Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More
Pacific Fisher presented by Dr. Mourad Gabriel

Pacific Fisher presented by Dr. Mourad Gabriel

Pacific Fisher Lecture
Mourad Gabriel 9/24/13 [Introduction: Margaret Mantor] We’re going
to go ahead and get started. Thank you for coming. I’m Margaret Mantor, I work in the
CESA program in the Habitat Conservation Planning Branch. This is one of a series of lectures
that we’re going to be hosting on species specific issues. For those of you participating
through WebEx, you are on mute on the conference line but you can send questions by typing
them in on WebEx and we will get them to the speaker. I also wanted to mention that we’re
giving credit through OTD for attending the lectures so please make sure that you sign
in if you’re in the room and if you’re participating remotely, make sure that you let me know that
you signed in. I can send you a sign in sheet if I haven’t already. Our next lecture is
going to be on giant garter snakes and that’s going to be next week on the 30th, so if you
haven’t gotten the flyer please let me know and I can give you the information about that.
We’re going to have Ryan Mathis introducing our speaker so I’ll turn it over.
[Introduction: Ryan Mathis] Good afternoon everyone, I’m Ryan Mathis with the Habitat
Conservation Planning Branch, and it’s my pleasure to introduce Mourad this afternoon.
I’ve known Mourad for almost 20 years now, so I could just freestyle this bio but I’m
going to read what he has down. Mourad is a wildlife disease ecologist whose research
focus is to investigate and understand the treats to wildlife of conservation concern
from both infectious and noninfectious agents. He completed both of his degrees, undergrad
and grad at Humboldt State focusing on wildlife ecology and the diseases that affect the wildlife
population. After grad school he founded Integral Ecology Research Center which is a nonprofit
scientific research organization where he is the Senior Ecologist and Executive Director.
In addition to leading several interdisciplinary national and international research projects
through this organization, Mourad has authored several scientific publications; book chapters
focusing on infectious and noninfectious diseases. He will be completing his Ph.D. at UC Davis
this November in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine focusing on disease threats to California
wildlife. He resides in northern California where he and his wife, who’s also an ecologist,
try to spend as much time as possible outdoors and enjoying our public lands. And what Mourad
does not have down here is that he testified on this issue before the United States Congress
in Washington D.C., and has collaborated with Congressman Jared Huffman on some legislation;
House Bill 2735 if you’re interested. And most recently he was interviewed by Dan Rather.
So with that, I will turn it over to Mourad. [Speaker: Mourad Gabriel] Thank you so much
Ryan. Well thank you everybody for coming out for this talk, and I think it’s a very
relevant talk that pertains to many of us an the nuances that are integrated within
our natural resources. And the title of this talk “Is the Grass Really Green, the conservation
perils from illegal marijuana cultivation in California,” and I’m going to be discussing
the current knowledge as well as a lot of unanswered questions. And the reason why “Is
the Grass Really Green,” I feel that the public, as well as various agencies and academia haven’t
fully been informed haven’t fully been educated on this matter and I think we’re just starting
to scratch on the surface on the environmental degradation that’s occurring. [pause while
getting next slide to advance] What this talk will not cover; I mean what
the talk will cover is actually the current data we have on this issue and also the potential
impacts to forest communities, and also barriers in addressing this issue. And also potential
solutions and future directions. But, what this talk will not cover is the ethical or
morality issues of marijuana, medicinal qualities, or policy or legality concerns. The reason
why is because it becomes emotionally charged and I think the science that we’re developing
and as well as many collaborators are developing is sufficient enough to stand on itself without
bring in potential emotional context that may cloud the surface.
So again, the collaborative effort that we have on this, and I’m bringing in multiple
projects, the collaborative efforts we have, it’s an interdisciplinary approach. What I
mean by this is utilizing expertise from so many different facets in our field that we
can utilize in order to address this situation. And so that’s working with federal, state,
academia, NGOs, and it develops an out of the box approach because as many of you know,
when you become entwined on a specific matter, you may have blinders on and you’re focusing
on one thing. But bringing somebody outside of your agency, bringing somebody outside
of your expertise or another agency, helps spread that light so it can illuminate a little
bit further. But again, this is not just the two agencies or the entities that I represent,
these are all the collaborators that we have that are bringing the data for this talk forward.
So you can see there’s a wide spectrum from federal, state, NGOs, as well as private entities
that we’re working with. Now the background, the focal species, the flagship or the umbrella
species that has brought this to light is the fisher. And the fisher, or the Pacific
fisher, in 2004, the US Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that the fisher was warranted
for listing under the Endangered Species Act. And that’s currently also being under review
for state listing as well. Now the next question a lot of folks ask me is what is a fisher?
I know many of you folks are aware of this but there’s also a lot of…a fisher actually
does not really fish. It’s not like a king fisher, it’s actually a mammal, and with that,
it’s a forest specialist, midsize carnivore. The habitat is mid to late stage forest, and
it’s continuous forest. So the fisher is not a cosmopolitan species like the gray fox,
a mountain lion or coyote where it’s going to be on edge habitat and urban settings.
