Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

More evidence linking poison at pot farms to wildlife deaths

A scarce mountain animal called the fisher — a cat-sized relative of the weasel — is dying from rat poison used in illegal marijuana fields along the southern Sierra Nevada, researchers say in a new study released last week.

The study bolsters last year’s research from scientists at University of California, Davis, who said it appeared the rat poison found in the bodies of dead fishers came from the hidden pot farms.

The latest study was done by a team from UC Davis, the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Research Station, UC Berkeley and the Integral Ecology Research Center in Humboldt County.  It was published in the journal Conservation Letters.

There are only 46 adult female fishers left in this region, researchers said. The animal is a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species Act for both California and the federal government.

In the study published last week, scientists reported on the amount of poisons found at more than 300 illegal plots and compared the locations of these sites with the home ranges and survival of the 46 female fishers.

The evidence leads researchers to believe the illegal pot farms, not rural developments or agriculture, were the problem. The fishers in the study were radio-tracked. Many were not observed into rural, urban or agricultural areas where rodenticides are often used legally.

Some fishers have died from eating the flavored poison or eating prey that had recently ingested the poisons. But the exposure may also weaken or confuse healty fishers, resulting in death from other causes, such as predation or traffic.

Scientists add that other animals with dwindling populations might be affected too. The species include the wolverine, marten, great gray owl, California spotted owl and Sierra Nevada red fox.

Vidak, off to quick Senate fundraising start, nets $90k in 10 days

On March 10 — which was just 10 short days ago — Hanford Republican Andy Vidak announced on his Facebook page that he would seek the 16th state Senate seat that came open when Bakersfield Democrat Michael Rubio abruptly resigned last month.

Since then, Vidak said, he’s been working the phones, seeking both support and cash.

Andy Vidak

He’s off to a good start, according to the Secretary of State’s Web site.

By March 13, records show, Vidak was already recording a string of donations.

The most recent filing was today. The total so far — close to $90,000.

To date, almost all of the cash is coming from agriculture, though Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway of Tulare also chipped in $4,100 from her 2018 state Senate account.

Contributions also include $2,500 from Allbright Cotton of Fresno and $4,100 each from Madera farmer Chester Andrew and Cutler-based Golden Star Citrus.

As of this afternoon, the other candidates, including Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez and Shafter City Council Member Fran Florez — the two highest-profile Democrats — have yet record any donations, according to the Secretary of State’s Web site.

In the meantime, the list of people who have at least pulled campaign papers — the first step toward a run for the seat — has grown to seven.

Besides Florez, Perez and Vidak, other candidates who already had pulled papers included Fresno resident John Estrada and Francisco Ramirez Jr.

They are now joined by Jerry Armendariz and Arif Mohammad, who have unknown hometowns and list no ballot designation.

Time to regulate underground water quality on farms

A dreaded time has arrived for some farmers in the San Joaquin Valley — enforcement of the state’s new underground water quality regulations.

Thousands of farmers north of the San Joaquin River will be the first in the Valley to experience it. Farmers on 1.1 million acres in Madera, Merced and Stanislaus counties are being told to sign up for it.

This campaign does not yet include farmers in Fresno, Tulare, Kings and Kern counties, but the enforcement will come to their land in the next year or so, according to the state.

The program is necessary, say environmentalists and activists for rural towns with drinking water wells in farm country. They say water needs to be protected fertilizers, pesticides and other possible threats.

Rural Valley towns have some of the most fouled water in the state.

Farmers fear extra costs of this new program. They’ve had a decade to worry about it as the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Board prepared the rules and enforcement.

To help farmers, ease the cost and organize the regulation, state leaders have allowed coalitions to represent broad areas. The East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition will represent the Madera, Merced and Stanislaus counties, according to the regional board.

The coalition has about 2,500 members, but there are several thousand more farmers who are not part of the group yet. If they sign up by May 14, their costs will be $50 for annual dues and a $4 per acre for water sampling and expertise in the paperwork the state requires.

The costs probably will be different for other coalitions in the Valley, depending on the need for monitoring, evaluation and cleanup.

But farmers who go it alone without coalitions will pay more, state leaders say. On their own, farmers will have to get individual permits from the state and pay for their own consultants to do the work.

For more information about the East San Joaquin Water Quality Coalition, call (209) 522-7278 or go to www.esjcoalition.org.