Humboldt Journal of Social Relations


Local nonprofit organizations in the Pacific Northwest have stepped up to fill a leadership void in forest management since the Timber Wars of the 1980s and 1990s. Community based resource management groups (CBRM) have focused on stewardship of ecosystem services, and leading efforts to employ local workers to restore forest ecosystems and watershed functions. In Northern California, even as CBRM capacity has grown since the Timber Wars, a new transformative challenge threatens community and landscape adaptive capacity. Cannabis cultivation, which can have significant environmental and social impacts, has become a pervasive economic driver. I used interviews to explore CBRM leaders’ perceptions of environmental and social impacts of cannabis cultivation on their communities, and CBRM groups’ responses to these impacts. Respondents agreed that illegal cannabis cultivation on public land (trespass grows) and partially legalized and often poorly managed cannabis cultivation on private land threatens the progress that CBRM groups have made toward restoring forests and watersheds. They also described changing community relations resulting from the rapid influx of newcomers drawn to the economic opportunity of cannabis cultivation. They discussed wide-ranging approaches CBRM groups are taking to address emerging challenges. These interviews indicate that local partnerships between CBRM groups and government agencies are not sufficient to address the negative impacts of illegal cultivation especially on federal lands. Even if legalization of cannabis succeeds in creating a regulated market for a portion of California’s crop, the enormous national black market may continue to drive illegal cultivation on federal lands and unregulated private holdings. It will take Federal government re-investment in neglected national forests, rural landscapes and communities working to sustain critical ecosystem services, and federal legalization of cannabis to reverse the destruction resulting from illegal cannabis production on public lands.