These are back-country settings, wilderness settings. So if you think of habitat that
northern spotted owls inhabit, that’s typically the type of habitat the fishers utilize as
well. And the diet is, it’s an omnivore. Even though it’s a carnivore, but it’s really an
omnivore; it’s a carnivore, it consumes a whole wide spectrum of different prey items,
so rodents, lagomorphs (so rabbits), but it also consumes carrion (so dead animals) and
berries. When we go ahead and do necropsies and find stomach contents, these fishers actually
have manzanita berries, they have acorns, we’ll find lichen and fungi. So they’re really
wide diverse in their breadth of diet. And in males, so there’s a sexual dimorphism,
which means males are a little larger than females. And the reproduction, and this is
going to be key for some of the data I’ll be presenting, so the reproduction is they
mate in basically March to April, but they will raise their young, when they give birth
around March and April as well only up to September. So keep in mind this time period
is really crucial when we start integrating this to the time period or the temporal points
when people are out there cultivating marijuana. And the range in California are currently
two isolated populations. Again, fishers were believed, and the reason
why they’re being reviewed for listing for the Endangered Species Act as well as the
state Endangered Species Act is because of two main factors that believed to be perpetuated
their local extinction in a lot of their historic range, which is pelts; so a lot of folks are
familiar with sables, sable coats, they’re related. They’re another species of Martes
that are related to fishers and they’re prized for their coats. Fisher’s coats, a fisher
pelt can go up to several hundred dollars. So if you think about it, folks can go out
there and make a living with just one season of fisher trapping. So that was one of the
main items, as well as the fragmentation of habitat. So these are good examples of what
habitat fishers are not preferred towards because the edging, the edge effects with
the fragmentation. So kind of to illustrate how far fishers have,
or how much of their historic range has contracted, this gray area, if you can see in the slides,
this gray area is basically the historic range where fishers resided. They’ve contracted
where basically the hash marks are the two isolated populations. So the northern California
and the southern Sierra populations. Just to give you a little bit of a context of how
big these populations are, the southern Sierra Nevada populations are believed to be less
than 250 individuals to no more than 120 adults. That’s one of the population estimates. The
northern California population now, it’s unknown what the estimated population is because there
is just little monitoring that’s occurring beyond a small portion of north-west California.
But again, the percentage of contraction that’s happened for this population is that from
the historical range, and this is a very, very, actually liberal estimate of the ranges,
but the historical ranges, believed to be…currently fishers are occupying only 18 to 21 percent
of their historical range within the state of California. So that’s a huge decrease.
And the disjunct populations also leaves room that if anything comes through, there’s not
this continuous source of potential other animals that may be contributing to, let’s
say, a population decline here, this northern California population won’t be able to contribute
towards that. Again, this is deep fisher habitat. This is
where there’s probably about four to five fishers occupy this range. This is the habitat,
what I’m talking about. That is continuous forest that fishers prefer.
Now, through this, I kind of wanted to illustrate for folks that are unfamiliar with what a
fisher is or what it looks like, that is a fisher actually on a resting site in north-western
California. And this is a video that will…and that’s basically a fisher, you’ll see how
agile they are. This is a female fisher coming out of her den site. So you see these little
holes, these decadent trees that they prefer, and this is about 60 to 70 feet above the
ground. You can see how agile she is, she can just shake.
So that’s basically a behavioral characteristic, that also illustrates the types of trees that
fishers prefer for denning. These decadent trees that have cavities where they can raise
their kits. Now the next question is how the heck did
we, were able to link fishers to marijuana cultivation sites? And to bring this, to illustrate
this we have fishers that are monitored. And they’re long term research monitoring projects.
And with that you have a dead fisher, but in order to get that dead fisher, to find
out where that is, we go ahead and instill these long-term demographic monitoring projects,
and so what you have up here in this top corner is a captured fisher, we take the relevant
biologic samples, we go ahead and put a VHF or VHPF collar on them, monitor them through
the landscape, and then when they have a mortality signal which is a signal that if the collar
becomes inactive it pulses at a different cadence of the pulse, and that cadence will
indicate that the fisher has either not moved or it’s dead and we go in, find that fisher,
and we also do a necropsy. And it’s a necropsy, that’s the one key thing, the necropsy is
done by board certified pathologists and toxicologists. And the key point of that is we’re not just
doing a cursory gross necropsy and going it looks like it got hit by a car or it looks
like it got killed by a predator. We’re looking at every particular clinical manifestation
that may have resulted in that cause of the death of that animal. And then finally we
take all the tissue, we do all the ancillary diagnostic testing. The one thing I’d like
to point out is that just the cursory projects, like just going out there, just possibly monitoring
these animals for one year or without the long-term demographic monitoring, none of
the data we have or could have generated could have been done without long-term monitoring.
That’s the key essential point — continuous monitoring throughout the years. But again,
like I mentioned, we do ancillary testing which includes anticoagulant rodenticide testing.
So the next question is, what are the anticoagulant rodenticides?
And essentially, it’s the chemical pesticide that comes in various forms, so there’s pellets,
bait blocks. This is brodifacoum, it’s a type of rodenticide. But you see, there’s the pellet
form, the bait block form, it has flavorizers, and essentially what it does is inhibits the
vitamin K recycling. I won’t go into the details of that but mammals, we recycle our vitamin
K, that leads to various clotting factors. So therefore, if we have an injury, we can
actually clot that injury so we don’t exsanguinate or bleed out. But what happens is if you have
this vitamin K being inhibited and you consume all this rodenticide, you basically leak out.
It is what is considered a very painful death, so you can either…any injury you can bleed
to death, or if you have no injury, your vessels, your blood vessels basically become sieves
and you just leak into your cavity. You just leak, leak, leak, until you finally are dead.
