to cut down some trees or put a temporary road in, but don't say anything about entire mountaintops being leveled and destroyed.

Another member said we are all ignoring the giant elephant in the room in that we all profit from the marijuana industry.

Embry also said his job has become even more dangerous with the rapidly increasing use of methamphetamines. He said he has noticed more and more use of these drugs and more violent behavior.

He said, "I would much rather approach a deer hunter with a rifle, than knock on someone's door who has been using meth and is probably armed as well."


Shane Embry from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife with Garberville Rotarian Seth Johannesen.