Rural Areas ‘Under Siege’ by Marijuana
By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune
The marijuana harvest season is coming to a close, and the rapid growth of the quasi-legal industry has some residents in eastern Humboldt County feeling under siege.
In Hoopa, where tribal law prohibits any and all marijuana cultivation, unknown numbers of armed men have set up illegal plantations in the forest.
Tribal Forestry workers as well as local high school students have been shot at when they stumbled across hidden grow operations.
In Willow Creek, where California’s Proposition 215 gives semi-legal status to marijuana grown for medical patients, more and more travelers looking for work as trimmers use the downtown area as home base.
On Tuesday, Oct. 30, around 40 people with backpacks and traveling gear sat in small groups in the park, on the lawn in front of the grocery store, and along Highway 299.
A group of three young men watched as a young woman used a utility box cover alongside the road as a table, while she crumbled up marijuana nuggets and filled a pipe.
People in town said there were at least four times as many a few weeks earlier, during the peak of harvest season.
Nick Wilde said, “Three weeks ago I saw over 20 people standing in the median near the post office. They were holding signs and one guy had a big cardboard scissors.”
Karen Maki, who works in Willow Creek, said, “It’s been a nightmare. It’s worse than it’s ever been.”
Steve Paine said, “We spent years and thousands of dollars developing our little park. They defecate in the playhouse and they completely remove the feeling of safety for mothers and children.”
“People resent the fact that they can’t leave their windows down or leave their cars unlocked anymore,” Paine said.
Judy Gower said, “I live near the park and I can’t even take my kids there because they have those transients over there with pit bulls and mastiffs. It’s just scary.”
John Salazar, a truck driver for Nor Cal Produce, said, “I can tell you they’re everywhere. I see them on the side of the road hitchhiking with dogs.”
Liesel Waters, who works at the Willow Creek Community Resource Center, said people come out during the harvest season each year and end up hanging around Willow Creek.
“It’s so noticeable because we go from the few local homeless people to a huge number of them here for a few months,” Waters said.
Chris Edgar, a route salesman for Franz Bakery, said, “They’re here for labor work – traveling trimmers, I assume.”
That assumption doesn’t apply, however, to everyone passing through. Some travelers are simply that: travelers.
Taylor Dawson and Bradley Llewellyn sat on the curb near the Raging Creek Pub Eatery, with their backpacks and dogs.
“We’ve been here a couple of days trying to hitch a ride out, and no one picks us up,” Dawson said.
Llewellyn said, “I’m just traveling in the summertime, gone to a few fairs and attended a few festivals, and met a lot of really cool people, and trying to make it home before winter.”
Llewellyn said that the flood of trimmers has a negative effect on him and his traveling companion.
“It’s making it hard for people like me to make it down the road,” he said.
Dawson said she’s been traveling back and forth across the country for the past four years, and the trimmers aren’t following the usual rules of the road.
“I feel you should pass through or get a job, but don’t just stay there for a week in the middle of a town like this with one grocery store and two gas stations,” Dawson said.
The hopeful trimmers camping downtown, however, are only the most visible part of an industry that has sunk deep local roots. The marijuana industry is expanding to fill every available bit of space in Humboldt County.
The distinctive skunk-like smell of marijuana wafts through almost every neighborhood in Willow Creek throughout each growing season. In some neighborhoods, marijuana plants could be easily seen growing in yards between homes.
“This was a nice quiet retirement community,” Paine said. “There’s been a total change in perception of Willow Creek as a community. What 65-year-old wants to come here to retire now?”
Humboldt County 3rd District Supervisor Mark Lovelace shared a story of just how large the marijuana industry has become in Humboldt County, after a fly-over of the Van Duzen, Mad River and Redwood Grove watersheds.
“In the course of two hours we counted 439 grows,” Lovelace said, “and that was just what we could see from the plane.”
In addition to the environmental destruction that comes from any unregulated industry using pesticides and other chemicals, the semi-legal grow operations drive out fully legal businesses, and the local tax base shrinks.
At the same time that $1 million growing operations and massive greenhouses are carved into the hillsides, local school bus service has been reduced because there’s less and less tax money to pay for basic services.
One local resident, who asked that her name not be used, said almost everyone knows friends or relatives who are involved with the industry.
“They tell me that I’m an idiot for working a nine-to-five job instead of growing,” she said. “It was like, how smart are you?”