But, really key thing here, are the flavorizers. These AR compounds are bitter and unpalatable.
The problem with this is that these manufacturers get the OK by EPA to go ahead and put these
flavorizer emulsions in them. And these flavorizer emulsions are, and I can basically state that
I see these on the market and I see these also out in the field. There’s flavorizers
that are peanut butter, apple, cheese, bacon, there’s even that has bacon and cheese, and
just recently (I just added this) we just went to a grow site and I went and checked
on the manufacturers website, we went to a grow site where we found rodenticide that
was fish and another one that was meat flavored, but then that manufacturer can also create
that rodenticide that has chocolate flavor. So we need to start thinking about what these
flavorizers that are being impregnated into these compounds, is we run the risk of primary
poisonings, but that’s now, here’s an example is the Humboldt martin, but we run the risk
of a carnivore species coming in and consuming. There’s no doubt that if you leave a flavorizer
that smells like fish or meat, a carnivore’s going to consume that. Now you also run the
risk of secondary poisoning because…which would be this carnivore consuming a flying
squirrel that has consumed a rodenticide that tastes like apple or peanut butter. So now
you open up the gamut of various mechanisms of poisoning because of these flavorizers.
So with that, I won’t…a lot of folks are familiar with our PLoS One paper, but I want
to illustrate through the mechanism how we sort of generated this data in our…in our
timeline, is the PLoS paper, we basically looked at exposure to rodenticides and we
only focused on trespass grows. So these are grows that are on our public, tribal, and
community land, where it would be illegal to cultivate, it doesn’t matter what it is;
tomatoes, pineapples, it doesn’t matter, marijuana, to cultivate on these lands without the public
agency steward’s permission or the public’s permission. So we found that this cultivation
was occurring and we found essentially 80 percent of the fishers that we tested were
exposed to one or more rodenticides. Just to illustrate, we had an average of about
two rodenticides per fisher and in this paper, we had fishers that were exposed to four different
rodenticides. We also found four mortalities that were due to this poisoning, so we had
directly…showed direct effects to a fisher individual, that they died from rodenticide
poisoning. And our spatial modeling when we started to look, we wanted to look at clusters.
We wanted to see if there was fishers being exposed more on the peripheral edges, kind
of close to towns and roads, maybe someone did an illegal dump, but what we found was
it was ubiquitous throughout the system. It didn’t matter where fishers were in our study
area they were going to be exposed, or they had a high likelihood of being exposed. This
is also, really key point we found, we had a neonatal or milk transfer of a rodenticide
to a fisher kit. This is an altricial fisher kit so it was completely dependent on mother’s
milk. That kit was exposed to a second generation anticoagulant rodenticide and that’s the highly
acute generation of rodenticides; the super-poisons they call it. So now you have a fisher kit
that is starting, either trans-placentally within the mother’s womb, or starting just
in birth being exposed to this rodenticide which means that whenever a consumed prey
item comes across this toxicant in the future it’s just going to bioaccumulate in that system.
So it’s already starting on a negative foot. That was a really surprising find.
Kind of further illustrating the spatial…this is with the paper is the spatial distribution
of our exposure rates. As you can see here, it didn’t matter where you were. The red were
the mortalities, the yellows were the actually exposed individuals, and the green where you
look here you’ve only got these two individuals and you only have a couple individuals in
the lower polygon, but those were the ones that weren’t exposed. We had four individuals
based off of their collars, they lived their entire lives in Yosemite National Park. And
they were exposed to rodenticides. We had individuals here, that this is where they
got, where they were caught, but basically their whole range was in a wilderness, road
less setting. They just happened to be on the peripheral edge of this project area but
they lived their entire life pretty much in road less wilderness settings but they were
still being exposed. So what were the sources of this exposure? You know, we didn’t show
that it was close to Oakhurst or Fresno, which wasn’t the case. These are far, really far
away and this wouldn’t be a likelihood anyways. So after the PLoS paper, we started discussing
with folks and we stared working with law enforcement, and law enforcement started stating,
hey, we’ve been seeing this stuff and we’re really happy that someone’s starting to look
at this, can we show you guys what we’ve been seeing? And so when we went out to these grow
sites, what we saw was just absolutely surprising, it blew our minds away. This is, these green
pellets, the white pellets are fertilizer, the green pellets are second generation anticoagulant
rodenticide. They place them at the bottom of the plant. There’s 2,000 plants in this
grow site; each one of these plants had probably about a quarter of a cup or a half of a cup
of rodenticide. We went to a site where there was a documentation of 90 pounds of unspent
second generation anticoagulant rodenticide and we found numerous pounds of already opened
and eaten packages. It’s, now when we go to grow sites it’s actually pretty sad when I
go to a grow site and I only find 10 or 15 pounds, and it doesn’t faze me. I look at
it that’s a normal site. I’m surprised if I find a site that’s over 50 pounds, but anything
below 50 pounds, it’s just normal. That’s what’s going on out there.
Now, we also stared finding not just rodenticides, we started finding, and this is just one site
again this is only 20 pounds of rodenticides, that’s just typical and this is unspent, these
are completely unopened packages waiting for a predator or a rodent to come in there and
eat it. But what we started finding and this is a collaborator of mine, Mark Higley, what
we on this site, he’s got a full respirator there and the reason why is carbofuran a Furidan,
these bottles are sitting out in 95 degree heat, these are five gallon sprayers full
of carbofuran and Furidan and the problem with this carbamate, it’s a banned carbamate.
