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Our Shrinking Habitat 

Proposed cannabis ordinance sacrifices too much

For too long now, Humboldt County has encouraged the reckless and destructive expansion of black market marijuana in forest habitat. The recently proposed commercial marijuana ordinance continues this dismal policy. Rather than learning from the massive failure of the medical marijuana ordinance, the proposed commercial marijuana ordinance continues to coddle black market growers. Rather than halting the green rush, it makes it easier to permit new grows in Humboldt's forest habitat. It continues to take us in the wrong direction.

By all measurements, the current medical marijuana permit process stands as a spectacular failure. Despite efforts to appeal to black market growers, most did not return the interest. There are at least 8,000 outdoor grows in Humboldt, and who knows how many indoor grows. Yet, according to John Ford, director of the Planning and Building Department, only 2,337 permit applications were filed. Of these initial applications filed, only 310 have completed the permit process and await review. I looked at 10 permit applications for grows in my neighborhood in Ettersburg. Only one had completed the process. The rest appear to have done little or nothing since they applied. Recently, the Planning and Building Department met with the Board of Supervisors to strategize on how to encourage follow through on the thousands of outstanding permit applications. Most disturbing is that many of the new grow applicants have gone ahead and put in a grow scene before completing the process or receiving a permit. Many existing grows expanded without completing the application process, as well. Far from halting the green rush or bringing Humboldt's growers into compliance, the permit process provided cover for black market expansion.

Given that we have thousands of existing grows damaging Humboldt's vitally important habitat, why does the proposed ordinance relax rules for siting new grows? The only land protected from expansion is zoned for timber production (TPZ). Most land zoned rural residential (RA) is equally forested, yet new grows are allowed on this zoning designation in Humboldt's forest habitat. The failure of groups like EPIC to defend these important forest lands made no sense until we saw the career change made by Natalynne DeLapp, who now advocates for growers.

The proposed ordinance removes the requirement for new grows to be sited on prime agricultural soil. I understand that prime agricultural land has skyrocketed in price. Prices in Humboldt's forest habitat have skyrocketed as well. The solution is to put the brakes on the green rush by refusing to permit new grows. No new grows, along with stringent vetting of existing grows, would send the message that Humboldt is not open to endless exploitation by black market growers.

Humboldt lies at the heart of the California Floristic Province, one of Earth's biodiversity hotspots. This biological treasure deserves protection. According to the Living Planet Report of 2016, Earth lost 58 percent of its biodiversity since 1970. The number one cause of extinctions is habitat loss and degradation. We need to conserve and enhance our biodiversity, not fragment and degrade habitat with yet more marijuana clearcuts and new access roads. Converting Humboldt's wild forest habitat to agriculture must stop. Roads and clearcuts fragment the landscape, providing a direct barrier to numerous species. They also create edge habitat, which is more open, creating increased predation for other species. Simply put, the more development that takes place in forest habitat, the less suitable it becomes to the full array of species that call it home.

The green rush is a terrible crime perpetrated against one of the world's biological treasures. It is also incredibly shortsighted. As marijuana is legalized in more places, its price falls. As the price support provided by prohibition recedes, prices will continue to fall. Habitat only becomes more valuable. Sacrificing what makes Humboldt special makes no sense. Humboldt's future depends on its habitat, not the black market.

Amy Gustin founded Habitat Forever. Learn more at www.habitatforever.wordpress.com.

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Amy Gustin

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