They say weed can't kill you. But if recent research is any indication, marijuana farms may be driving certain species to extinction.
The federal government is investigating whether pot plantations on the west coast are related to the sudden deaths of fishers, woods-dwelling cousins of weasels. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, rat poisons used on thousands of illegal cannabis farms may be responsible for killing the small predators, who frequently feast on vermin that have already ingested the toxins.
"We absolutely do have to evaluate the marijuana threat," J. Scott Yaeger, a wildlife biologist in Yreka, Calif., told the Associated Press. "My gut feeling is we are going to find a strong link."
Fish and Wildlife scientists will spend the next several months tracking fisher populations in California, Oregon and Washington. Biologists estimate that between 3,000 and 5,000 of the mammals remain in the Pacific Northwest.
A recent study conducted by U.C. Davis found that of 58 dead fishers tested, 46 contained traces of the fatal poison. EPA research has also found the toxins in other animals, like mountain lions, bobcats, foxes and deer.
Rat poison isn't the only marijuana-related threat to west coast wildlife. Last year, scientists discovered that pot farms diverting water from the Eel River put the endangered coho salmon at risk.
"That is just one small watershed," Scott Bauer, the scientist in charge of coho recovery, told the Los Angeles Times. "You extrapolate that for all the other tributaries, just of the Eel, and you get a lot of marijuana sucking up a lot of water. This threatens species we are spending millions of dollars to recover."
Marijuana advocates argue that legalizing pot may help alleviate some of the environmental consequences of farming in the woods.
"This is only a big problem because marijuana is illegal," Marijuana Majority's Tom Angell told The Huffington Post. "There's a reason why the federal government isn't doing any studies about the disastrous impact that illegal grape growing is having on the environment. Wine is legal and regulated, and no one sneaks deep into the woods to produce it. It's time to bring the marijuana trade aboveground and regulate it so that producers have an incentive to abide by the rules and respect the environment."
Mother Jones recently released a video showcasing how the creation of large-scale pot farms devastates Northern California forests using images from Google Earth. Take a look below: