News From Native California Volume 31, Issue 3 - Page 33

By Kaitlin Reed a new tradition has sprouted in my ancestral home- lands: every summer a militarized caravan marches through the Yurok backcountry searching for illegal marijuana culti- vation. As Operation Yurok sweeps through, cut marijuana plants shrivel and die underneath the summer sun, leaving behind a violent legacy that will affect the lands, waters, and bodies of Yurok people for generations to come. Illegal mari- juana cultivation has become an environmental catastrophe in Yurok country. Aptly labeled the “Green Rush,” the surge in marijuana production extends the racist Manifest Destiny ideology of the Gold Rush. As descendants of survivors of the Gold Rush genocide and ecocide, we know better than anyone the destructive results of the profit-driven exploitation of our homelands. While the environmental impacts from illegal marijuana cultivation are numerous and extensive, I will focus on impacts on water quantity and quality, wildlife, and our ability to practice our culture. Because of the environmental ramifications and our profound responsibility to protect the integrity of the land- scape, the cultivation of marijuana is illegal on the Yurok Indian Reservation. Despite this, illegal marijuana grow opera- tions encroach upon our reservation and ancestral territories. Not only does this violate Yurok tribal law, it also leaves behind severe environmental and economic impacts for the tribe to contend with. These marijuana operations illegally divert water and chemically pollute biologically sensitive watersheds. The health of our water is at stake, and, as the water protectors at Standing Rock remind us, water is life. In response, the Yurok Tribe has taken action to defend tribal sovereignty by raiding—in collaboration with local, state, and federal law enforcement—illegal marijuana grows within reservation boundaries. In July 2014, a weeklong raid dubbed Operation Yurok disrupted sixty-nine of over one hundred and fifty docu- mented cultivation sites. The raid resulted in the confiscation of over sixteen thousand plants, along with equipment and generators: the sites had been gouged out with wood chippers. Since then, each summer has featured a similar raid. However, the number of grow sites disrupted and arrests made have decreased from summer to summer. While this trend is reason for optimism, it also begs the question of whether Operation Yurok must be fully funded and staffed indefinitely to protect our territories from the Green Rush. Will settlers eventually respect the laws of our territory? During the 2016 summer raid, I was allowed to observe Operation Yurok. The amount of debris I saw was devastating. Empty bottles of dangerous chemicals, ranging from garden- variety herbicides to lethal rodenticides, littered the ground; the presence of these chemicals in our streams and rivers, due to runoff, is a very real possibility. Large pipes—some as large as five inches in diameter—were placed in inno- cent streambeds, guzzling up water. Thin black rubber tubes crisscrossed whole mountainsides, delivering water and chemical support to hungry young plants. The makeshift irrigation infrastructure is difficult to remove underneath the summer sun. Currently the primary focus is the eradica- tion of illegal cultivation sites, and for good reason, but the Yurok Tribe lacks the financial resources to clean up many of the abandoned and contaminated grow sites, which have generational impacts. According to the Sierra Fund, there are approximately forty-seven thousand abandoned mines from the Gold Rush era throughout California. The men- tality driving the Gold Rush and the Green Rush views the earth as expendable and exploitable, prioritizing monetary wealth accumulation over the health and wellbeing of future generations. The most pressing environmental concern is water. Because marijuana cultivation is illegal, water use for cultiva- tion is unregulated and unquantified. While scientists debate the exact amount of water a single cannabis plant requires, they estimate anywhere from five to fourteen gallons per day—ove r the course of a four-month growing season. In Yurok country, illegal cultivation is found in the hills at high elevations where the soil is rocky and unabsorbent; there- fore, water usage here is probably closer to fourteen gallons per plant. Elders have reported streams and creeks running completely dry mid-summer, during the height of grow- ing season. Our river is already sick because of the dams and agricultural irrigation and runoff. As the Run4Salmon move- ment calls attention to the plight of water and salmon, illegal marijuana production is just one of many assaults. We need to protect our water. SPR IN G 2 018 ▼ 31