Southern California environment news and trends

Rat poison from illegal California marijuana grows threatens rare forest animals

Campaign Against Marijuana Planting Pot Garden Raid

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

While the stereotypical image of marijuana farmers depicts them as Earth-friendly environmentalists, a proliferation of less scrupulous growers using rat poison to ward off pests on illegal farms may be responsible for killing scores of rare weasel-like mammals called fishers, which are already on the verge of protection under the Endangered Species Act.

As reported by the Summit County Voice, a new study by researchers at UC Davis, the Integral Ecology Research Center and other land agencies found that almost 80 percent of the fisher carcasses studied had been exposed to anticoagulant rodenticides. Brodifacoum, a second-generation rodenticide, was found in 96 percent of the dead animals. The researchers are looking at illegal public marijuana farms as the source for introducing the toxic chemicals to the remote, wooded areas where fishers dwell. The animals are often attracted by bacon and peanut butter “flavorizers” added for that very purpose.

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What's illegal about rainforest wood in a Barbie box?

A few weeks back I reported on a Greenpeace dispute with Mattel. It wants the world's largest toy maker to verify that toy packaging doesn't contain illegally harvested rainforest. Mattel said it's looking into everything. Greenpeace says it's still waiting. Pacific Swell has looked at evidence about Indonesia rainforest implications for California.

The short answer is that it's hard to tell. The long answer says a lot about how international law works.

The US grants forestry concessions and we monitor other countries too. We do this for money - bad logging heats up competition when we bring good old US of A wood to market. One study found costs to domestic lumber interests "conservatively" estimated at a billion dollars (by the lumber industry, 7 years ago, so grain of salt).

Beyond that, though, our government cares about illegal logging because it "leads to environmental degradation, disrupted trade and market access, exacerbated rural poverty and unsustainable economic development." Not necessarily for the environment, exactly, rather, it's the destabilizing effect the environment can have on US geopolitical interests that makes our diplomats' jobs harder.

The United States has a law, the Lacey Act, that aims to prevent illegally-taken wood from getting into the US. We enforce that law on facts only - it's no airtight legal defense to say you've got papers. Catching fake papers takes time.

Over in Indonesia, the government doesn't possess the commitment to excellence needed to keep illegal logging in check. Earlier, I laid out Indonesian enforcement shortcomings described in a World Bank report. Both Indonesia and the US say they're working on the problem.

US AID has tried to work with exporters of wood in Indonesia, to help them fill out the paperwork to show that they're not chopping down old-growth forests. Indonesia has a law where they have to track wood produce till it leaves the country. But everyone -the US government, international authorities, and Indonesian officials themselves - acknowledges there's more to do.

Bottom line: the US enforces a law, with incomplete authority, to address the problem. The Indonesian government lacks the tools and the wherewithal to enforce the authority it has. Laws are the clearest proxy for the environmental values we express, a lot of the time. But they fail here: logging's governance is a patchwork, pure and simple.

More about activist strategies that target business directly next.

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What connects Mattel to illegal Indonesian logging?

A few weeks back I reported on a Greenpeace action aboutw Mattel. It wants the world's largest toy maker to verify that toy packaging doesn't contain illegally harvested rainforest. Mattel said it's looking into everything. Greenpeace says it's still waiting. Pacific Swell has looked at Indonesia rainforest implications for California. I've checked some evidence the international environmental group relies on, circumstantial and direct.

Greenpeace says that Mattel has packaged Barbie dolls in boxes made from up to 23% "mixed tropical hardwoods" in Indonesia. That's the result of a test done in Wisconsin. When I talked to Rolf Skar, a Greenpeace senior forests campaigner based in SF, he told me that he walked into a Daly City Target and grabbed 4 boxes off the shelf. Skar sent them to tests; the tests break down by percentage what's in the pulp of the paper-based packaging.

The activist group seeks to link El Segundo and the conglomerate Asia Pulp and Paper through business/practice evidence. A box made in Indonesia contains tropical hardwoods. Just two large scale companies use that stuff in Indonesia: APP and another company, APRIL. Of those two, only APP produces packaging materials in Indonesia, where Barbies are made and packaged. Mattel requires its suppliers to vouch that they've not used hazardous chemicals in materials Mattel sells; only APP mills in Java and China have done that.

Through the supply chain, activists check paperwork. It's pretty widely acknowledged that papers get faked, either on the way out of Indonesia, or on the way in to the US. But sometimes companies don't even have those. In theory, Indonesia issues logging permits through regional offices; to log, to make paper, you need paper documentation, which is vaguely absurd.

On the ground, Greenpeace and others study satellite images where they know loggers for APP operate. They seek testimony from people in the area - and sometimes take reporters with them to look for logging behind protected-park borders, or near threatened animal species.

APP and Mattel may have explanations for all this. Since that first publicity stunt I've tried to speak directly to Asia Pulp and Paper, the international conglomerate the Greenpeace crew has gathered evidence about, as well as to Mattel. Nothing doing, yet, on either count.

Its worth noting that on Rainforest Realities, Asian Pulp and Paper's website devoted to its side of the story, they have posted a comment from the head of the Indonesian pulp and paper association.  APP/Sinar Mas has earlier denied illegal practices to BBC.

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Why does anyone cut down Indonesia rainforest?

After I reported on the Mattel-Greenpeace standoff over packaging sourcing, friends in LA who rely on me to tell them the news asked: why does anyone cut down rainforest? My generally over informed friends - people at KPCC - said, wait, I thought they were slowing down with the cutting, what's the big deal? 

Those questions aren't silly. With a little checking I figured out that nobody's said VERY much about this in recent years on the radio in the US. And if you listen to stories about how Indonesia had its own Million Tree planting like Los Angeles did, but 79 times larger, you might think, oh, that problem's solved, on to polar bears.  

So, first, obviously, people cut 'em down for money: paper sells. The trees are good for pulping; major companies in Indonesia use 'em in paper. Logging has slowed down. Some: but a widely-cited 2007 report of the United Nations Environment Program projected that illegal logging is so rampant, Indonesia might be out of forest to cut down by 2022. 

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What's the rainforest got to do with California?

This week on Pacific Swell l figured it was worth it to talk a little about Indonesia and Mattel and Barbie and Greenpeace - because the radio stories we'd had so far were shortened by our very short successful pledge drive.

You know we actually have rainforest in California, right? Temperate ones. Full of Sequoia sempervirens - the coast Redwood - and conifers like Doug Fir and Madrones and Bay Laurels even (the name of the street I grew up on). Redwood National Park, representThe state saves these trees in parkland too - yes, you, Big Basin! If you've ever seen a nurse log in central California - a tree felled for whatever reason, with shoots and leaves and moss and scrub and trees growing on and out of it - you were probably in a rainforest. The kind we protect in California and the US; the kind I was in over Memorial Day in Ben Lomond. 

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