It’s not legal for use in North America. And the problem with this is that here you are
in this hot environment, these things can vent at any second, and if he doesn’t have
that respirator on, and that venting happens, he’ll die. We can’t touch this because if
you touch this without the proper PPE, the transdermal potency, it can cause lethality.
So now we have these banned chemicals out there DDT, carbamates that are banned, and
restricted use chemicals. So you know finding 10, 15, 20 different chemicals is common.
You know, we are surprised when we find 30 chemicals or more at one site, and that’s
only one site. Fragmented landscapes, very common practice.
You can see right here, actually in the top screen probably a little bit better, but this
is brush, it’s about an eight foot wall of brush that’s piled up, that’s the ground right
there, it’s pretty much mid to late seral stage forest. They cut a lot of the trees
down and these little patches, they’ve cleared out. They rake the ground to the rock. There’s
no material there. And that…that’s a fragmented landscape; that’s also a landscape that’s
not going to allow other trees to seed in there. But that’s…you know and also it’s
an impediment for wildlife to have these barriers of just six to eight foot barriers of brush
material that these guys do. Now the other thing is we find water diversion and toxicant
filled slurry ponds. So this is one water cistern I would say is probably about three
by four meters. That’s the range of the one water cistern. You can see the water that’s
spilling out of here, it’s a bluish tint. The reason why it’s a bluish tint is because
what they do into these water cisterns, they open up 50 pound bags of fertilizer, and there
is probably about maybe 100 to 150 pounds of fertilizer, soluble fertilizer, that’s
placed in here because what they do is they tap into these water cisterns with irrigation
lines to go run to their plants. But these cisterns are leaking, and there’s a creek
underneath here. So what is all of this highly nitrogen fixed water doing pouring into our
water and creeks? And in fact this water cistern, right below this is a creek that feeds tributaries
to endangered Coho salmon. But this particular site, they had 15 different cisterns out there.
So, and there was one cistern that, there was actually a series of three cisterns where
above the cisterns were alders, equisetums, these riparian dominated vegetative materials,
and below it was completely dead, there was like a dead corridor. They’d dried up the
creek. And so whatever aquatic vertebrates were there are no longer able to have the…due
to the habitat being taken away. So building up on this, we stared looking
at, and another publication we came out with was, the first one was looking at, the PLoS
one was looking at the impacts to an individual. We wanted to find out, what were the impacts
potentially to a population level. So we wanted to figure that out and with that, this is
in the southern Sierra. What we were able to determine is that the average number of
marijuana grow sites for a female fisher’s home range was 5.3. That means, in the southern
Sierras, a female fisher’s home range, which is about 1,000 hectares, it’s not really that
large, was an average of five different trespass grows in her range. Now, when we looked at
females that were exposed vs. females that weren’t exposed, the average number of sites
for an exposed fisher was four sites. It was less than one for female fishers that were
not exposed. Another key things to point here is the range. The range of female fishers
being exposed to this rodenticide was one to 16. There was fishers that had 16 different
trespass grow sites within their home range. But the range for non-exposed was zero to
one. So there’s a clear correlation we were able to make in this paper that exposure was
now correlated with grow sites. And then the next item was that we found that marijuana
grow sites influence female fisher survival rates. So that means then that these now,
these grow sites are impacting fishers not just as an individual, but at the population
level. That’s a significant find. So now the new emerging data we’re starting
to develop is that we have three more fisher deaths. So remember the four that we did in
the PLoS paper, we added three more fisher deaths, so now we have a total of seven. And
then, the fisher exposure rate in that paper was 80%, but now when we combine it, we’re
about at 86% of fishers being exposed. Now this is actually, I don’t know if folks here
have heard about the hot dog fisher, the hot dog fisher was again that integral collaboration
we were able to do with law enforcement when we went into sites and law enforcement was
able to radio back to us and say hey I think we have a fisher here. When we went and checked
out that fisher, you know, fist of all we were thinking, well were they sure it was
a fisher, we’ll see what happens and here it is, we found a fisher just on the ground
on the floor. Despite, you know we keep on these trespass grows, the ones that are going
to be really impactful are these trespass grows that 1,000; 2,000; 20,000; 40,000 plants.
The fisher that died was at a trespass grow that was about 300 plants so that was a small
that’s probably no bigger than this auditorium. But this fisher died from poisoning of a restricted
use pesticide which is called methomyl, that’s a carbamate. It was…it died because it consumed
hot dog, not just specifically this hot dog, but one of 13 hot dogs that were strung along
this grow site that were on treble hooks. This fisher essentially had the hotdog in
its stomach contents, and the other crazy part about this was that the fisher still
had the hot dog mid-esophagus, meant that it died so acutely that it didn’t even finish
swallowing that last piece of hot dog. And when we found it, there was still saliva in
bubbles within, on its muzzle suggesting that it probably convulsive, very painful death,
but also died very recently from when we found it. This is up in northern California. It
would be right between Orleans and Willow Creek. So again, now we have this malicious
poisoning that is intentionally used out there. The other thing is law enforcement asked us
where we found this, law enforcement asked us what do we do with the hot dog, we didn’t
have the proper PPE at that site, we had to leave those hot dogs because technically when
those hot dogs were so contaminated, if any of law enforcement would have touched it or
if we would have touched it without the proper PPE, it could have made an individual sick
or it could have even possibly killed somebody just due to the how methomyl is rated the
highest toxicity under EPA standards. So we went back out to this site a couple days later.
