BLM California News.bytes 
News.bytes Extra, issue 547

Tour highlights dumping, hazardous materials on public lands in California

discarded tires on the land
Peter Graves and Georgette Fogle see tires illegally dumped on public land in Nevada County.

The Bureau of Land Management faces problems with illegal dumping and hazardous materials from marijuana plantations, to shot-up televisions, to marijuana grow sites.

Georgette Fogle, policy analyst in the BLM's national Division of Environmental Quality and Protection, received a first hand-look at the problems during a tour of Central California last week.

Peter Graves, environmental protection specialist in the BLM California State Office, took Fogle on a tour that included illegal dump sites in the western Sierra foothills, a marijuana grow site near Middletown in Lake County and a former mercury mine on Walker Ridge.

Fogle saw illegal dumps with shot-up televisions, tires, appliances, cars and general trash during her tour of the foothills. She met with residents and county staff during an open house in Nevada County to discuss cooperative efforts to deal with the illegal dumping problem. She also met with officials in Amador and Tuolumne counties to discuss the issue.

Local residents and county officials said that illegal dumping threatens human health and safety, the environment and economic development. The BLM Mother Lode Field Office spent nearly $146,713 from fiscal year 2010-2012 to remediate illegal dump sites. The field office may have to spend another half-million dollars to remediate additional dump sites, Graves said. Nationwide, the cost to remediate illegal dumps could be in the millions.

Fogle inspected a marijuana grow site that had been previously raided on public land managed by the Ukiah Field Office. After an arduous hike in the heat through dense brush and poison oak, she saw the environmental damage these illegal operations create.

The site was used by a drug trafficking organization to grow more than 10,000 plants as close as 200 yards from a paved road.  The site stretched over an area 100 yards wide and 300 yards long.  There were camp areas with structures for cooking and sleeping built from trees the growers had cut down, clothing, camp equipment, pesticides, fertilizer, thousands of feet of pipe and large areas cleared and terraced for cultivation. Local BLM staff discussed cleanup and rehabilitation methods, along with the long-term effects of fertilizers, pesticides, clearing and water diversion.

Cannabis cultivation damages the environment in numerous ways: chemical contamination and damage to watersheds and water courses, elimination of native vegetation, wildfire hazards, poaching, garbage and human waste, said Gary Sharpe, supervisory resource management specialist in the Ukiah Field Office.

Cleanup and restoration costs range from $14,900 to $17,700 per acre. Costs include disposal of hazardous waste (pesticides, fuels, fertilizers, batteries), camp facilities, irrigation hose and garbage.  Garbage pits and large pits used to mix fertilizers with water are filled in. Dug-out springs and creeks dammed to collect water and mix fertilizer are restored. Typically, a crew of 12 to 15 young men and women walks into these remote and rugged sites to do the rehabilitation, Sharpe explained. They are led by a hazardous materials-certified BLM employee and local or BLM law enforcement. Work crews create pickup zones and bundle materials for a National Guard helicopter to hoist out. 

Fogle also travelled through the recently extinguished Wye and Walker fires to the Rathburn abandoned mercury mine.  The mine is being cleaned up by Ukiah Field Office. With peak production in 1892, the Rathburn mine was the largest producer of mercury in the Sulphur Creek Mining District before 1900.  It operated until 1915 and then shut down until the late 1950s through early 1970s when it operated intermittently.  It left large open pits and more than 100,000 cubic yards of waste rock.

two people look at a large area of trash on the land
Georgette Fogle and Peter Graves inspect trash left at an illegal camp site in Nevada County.

a man points out trash among the vegetation
Gary Sharpe discusses problems caused by marijuana cultivation.

tire tracks at a cleanup site
The Rathburn abandoned mercury mine is being cleaned by the Ukiah Field Office.

- David Christy, BLM Central California Public Affairs (September 2012)

BLM-California News.bytes, issue 547 -- To subscribe to News.bytes, send an e-mail to: OR visit our News.bytes subscription page.