Backcountry Drug War
March 31, 2017 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Backcountry Drug War The drug war is just nuts--and I wish I could work in it if this is how it goes.
posted by Barbariolio (14 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Fascinating read. It sounds like one possible avenue would be to run down the source of the poisons used, which can't be bought at your local Home Depot.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 12:35 PM on March 31, 2017 [2 favorites]


Fascinating and grim. I had no idea:
Some 50 different toxicants have turned up at grow sites. (“Toxicants” are manmade poisons, while “toxins” are naturally occurring.) Growers use the poisons to keep rodents and other animals from eating the sugar-rich sprouting plants, from gnawing on irrigation tubing, and from invading their campsites in search of food. Acute rodenticides cause neurological damage and internal bleeding. Animals literally drown in their own blood or stumble around until they’re eaten themselves, passing the poison up the food chain to predators like owls and fishers.

Growers bait open tuna cans with pesticides, which are often flavored like meat or peanut butter, or string up poisoned hot dogs on fishhooks. People have found bears, foxes, vultures, and deer with chemicals from grow sites in their bodies. One study of barred owls (Strix varia) in the Pacific Northwest found that 80 percent of the birds tested positive. And for every animal found, there are probably dozens more in a similar condition.

“It’s a massive problem,” says Craig Thompson, a wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service. “People don’t tend to grasp the industrial scale of what’s going on. There are thousands of these sites in places the public thinks are pristine, with obscene amounts of chemicals at each one. Each one is a little environmental disaster.”
Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 12:46 PM on March 31, 2017 [8 favorites]


What a nightmare, capitalism at work.
posted by Oyéah at 1:22 PM on March 31, 2017 [3 favorites]


I am a relatively new Californian and an even newer "outdoors-y" person; we moved here in 2009 and I went camping for the first time in my life a couple of years later. It didn't take long for the beauty of the landscape and the glorious solitude it offers to get its hooks into me, and these days I get a little twitchy if it's been too long since I last went hiking.

Before I moved here, stories like this one would have made me sad in a very abstract, disconnected way, like any story of environmental degradation or animal suffering would. Today, it reads like a tragedy; I can't help but take it personally, even though I know how foolish that sounds.

I feel fiercely protective of these breathtaking public lands, and so very angry that short-sighted drug laws are part of what's causing their destruction.
posted by jesourie at 1:38 PM on March 31, 2017 [9 favorites]


I grew up in the mountains of California in a house with no TV, and so spent many hours hiking with no trail and therefore stumbling into illicit pot farms (some planted by my neighbors and father) and getting away with it, mainly because I was a kid. Guys would come out with guns, and one time a man made us all go in his barn (I was with neighbor kids- none of us over 11) and sit for a while and gave us cokes, but nothing beyond that. I think he was mainly confused.

Environmental damage aside, reading about stuff like this is terrifying too, because it takes away the safety of the forest that I felt as a child.
posted by evelvenin at 1:48 PM on March 31, 2017 [7 favorites]


It's an interesting article, but there is plenty lol-bad science reporting in there:

Farmers in Kenya have used [carbofuran] to kill lions.
Maybe don't rely on the citations in the wikipedia article on carbofuran to pad your story.

bromodialone, a restricted-use neurotoxic rodenticide
Bromadiolone is an anticoagulant.

malathion, an organophosphate insecticide that’s basically a watered-down version of the nerve agent sarin
This one, no, that's not how chemistry works. Yes, they act by the same mechanism, they inhibit the enzymes that allow your nervous system to function properly, but sarin is an outlawed chemical weapon and malathion is a very widely used pesticide. Malathion is safe enough to topically apply on your children. Like comparing marijuana to heroin, it's only done by the deeply misinformed or those looking to scaremonger.
posted by peeedro at 1:52 PM on March 31, 2017 [15 favorites]


Interesting that despite the mentions of Prop 64 and how much it will raise, the article doesn't cover the fact that 20% of the revenue from Prop 64 will go to ecological remediation to fix exactly these types of problems. The revenue is being used to undo many of the harms of the war on drugs, explicitly including the environmental harms from the war on drugs.
posted by gingerbeer at 4:33 PM on March 31, 2017 [3 favorites]


Guys would come out with guns, and one time a man made us all go in his barn (I was with neighbor kids- none of us over 11) and sit for a while and gave us cokes, but nothing beyond that. I think he was mainly confused.

And here I was waiting for the second season of Stranger Things. Thanks for the awesome story!
posted by valkane at 4:40 PM on March 31, 2017 [2 favorites]


I first learned about this a decade ago while hiking in I think Sequoia, but maybe it was King's Canyon. We came out of a week long backcountry trip to find our exit trail blocked by some military-types with hefty guns, and a copter overhead. We had no idea what was going on and were a little worried about society itself.

