Friday, September 21, 2007

Fens, Bog Turtles, and Cannabis

A number of years ago when I was following a Hudson Valley ecologist through a calcareous fen in my town we came upon an old plastic flower pot, the kind big enough to grow tomatoes in, and the remains of a bag of fertilizer. Nothing was in the flower pot and the bag had been torn open. Marijuana, the fellow I was with said. Someone had been growing marijuana here years ago.

A few months later I brought another ecologist there, to help assess whether bog turtles might be living in the fen. He found the flower pot too and said it's not at all uncommon to find marijuana growing in a fen. And a third scientist, a fellow who had spent a lot of time monitoring a bog turtle population at the Bog Brook Unique Area, near Brewster, New York, and Danbury, Connecticut, told me the same thing.

Fens have an open canopy, so they get a lot of sun. They're moist. They're generally remote and hard to find. And, if you come upon one, you have to slog across rills with knee-deep water and through muck that can take your shoes off and keep them. They're not that much fun to hike through, in other words. Casual visitors rarely intrude.

It turns out that someone thought the Bog Brook Unique Area was an ideal location for a marijuana farm. The cops found it though and yesterday they moved in and took the plants -- some of which were eight to ten feet tall -- away. (Read about it here.)

Two decades ago, Bog Brook had at least 30 bog turtles, which are a threatened species federally and endangered at the state level. At the time the state bought it, in the early 1980s, it was the only preserve the state had ever bought specifically to protect an endangered species. Not long ago I asked the herpetologist who had been monitoring the population how they were faring. Badly, he said. Mainly because of mismanagement, the population of bog turtles at Bog Brook had dwindled to only three. The weed did well though.

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