And unfortunately, all those hot dogs were consumed, they were all gone, and then we
found a dead gray fox and then we also smelled decomposition occurring in the area but we
couldn’t find it, but the problem was we also had turkey vultures consuming, flying out
of that area, so anything that consumes, it’s just that cycle of death can occur at these
sites. So you know, again, we’re looking at rodenticide but we’re also looking at other
chemicals that are maliciously placed out there intentionally to kill wildlife. We’re
now looking at spotted owls. We tested two spotted owls, both of those have been positive
for rodenticide, and barred owls we tested 10, half of them have been exposed to rodenticides.
We have another batch of 90 that we’re testing so we’ll have about a 90 barred owl test,
but again, we can’t….we have the data on these guys to do another study similar to
the fisher study, but again, we can’t really correlate this exposure to marijuana cultivation.
We all know these spotted owls and barred owls we collected were collected behind closed
gates where there’s no public access but there’s trespass grows, where marijuana is being cultivated
in association with rodenticide. So there’s a strong correlation but we’re trying to hopefully
at one point make that link and see if the exposure is correlated with that.
This slide, actually, is something really surprising and it kind of blew a lot of us
out of the water. We went ahead and decided to just look at a couple invertebrates. So
we looked at snails, grasshoppers, and millipedes. We took five pooled samples, so five grasshoppers,
five millipedes, and five snails, pooled them together, kept the species intact within each
group. And we’re not talking about going into a grow site, we’re talking about…and looking
for a chemical pile, we just went to where there was plants that were eradicated and
just started sampling the invertebrates. And these are live invertebrates. And when we
started testing these individuals, we’re talking all of them were positive for anticoagulant
rodenticide. So the grasshopper that was just hopping around on the forest floor nearby
where marijuana was cultivated, same with the millipedes and the snails, were all positive
for these rodenticides. They’re not going to die from it because it doesn’t inhibit
the vitamin K which they’re not using for coagulation factors. So there’s no negative
effect these guys are going to have. But the problem is this toxicant is being sequestered
in their tissue. Now you’re starting at the bottom of the food chain in the food web that
invertebrates are going to be exposed. That opens up a huge game of different…terrestrial
and avian wildlife species and even aquatic species that are going to potentially be exposed
to this. So, just kind of a recap of, a synopsis of
what we know. We know that a rare terrestrial California carnivore, the fisher, is exposed
to and poisoned from toxicants from marijuana grow sites. We know that these grow sites
are now impacting a fisher’s survival in a deleterious way. We also know that northern
spotted and barred owls are exposed to AR. And then that inverts are exposed to AR and
other toxicants and they’re still alive. But the next question is do we know how extensive
this is in California? This is a paper we published, and I also want to kind of…a
lot of the data that I’m going to present is, was brought by a group of volunteers that
have actually devoted so much of their time and energy, one of them has given up his life
working towards this, and that’s Shane Krogen. These guys are just the epitome of stewards
of our natural resources within the state and I just want to kind of let folks know
that you know that these guys essentially had a fire and they were able to pass that
torch to so many different researchers that were key and integral that we’re going to
continue their fire and spread basically that information out. And so a lot of this data
is dependent on their hard work that they’ve been doing volunteer wise.
So when we’re looking at their data that Shane and the High Sierra Volunteers Trail Crew
was able to generate was in 2005 to 20010 they reclaimated 637 sites in only two of
California’s 17 National Forests. So how extensive is this? I would say it’s pretty extensive
within our public lands. In addition to that, if you were to go ahead and put the current
range of where fishers reside in the southern Sierras, it would perfectly, perfectly overlap
this area. And it’d be naïve of us here to think that what’s happening in Sierra National
Forest or Sequoia National Forest is only unique to those two forests and Plumas National
Forest, Six River, Shasta Trinity, any of these National Forests where it basically
sea level to 600 feet it cannot be impacted, it would be very naïve for us to think like
that. So the next map is a map we’re able to generate,
and this is data that’s specifically only trespass grow sites. We’re not even talking
about the 215 grow sites that are potentially impacting wildlife as well. So just for an
example, I only have trespass grow sites for two years of data and it’s just over 1000
in California. For this particular map, just to kind of give an example of how extensive
the 215s are, it’s believed there are over 4,000 215 grow sites in just the county of
Humboldt. So that’s only 215 grow sites in one county. Not Trinity or Mendocino or other
counties, El Dorado County where there’s extensive 215s growing. So these are trespass grow sites
and these are marijuana sites within the fisher’s range. And so conservatively, it’s stated
that 40 to 60% of trespass grow sites are discovered. These guys are being very elusive
in how they hide their cultivation sites and also law enforcement doesn’t have the resources
to go in there and effectively remove every site throughout all our public lands. So what
I’m displaying here is a very conservative estimate of what’s occurring in fisher’s range.
