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Why Are Owls Dying Near Cannabis Farms?

New study says illegal grows in Northern California are to blame for an uptick in owl deaths.

Researchers Discover a Large Number of Owls Dying Near Marijuana Cultivation Sites

A big topic of discussion within the cannabis industry is the use of pesticides and other chemicals during the cultivation process. According to analysts at Steep Hill Labs, the vast majority of samples that come in test positive for some type of pathogen. But a disturbing new study shows that humans are not the only creatures at risk of becoming ill due to harsh pesticides used on marijuana.

Researchers have found that several animals in the northwestern California counties of Humboldt, Mendocino and Del Norte including the northern spotted owl, are dying after exposure to rat poison. Scientists point to thousands of “unpermitted private marijuana grow sites” as the source of the deadly chemical. Mice and rats – an owl’s main food source – are attracted to sweet smelling cannabis plants, becoming contaminated after a visit to the farm.

Researchers from the University of California, Davis, and the California Academy of Sciences, have detected traces of anticoagulant rodenticide in seven of the 10 northern spotted owl carcasses they collected. The study, recently published in the journal Avian Conservation and Ecology, is of great concern due to the large number of species succumbing to poison.

Owls Aren’t Alone in Being Affected by Illegal Pot Grows

In addition to spotted owls – which are considered are considered threatened under state and federal endangered species acts – barrow owls are also at risk. Of the 84 dead barred owls the researchers collected, 34 — about 40 percent — tested positive for rat poison, which can cause internal bleeding due to the chemicals effect on how the blood clots. Researchers believe that these illegal grows are threatening the owls due to their close proximity to their natural habitats.

“Spotted owls are inclined to feed along forest edges,” explained lead study author Mourad Gabriel in a statement. “Because grow sites break apart these forest landscapes, they are likely source points for exposure.” The researchers are concerned that the number of unregulated marijuana farms may grow due to the recent legalization of adult-use cannabis in California. Many people continue to purchase black market pot due to the high expense of incurred at licensed dispensaries.

Scientists Plead For Accountability in Cannabis Cultivation

“When you have thousands of unpermitted grows and only a handful of biologists that regulate that for multiple counties, we’re deeply concerned that there aren’t sufficient conservation protective measures in place,” Gabriel continued. “If no one is investigating the level at which private marijuana cultivators are placing chemicals out there, the fragmented forest landscapes created by these sites can serve as source points of exposure for owls and other wildlife.”



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