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.

State water board recommends farm fertilizer fee for water cleanup

A farm fertilizer fee is at the top of the suggestion list released Wednesday in a state report focused on widespread contamination of drinking water, especially in rural San Joaquin Valley towns.

The state needs to come up with $36 million a year to address the Valley problems from nitrates, which come from fertilizers and animal waste.

The contamination threatens drinking water for 250,000 people from Fresno to Bakersfield, according to a study released last year by the University of California at Davis.

Many people in small towns such as Seville in Tulare County have been drinking bottled water for years as they await a state solution. A Fresno Bee series of stories in 2011 highlighted the problems.

Grants and loans through the state have not panned out for  some towns that can’t afford to pay back loans or maintain treatment facilities.

Another funding source is needed, say leaders of the State Water Resources Control Board, which did the report.

“There just isn’t a stable, long-term funding source,” said Jonathan Bishop, chief deputy director of the water resources board in Sacramento.

Bishop said the recommendations are among the steps required by SBX2-1 in 2008. It’s up to the Legislature to settle on how to get funding.

Other ideas to raise money include a tax on farm commodities and a water-use fee.

Activists led by the Community Water Center in Visalia say rural residents have been stuck with the bill for bottled water long enough.

“The state has known for 40 years that applying too much fertilizer on crops contaminates drinking water,” said Maria Herrera of the water center, which represents many towns.

“The problem is getting worse for communities and taxpayers throughout California. We need action now.”