You can see, all of these sites, is basically the dots represent the home range of a male
fisher. So if we went ahead and put that this site can potentially impact one male fisher’s
home range, and we put that, you can see clearly that even if fishers were to expand out of
the southern Sierra range, they’re going to run into a wall of cultivation sites. Same
thing goes along here and in northern California. But the other thing is too, that was illustrated
was that a lot of these sites, if you look, are within highway corridors. Because it’s
a logistic and cost effective way to eradicate these sites because it would be difficult
to go in the middle of the backwoods over here to try to eradicate site that are far
away from landing zones, far away from other potential resources for law enforcement. But
again, I have to use the word naïve but it would be very naïve for us to think these
are clean areas. Because they’re suitable habitat. There’s water, southern exposed slopes,
and it’s under 6,000 feet. But again if we went ahead to state how…what I’m currently
displaying in this map, how much is the potential impact to fishers? It has a potential impact
of up to 38% of the current fisher’s range. So again, are these threats being seen at
each and every site? And is a massive use of toxicants, fragmented landscapes, and water
diversions seen? It is unknown at this time. But what I can state is that the 20 plus sites
that I’ve been able to visit in the last two years, I’ve seen each one of these, in different
magnitudes, but all three of these occurred at each one of the sites.
Now again, let’s just go back to that map and I’m just going to go ahead and focus on
just one little small area within Six Rivers National Forest. This is the area that’s 30
sites within only two years. This is 30 trespass sites in two years. This is Trinity River,
the corridor; everybody knows endangered species like Coho are there. But this is also smack
dab in the middle of spotted owl and fisher, and even Humboldt martin potential areas as
well. Let’s just focus on this one little site that I’ve been to, and then there’s actually
a site in here, one year it was 100,000 plants, several years ago it was 30,000 plants and
this year it was eradicated with just under 10,000 plants. But you can clearly see this
site right? It’s fragmented and you can clearly see it. And what I’m trying to illustrate
here is that they hide this stuff. It’s a fragmented landscape but if you go through
with Google Earth, you’re going to miss this. But that’s the site. Those are the water courses
which are in blue but the polygons are the only polygons we were able map. And I can
only confidently state that I think I’ve only been to about 40 to 50 percent of this site.
The site is just extensive. And that’s two days of research; me going on the ground with
other crewmembers trying to document this site. But that’s what it is and I’m only going
to focus on this kind of, this small little one right here. So let’s just look at that
polygon. And I don’t know if you guys can see it, but
these are Christmas trees. These are marijuana plants that look like a Christmas tree farm.
That’s essentially what’s going on out there. So when you look at this, and Google Earth
took it in August, this is what that site looks like. You’re going to miss that. It
looks like forested habitat but it’s not. In winter time that’s gone. That’s soil, bare
rock. So the potential indirect effects from this,
I’m going to start it off with a video. I want you guys to kind of grasp this video
in order to, it’s kind of going to help me illustrate the additional slides. That’s a
fisher right there, un-anaesthetized fisher. You can’t be doing this with an un-anaesthetized
fisher. Just scruffing it and holding it by the tail. The reason why Mark was able to
do that is the ataxia basically lethargy, the incoordination that’s occurring with this
fisher. They had to euthanize this fisher because there was absolutely no antidote that
we could have given this fisher for whatever potential toxicosis due to a toxicant was
occurring. That fisher had four different anticoagulant rodenticides in its body. But,
where the fisher resided, there was also nearby another type of rodenticide that was being
used out there that’s a neurotoxin, copamethylene. And we tested for everything, it’s just a
fact that some of these toxicants are going to be almost undetectable in the tissue unless
you can grasp it right there at that one second when it’s still in its GI. But if its consumed
it and its processed it and it’s going through the clinical manifestations but there’s nothing
in its gastro-intestinal system, you’re going to show up a negative but it’s probably most
likely a false negative. So highlighting, utilizing that, what the
potential effects can happen to that fisher, is to me exacerbate or increased risk to a
conservation concern species. And so, we bring the question the predation upon fishers. The
previous thought for fishers is that predation only occurred on weak and vulnerable individuals.
So therefore, only really old fishers are going to be killed by predators, or fishers
with a broken leg that’s vulnerable is going to be susceptible to predation. Current data
for California is showing that predation is the number one mortality factor. Fifty-eight
percent of all mortality and bobcats are the number one predator for fishers, which is
really surprising when on the east coast, fishers kill lynxes which are bigger than
bobcats. And but now we’re having male fishers kill lynxes but male fishers are being killed
by felids such as bobcats. And so, what is the potential mechanism for this? So why are
we seeing such a high elevated rate or hyper-predation that’s occurring on fishers?
So these are plausible scenarios; we’re starting to look at this. I don’t want you folks to
think that it’s actually been documented as the route of mechanism. These are just potential
plausible scenarios and I’m drawing parallels from other data that has been able to have
been documented. But again, these grow sites, and the red is the trail system, these are
trail systems. And again I’ve only mapped 40 to 50 percent of this grow site. This grow
site, these are old trails that are coming in. There’s escape trails, there’s trails
that are coming in to water sources, trails are coming down, I only stopped here but this
probably goes across the drainage of the grow site and continues here but this one probably
goes everywhere. You can see the extensive trail system here. This is within continuous
forest and bobcats prefer edge. Bobcats will not go into continuous forest. They’ll stay
up here in this edge habitat, this fragmented habitat, or a road system. They should not
be coming into this deep continuous forest. So now the question is, are we…are these
guys facilitating or creating a conduit for predators now to come into this continuous
forest? It’s unknown at this time, but you know, are
these mechanisms for bobcats? These are trail paths that these guys have worn down because
they’re utilizing these systems year after year and they’re well worn trail paths. Deep
into the forests, we’re finding, you know bear scat’s normal on these trails. But we’re
finding coyotes, mountain lion, and bobcat scat deep in the forest on these trail systems
where coyotes, you wouldn’t think of a coyote being in the middle of that continuous forest,
or a bobcat. And we’re finding their scat on these trails. So their utilizing…we already
know by documenting this, they’re utilizing this trail system, but can this potentially
be a route or mechanisms that leads a fisher to be susceptible in an area where they shouldn’t
have that high risk of predation but now these trail systems that these guys are doing are
conduits for that. The next question is, can we see expanded
home ranges that encompass more prey opportunities? And they’re expanding these home ranges because
anticoagulant rodenticide are depleting populations and therefore in order to get the required
nutritional support for growth and reproduction, they have to expand their home range to encompass
more prey opportunities. And so can this potentially heighten interspecific or inter-guild predation
that’s occurring on fishers? So for example, you have rodenticide reduced the population,
instead of three gray squirrels you have only one, and then now are bobcats increasing their
rates because they have to expand their home range? And I’m only focusing on the bobcats.
