The Pine Marten Becomes The Latest Species Threatened By Cannabis Farms
If the pine marten is doing poorly, that means the surrounding ecosystem is suffering too.
The Humbolt pine marten is a very cute, very fierce rodent that lives in the evergreen forests of northern California and southern Oregon, foraging for honey, stalking prey, and generally chillin’ out. Now, thanks in part to cannabis cultivation in the Emerald Triangle, it might be joining California’s endangered species list, The Guardian reports.
Apparently, anticoagulant rodenticides used by the area’s numerous private grows—legal and illegal—are entering the food web and, ultimately, the martens. Martens love to eat smaller rodents like voles and squirrels. If they snack on contaminated critters, they can die from, as The Guardian so gruesomely says, “uncontrollable internal bleeding.” Spraying crops you intend to sell to patients with rodenticides is disgusting in and of itself, but when you throw in the collateral damage to the environment—pesticides are also endangering spotted owls and likely killing California’s wild salmon—these practices are pretty unconscionable.
“It’s like they all shop at the same grocery store,” Mourad Gabriel, co-director of Integral Ecology Research Center told The Guardian. “And we have clear and stark evidence that the food web for the northern spotted owl is contaminated, and martens live in the same habitat.”
There’s also the matter of simple habitat reduction. The pine marten needs deep forest environments with plenty of felled trees and dense undergrowth to provide it cover from predators. The sheer number of cannabis farms in the area has cut into its habitat. The Guardian puts the number of farms between 4,000 and 15,000 grows on private property, above and beyond whatever uncounted illegal grows are operating on public lands.
Previously, the Humboldt pine marten was thought to be extinct. It was rediscovered in 1996, but populations are believed to be in the low hundreds, with 100 in Oregon and 200 in California. In California, trapping the martens has been banned since 1953, when the state began to notice a population decline, but Oregon still permits it. Shortly after California decided to consider adding the marten to the endangered species list, six advocacy organizations in Oregon submitted a formal petition to add them to Oregon’s list.
And all this fuss over the pine marten isn’t just because it’s maybe cuter than the red panda. A 1982 report by California’s Department of Fish and Game, “Status of the Marten in California,” notes “the importance of the marten as an indicator species of forest habitat quality.” In other words, if the pine marten is doing bad, the whole damn forest is doing bad.
That the cannabis industry is implicated as a cause is disheartening, of course, but also a potent argument in favor of legalization. If the marten does obtain endangered status, licensed and regulated cannabis farms will be required to prove that their operations don’t impact it negatively.