Walkers say it's time to take back the woods

Mary Bullwinkel

Beacon Correspondent

More than 100 people took the woods last weekend in neighboring Mendocino County to keep the spotlight on the problem of illegal growing of marijuana in the forests of northern California. The "Walk to Take Back Our Forest" was held on private timberland owned by Hawthorne Timber Company near the small coastal community of Fort Bragg.

The event was held within a few days of the one-year anniversary of the death of Fort Bragg City Councilman Jere Melo. Melo was shot and killed by a mentally ill man at the scene of an opium poppy grow in August 2011 while investigating reports of an illegal marijuana grow on timber company property.

The walk was organized by friends and family members. Joe McBride is a professor of Forestry and Natural Resources at UC Berkeley, where he and Melo both attended college. "Illegal growing of marijuana in the forests of northern California has fostered violence and threats of violence that are preventing the recreational use of our forests," McBride said. "Serious environmental impacts such as diversion of stream water, use of highly toxic pesticides, over fertilization of growing sites, and killing of wildlife is also occurring," McBride added.

The purpose of the walk was to call attention to the problems. "For too long the public has either been unaware of the problem or chosen to ignore it." McBride said,

At the halfway point of the one mile walk, several speakers, including Fort Bragg Mayor Dave Turner and members of the Fort Bragg City Council, the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors, and sponsoring organizations spoke briefly about Melo and the violence and environmental problems associated with the illegal growing of marijuana in northern California forests.

Sponsoring organizations included the University of California Forestry Alumni Association, UC Center for Forestry, UC Forestry Club, and the Jere Melo Foundation.

A tree was planted in memory of Melo along the route of the hike on private forest land, and afterwards walkers enjoyed an afternoon picnic at the Hawthorne Timber Company picnic grounds.

Photo by Mary Bullwinkel/Beacon

Fort Bragg Mayor Dave Turner was one of the speakers to address those who participated in the "Walk To Take Back Our Forest."