Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA – Arcata’s Forest Management Committee (FMC) is inching toward opposition to a Commercial Cannabis Cultivation Permit (CCCP) for a 40-acre grow sited next to the Jacoby Creek Forest.
The citizen-led FMC advises the City Council on matters pertaining to Arcata’s forestlands, but the decision on the permit will be made at the county level since the properties are outside Arcata city limits.
The pre-existing grow, located on land zoned TPZ for timber production, is owned by Emerald Coast Genetics. While new grows on TPZ land don’t qualify for permits, there is an option for grandfathering in legacy cannabis grow operations.
Technically, the issue is how big the setbacks or buffer space should be between the grow and the JCF. The county’s Medical Marijuana Land Use Ordinance (MMLUO) requires a 600-foot setback from publicly-owned parkland like the JCF.
But the grow was carved out of the forest with its northwest corner about 30 feet from the JCF. The nominal 600-foot setback would enclose the entire grow, disqualifying it from obtaining a cultivation permit.
Environmental Services Director Mark Andre said the city is on record as opposing grows in TPZ zones. The city had also recommended a 1,000-foot buffer between parklands and grows, but the county went with 600 feet.
The matter was considered at a meeting of the FMC last Thursday, but no conclusions were reached because the meeting had to end so another group could use Council Chamber. A second meeting was scheduled for Tuesday, after the Union went to press. Andre said a recommendation in favor of the 600-foot setback was likely to result.
The City of Arcata and other property owners adjacent to the Emerald Coast Genetics grow would not have been formally notified of the cultivation permit application until just prior to the matter coming before the county Planning Commission. But the city got wind of the matter and held the FMC meetings to develop a recommendation.
“Our main concerns are any kind of development next to the forest boundary,” Andre said. “We want to make sure it’s solid in terms of protecting the public interest, and it comes down to how big the setback should be.”
The JCF was funded in part by the state Wildlife Conservaton Board, Andre said, “so we feel like it’s our obligation to defend it against adjacent activities that could compromise it.”
That includes potential impacts on wildlife habitat. The JCF is home to Northern Spotted owls, whch are listed as threatened by the state and federal government. The FMC has been concerned about cumulative impacts from development close to city forestlands, especially cannabis production, which can include use of herbicides, pesticides and rodentocides and create erosion and other problems.
“I don’t think this one had a legacy of issues with rodenticides, but we’re just trying to protect the public forest,” Andre said. He said the city will assess the site with state forestry officials to make sure no trees were cut on public land to establish the formerly illegal grow.
FMC member Michael Furniss confirmed that the group is likely to recommend the dealbreaking 600-foot buffer. While he acknowledged the situation was a “tough one,” the city has to protect the JCF under the terms that made it possible, and the forest’s sustainability has is the highest priority.
“When the city seeks funds for acquiring conservation lands, we make promises to the funders that we will do all we can to protect these places,” Furniss said. “We consider those promises sacrosanct.”
“The biggest threat and impact to forests in California is conversion to non-forest,” Furniss continued. “The FMC has long been opposed to using forest lands zoned TPZ for the production of farm commodities that are much better located and operated in agricultural areas, where the soils are much better and the infrastructure supports commodity production, and not carved out of poorly-suited forested lands because of a perverse need to ‘hide’ these operations.”