So with that, this is typical home range for fishers and bobcat. You have males are in
the orange polygon, and males will not overlap. Males tend to butt up with each other. But
females will overlap and intersect each other and males will have more than one female in
his home range but not another male fisher. Here’s the edge habitat where bobcats will
be living in, and here’s another bobcat on this edge. Again this is in the area where
we have 30 sites in only two years. So again, can a scenario occur where now you
have documented past studies which show that if prey decreases, bobcat home ranges increases
and bobcat home ranges increase 200 to 500 percent. So now if you have a prey decline
or a sink area, can we see these bobcats now increase their home ranges, and this is only
200 percent increase in that…a polygon for a bobcat home range. So you can clearly see
before where there was no interaction, just an increase of only 200 percent in bobcat
home range now encompasses multiple fishers. I’m only putting one variable in this. If
you go ahead and increase fisher home ranges slightly, you’re going to have multiple fishers
now potentially encountering bobcats. These are plausible scenarios that could happen,
and I’m only basing this off of and extrapolating from other data from other species. But it’s
a very likely scenario that could be occurring, just not being documented right now in our
forest lands. So again, the other issue is the other indirect
effects. Just in the state of California, from 2006 to 2011, we’ve lost over 93,000
acres from fires that were grow site initiated. And this is the data I’m only able to pull
out from public databases like CalFire or InciWeb with is the US Forest Service but
through that data, and going through all the fires I’m able to find several fires but a
total of 93,000 acres that are grow site initiated by marijuana cultivation. And these are trespass
grows. We’re not talking about 215 fires, we’re talking trespass grows on public land,
that’s through their propane tanks or stoves out in the middle of the forest. That’s over
35 million dollars in suppression costs. We’re not even building up what the rehab costs
could be occurring with just these fires. These fires, if I were to overlay the polygons
on these fires with the critical habitat that’s lost due to these fires or occupied habitat,
you can see fishers, marbled murrelets, spotted owls, California condors; these are terrestrial
species. I’m not even bringing up the invertebrates that have been impacted by these fires or
the listed species of plant that are burnt up in these fires. But again, illustrating
that fires perpetuated by this cultivation out on public lands have demonstrated already
millions of dollars and thousands of acres of loss.
Now, what are the impacts to aquatic organisms within these watersheds? The direct and indirect
impacts have not been properly addressed. It’s just something that’s starting to be
looked at right now but it just hasn’t been addressed about what all these chemical slurries,
and what I mean by this is that what we’re able to show on these trespass grows is an
average of 2,000 pounds of high grade fertilizer per site. And about 25 gallons, and this is
the average, 25 gallons of concentrated fertilizer per site. We find sites that have 1,000 pounds
of 46% nitrogen fertilizer. And that’s an exorbitant amount of fertilizer to be placed
out there but it makes sense when you look at the fragmented landscape – they’re growing
marijuana on rocks – so in order to have that type of cultivation you have to utilize tons
and tons of nutrients because the soil can’t support that. But again, the numerous banned
chemicals that are being placed out there, you know, what are the impacts? It’s just
unknown at this time. So further illustrating this is you know,
that’s the toxicant placed into this water cistern. This is a pickle barrel, 55 gallon
pickle barrel, when you look in it in that lower left hand corner, you can clearly see
that’s just a slurry of unknown chemicals. We’re still analyzing that sample. But right
near this pickle barrel was Avid, there was other miticides out there. Empty bottles and
about a couple hundred pounds of fertilizer bags. So you know, this water could be not
just fertilizer but it could be pesticide laced as well. These bags of fertilizer are
right within a stream channel. So again, the question is, is that all of this fertilizer,
can this be depleting prey directly or also be reducing oxygen levels by this nitrification
that’s occurring out there and therefore depleting the oxygen loads in the watersheds? It’s been
demonstrated in other avenues but it’s unknown if these sites, and remember I’m just showing
like 1,000 trespass sites. We’re not talking about the 215 sites, those folks will utilize
a lot of these fertilizers. All of that in combination and synergy potentially exacerbating
and depleting oxygen levels. So again, the next question is insecticides.
Remember the invertebrates that were exposed to AR? We’re talking at the bottom of a food
web now that we now run the risk that these insecticides that are having no effect on
invertebrates the half life could be up to months at a time. Now what I mean by months
at a time is that it could be possibly a year before an insect depletes fully an anticoagulant
rodenticide just based off of this half life. So that’s just terrestrial species, we’re
talking avian species. So swifts or bats. That’s unknown the contamination that could
be occurring because of these open fragmented landscapes in the middle of the forest are
perfect foraging areas for these bats, perfect foraging areas for swifts, and all these insects
that are coming up that may be toxicant laced now providing food for these individuals.