Instead we ended up worried about all the damaged land (and the stupidity of our drug policy).
posted by nat at 7:14 PM on March 31, 2017


I know field biologists who carry guns, not because of wildlife but because of the dangers of walking into illegal grow operations and backwoods meth labs. Even in a state with legal weed, there are enough barriers to big agriculture getting into the business (which would drop prices and increase quantity immediately) that illegal grow operations keep happening. It's sad, and not going away any time soon.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:20 PM on March 31, 2017 [1 favorite]


“It’s a massive problem,” says Craig Thompson, a wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service. “People don’t tend to grasp the industrial scale of what’s going on. There are thousands of these sites in places the public thinks are pristine, with obscene amounts of chemicals at each one. Each one is a little environmental disaster.”

Yes growers are for the most part total fucking assholes, not cute little hippies. Any desire I had to buy or smoke pot long ago went away with the hundreds and hundreds of similar sites I've seen. They will drain a stream dry, poison the land and the animals and the birds, breed aggressive pits and stake them out in he forest alone for days to guard the crop. And then act like complete fucking dicks if called on it up to and including threatening or shooting people's pets and occasionally people. Plus they're often extremely misogynist guys who sexually abuse the pickers and their main girls only job is to look hot, while their kids never get a decent education or childhood, many of them have no SSN or IDs. I used to know a lot of second, third and fourth generations growers and they were pretty much all completely fucked up and unable to leave the family/cult. And that's the ones who aren't out and out criminals or in criminal gangs. It's a super shitty sub-culture as most people who've had run ins with them can tell you. Don't support it.

Nice hippies who grow a tiny amount of weed or proper commercial operations, go right ahead and support. But if you're buying illegal weed from a dealer don't kid yourself about where it comes from any more than you kid yourself about where coke comes from.
posted by fshgrl at 12:20 AM on April 1, 2017 [6 favorites]


Some 50 different toxicants have turned up at grow sites. (“Toxicants” are manmade poisons, while “toxins” are naturally occurring.) Growers use the poisons to keep rodents and other animals from eating the sugar-rich sprouting plants, from gnawing on irrigation tubing, and from invading their campsites in search of food. Acute rodenticides cause neurological damage and internal bleeding. Animals literally drown in their own blood or stumble around until they’re eaten themselves, passing the poison up the food chain to predators like owls and fishers.

Growers bait open tuna cans with pesticides, which are often flavored like meat or peanut butter, or string up poisoned hot dogs on fishhooks. People have found bears, foxes, vultures, and deer with chemicals from grow sites in their bodies. One study of barred owls (Strix varia) in the Pacific Northwest found that 80 percent of the birds tested positive. And for every animal found, there are probably dozens more in a similar condition.

“It’s a massive problem,” says Craig Thompson, a wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service. “People don’t tend to grasp the industrial scale of what’s going on. There are thousands of these sites in places the public thinks are pristine, with obscene amounts of chemicals at each one. Each one is a little environmental disaster.”


I wonder what it says about me that my first thought was "If these people were chemical engineers, we wouldn't have this problem".

I know a lot of chemical engineers
posted by actionpotential at 8:04 AM on April 1, 2017


Hey, I wrote that! That was a fun one to work on - Morgan Heim's photos really made the piece. Mourad Gabriel is an unsung hero imho. It'll be very interesting to see what effect legalization has on all of this.

(As for your concerns peeedro, I have to say I'm a little confused: Wikipedia or no, carbofuran has been used on lions in Kenya; your second link literally says "Bromadiolone is a rodenticide"; and malathion and sarin are both cholinesterase inhibitors that block the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, so drawing a parallel is basically nothing like comparing pot to heroin.)
posted by gottabefunky at 9:32 AM on April 3, 2017 [2 favorites]


I don't dispute the reports of lions killed by carbofuran, it just seemed like an odd factoid to include in your article. So I checked wikipedia because I know how high school students rely on wikitrivia to pad their homework, and I thought it was a little funny to find that tidbit in there. It was a low blow, I apologize for that.

Your article claims bromadiolone is a neurotoxic rodenticide, it is not. Bromadiolone is a second-generation anticoagulant rodenticide. In your article you also seem to garble up acute and anticoagulant rodenticides, AR is commonly an abbreviation for anticoagulant rodenticide not acute rodenticide.

I think claiming malathion is "basically a watered-down version of the nerve agent sarin" is misleading and hyperbolic. It's a real problem in science writing, especially with environmental or nuclear concerns, when poorly chosen comparisons are made which crowd out any further discussion or understanding. As your audience, I'd love to learn more about the environmental harms of the unregulated use of malathion, but jumping straight to sarin to provide the only context doesn't do that. "This thing is bad because it's kinda like the worst thing ever" is polarizing but doesn't teach your readers anything new.

I'm also wondering about this:

Gabriel and his colleagues tested 58 fisher carcasses they had collected over the previous three years and found that more than 80 percent had rodenticide in their systems.

Their paper reads, "...we tested 58 carcasses for the presence and quantification of ARs, conducted spatial analysis of exposed fishers in an effort to identify potential point sources of AR, and identified fishers that died directly due to AR poisoning. We found 46 of 58 (79%) fishers exposed to an AR..."

That's odd.
posted by peeedro at 5:42 PM on April 3, 2017


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