The Buckeye Conservancy, a local nonprofit that represents large landowners in Humboldt County, has released an official position paper on the cannabis industry, censuring the "commercial farming, production and marketing of federally illegal marijuana in Humboldt County, and/or its neighboring counties."
The paper, published last month, continues to say: "We realize that the voters of the State of California have deemed marijuana to be legal for both medical and recreational use, despite its federal status. This situation has led to a quasi-legal status for marijuana, and an exponential growth in production that has created intense pressure on North Coast communities and natural resources, especially the over-drafting of water diverted for plantation irrigation."
So why now, and why is this important?
Buckeye Executive Director Lauren Sizemore says local farmers, ranchers and other landowners have been disproportionately impacted by the cannabis industry, and that Buckeye board meetings were constantly being derailed because members needed to discuss how cannabis was affecting their land, stock and water. Common complaints included more traffic on rural roads, reckless driving, the "white noise" of generators, stray dogs that attack stock and general negative environmental impact of large grows. So the group formed a committee and, from that, a position paper that delineated its official stance on the industry.
Sizemore, a sixth-generation rancher who operates a spread with her family in Kneeland, said that she, personally, does not care if someone is growing pot, as long as they are good stewards of the land.
"We're not so much concerned about marijuana itself as we are the environmental issues that are tagged to the industry," she says. "I think there are growers out there that are being good stewards, unfortunately they have a black mark against them."
Sizemore drew parallels between traditional ag producers on the Buckeye board and the cannabis industry. When an expose about poor practices in the beef industry hits the headlines, small sustainable producers suffer along with the bad actors. Cannabis farmers endure the same kind of scrutiny.
"Across the entire agricultural board, 90 percent are doing things correctly, but it's the 10 percent that get the spotlight, and makes the entire industry look bad," she says. "It's fairly extreme."
Of course, farmers, ranchers and loggers do have a regulatory infrastructure in place to enforce proper environmental practices. Similar oversight for the cannabis industry is still in fledgling stages. To that end, while the board's position paper specifically says it does not condone the industry, it would like to see it properly regulated, with growers "held to the same regulatory standards as farming, timber, dairy and ranching."
Along with a host of land-use regulations, including compliance with various regulatory boards, the Conservancy takes a stance against cultivation on timberland or prime ag lands. This is in response to a cornerstone concern for the group — the fragmentation of family-owned land and habitat — as land prices skyrocket and the inherited knowledge of their group's base fails to filter down to the next generation. The cannabis industry, Sizemore believes, has exacerbated a nationwide trend. According to 2014 statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, the median age for farmers and ranchers in the United States is 55.9 years.
The inflated price of land in Humboldt County has made homesteads unattainable for young would-be farmers, and many who inherit land from parents and grandparents may prefer to sell at a profit rather than make a living on the slim profit margins of timber and cattle. Sizemore, who is in her 30s, is in a rapidly shrinking peer group, even as the cannabis bubble expands beyond the point of fiscal, environmental and social sustainability.
"Once the huge giant market has gone out of it, people our age will be forced to find a job in means they're not used to," she says. "I have concerns about what's going to happen to the generations who have just grown up growing pot, received hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars each year."