It could mean that potential contamination source.
Finally, the next final slide is kind of going over the barriers to collecting data. It’s
dangerous. It’s not…it’s really…what I mean by dangerous, it’s dangerous because
you can see here, these are nine individuals with 12 guns with a poached female dear in
our national public lands that are outside of, that have been cultivating a grow site.
That, and this is right in one of the fisher project areas, that right there is not a scene
where you want to have your technician, your sci-aid, walking out in the forest and encountering
these individuals that have been out there for months at a time, already disregarding
the law by poaching a deer and cultivating marijuana. You know the safety of that individual
being out there. The toxicants and traps that I mentioned, it’s not just the researchers,
it’s the law enforcement going out there, they’re wearing their tactical uniforms that
are cloth, and now you have the potential of absorption through that material, underneath
helicopters, all these chemicals that could potentially put risk to law enforcement officers
that are actually out there protecting our public lands. That’s another risk that has
not been fully ascertained. And then also grants and resources are limited and this
work is really expensive to conduct. So just to kind of illustrate further about the budget
constraints is this is just one fisher project area. And this one fisher project, you have
to buy an extra vehicle, hire two other individuals and excess supplies for those individuals
because of safety. Now you can’t just go out in the field and start monitoring a fisher.
When I was monitoring fishers or other species, with VHF collars, I’d go out in the field
for months at a time and without, you know just call-in in the morning and call-in at
night. Now you have to have two or more individuals constantly in radio contact. So with that,
that costs $48,000 per year for one fisher project. And it’s incurred cost currently
is about a quarter of a million dollars and it’s expected to be about half a million to
three quarters of a million dollars for the life of this project, now in extra costs simply
because to initiate safety, and this is not safety reasons because of a mountain lion
or a bear which is what we all thought we were going to run into, the danger in the
field, but now we’re talking about armed marijuana cultivators, and this is on public lands.
Again, barriers to collecting data, going back to this map, this is 637 sites, there’s
500 sites within this area that haven’t been 100% reclaimated because it’s just a lack
of funding. These sites are out there that pose a risk to the public, that pose a risk
to wildlife and there’s just not enough of a support mechanism out there to fully reclaimate
and provide funding for the eradication, the documentation, and the reclaimation of these
sites. And again, it’s only estimated that 25 to 50% of these sites are 100% reclaimated.
So what I mean by 100% reclaimated is piping removed, and similar to the reclaimation,
a good example of reclaimation that was happening with operation Pristine was that everything
was removed. Piping, toxicants, camp sites, and reclaiming that land. That’s the type
of reclaimation that needs to occur. Some of the sites have half the piping, half the
toxicants; it needs to be fully removed out of there.
So the solutions are, and these are solutions that not just myself but multiple people have
generated, is that we need to generate more science based information and the reason why
is that it informs agencies, managers, and policy-makers. We need to inform them about
this information. Going back to DC and talking to numerous members of Congress, a lot of
folks were unaware that this was occurring on their public land and at this extent. We
still have a job before us to inform these individuals. But also it’s the education of
the public because a lot of the public feel that it’s just a mom and pop situation, outdoor
cultivation is completely green, nothing’s wrong with it, and they’re not realizing that
this is their public land and their public resources being utilized without their permission.
And in addition to that is that everybody lives downstream so all this contamination
that’s occurred in regards to potential water sources and wildlife, the public needs to
be aware of this to see if they’re content with what’s going on. And then also supporting
mechanisms or mechanisms of support, it’s starting to occur now but in the beginning,
a lot of folks were thinking that what we were endeavoring on was a morality and ethical
issue. It was not an environmental issue. And that’s the scope that we need to change,
the mannerism that we need to change with folks is that this is actually an environmental
issue. California fits in second in regards to the number of endangered species within
our nation behind Hawaii. We have such a unique bioregion here and a lot of this cultivation
occurs from sea level to 6,000 feet. So I feel that doing this information and educational
processes, to the public as well, is key and essential to say that their natural resources
are at risk if we continue down this road. So finally, not to, I like to end with a quote
from Rachel Carson, Silent Spring. And I think that this quote fits it perfect because again
it heeds back to the information and education process where “the public must decide whether
it wishes to continue on the present road, and it can only do so when in full possession
of the facts.” I think we’re not in full possession of the facts right now. And what I mean by
that is we’re just barely scratching the surface. What I’ve presented is a collaboration effort
with only two years of data. This has been going on for several years before, and at
current pace, it’s going to continue to keep going on and therefore, what I fear is that
the risks are going to continue and we haven’t created the documentation and what I don’t
want to see is 30 years down the road a population decline or bioaccumulation of various toxicants
out there and we haven’t collected the potential puzzle pieces which could be this particular
factor, this variable, contributing to that. So with that, I know this is a very uplifting
talk, I have time for questions, again you know one of the things I like to state is
unlike a stochastic event, like a wildfire started by a lightning strike, we can’t control
that. That’s lightening, that’s weather, that’s going to happen. But we can control and we
can address this issue. This is a human anthropogenic influenced variable. And as humans we’ve always
been able to overcome issues that are far greater than this. So kind of back to that
slide there’s always light at the end of that path and I think we see the light, I think
we need to continue forward on it.

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