West Coast cannabis cultivators are battling the ongoing threat of wildfire and smoke

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

Cannabis cultivators residing on the West Coast have come to terms with the fact that their summer-fall crops are likely to face unavoidable smoke damage due to wildfires. 

Since July, blazing infernos have obliterated natural landscapes across the Western region. With experts anticipating that fire season may linger until December, growers are now seeking out alternative options so as to ensure their farming efforts don’t go to waste. 

“It’s par for the course that you’re going to be dealing with wildfires during the season,” said the executive director of the Trinity County Agriculture Alliance, Karla Avila. 

Her organization identifies as a cannabis trade association and is currently active in Northern California’s Emerald Triangle acknowledged as the largest cannabis producing region in the United States.

Despite the fact that cannabis cultivators operating in the Emerald Triangle tend to prepare for adverse weather events in advance of their occurrence, Avila noted that preparation is not always key for easing pressure.

“Doesn’t make it less stressful, but it’s something we have to be prepared for and work on all year long, maintaining our perimeters and keeping our farms defensible,” she continued.

How wildfires can damage cannabis crops

Official wildfire data coverage published on August 23 confirmed that more than 150,000 acres of land have been burned in Trinity County as a result of the Monument Fire; which was 20 percent contained.

Wildfires pose a number of risks to all kinds of plants, including cannabis. Thick plumes of smoke can filter sunlight and minimize plant growth/yields. Consequently, this can negatively impact the time a plant spends growing its branches and leaves. 

In the event that a farm is positioned in close proximity to a fire, smoke-tainted cannabis may be unsuitable for retail sale; even in the case of a successful laboratory test. Then there’s the issue of stubborn smoke haze, which can increase the level of harvesting difficulty for farmworkers. Wildfires can also cause threats to health, since chemical residue and wildfire ash can cause respiratory problems once inhaled.

Gov. Gavin Newsom formally requests federal assistance to tackle wildfires 

On Monday, August 23, Governor Gavin Newsom formally requested that President Joe Biden issue a major disaster declaration to grant the State of California extra federal resources for tackling wildfires in eight different counties, including Trinity. As a result of his request, wildfire response and recovery efforts will now be ramped up something that will likely benefit hundreds of statewide cannabis farmers.

“California is grateful for President Biden’s swift approval of our request and the ongoing work of our heroic firefighters and emergency responders to protect communities across Northern California,” said Gov. Newsom. “This declaration makes vital resources available as we continue to work in lockstep with local, state and federal partners to meet the challenge of these catastrophic wildfires and support communities in recovery.”

The Monument Fire has already inflicted a devastating blow on hundreds of cannabis farms across California. According to Avila, the U.S. Forest Service claims that it has been a tricky feat to control the fires due to “ongoing drought conditions, dry fuels and steep terrain.”

“It’s definitely been a few years in a row here of pretty intense fire that has affected a large part of our county, so it feels like a heavy lift, to be in the middle of it for weeks or months on end,” Avila said, adding that, “it’s wearing. It’s taxing, to be under fire duress for long periods.”