When local residents met in Knights Ferry last month to discuss the effects of the almond boom on their quality of life, the emphasis was on domestic wells running dry, but there were many other concerns. One that received little media attention was the effects of almond orchards on wildlife.
“Your people are shooting the deer,” said one man who lives near orchards owned by Trinitas Partners. “We used to have deer and now all the deer are gone.”
Trinitas spokesman Ryon Paton denied anyone in his employ was shooting deer. He explained that Trinitas keeps deer away by spraying bleach around their orchards. Using bleach is considered an enlightened way of dealing with problems caused by deer in almond orchards, and there’s little doubt Paton considers himself and his partners enlightened about the environment.
Paton’s response is typical of those for whom issues like loss of wildlife, noise, drifting pesticide spray, dust, increased truck traffic, and other effects of industrial agriculture never rise to the level of environmental impacts. For people like this, it doesn’t matter that a person might lament the loss of deer from the local environment as long as hazing the deer is done in a “humane” manner.
It also doesn’t occur to very many people that loss of raptor habitat due to conversion of rangeland to almond orchards is an environmental impact. The eastern foothills of the San Joaquin Valley are among the best winter raptor habitats in North America, used by species like Rough-legged and Ferruginous Hawks as well as by year-round raptor residents. If a person buys a home nearby looking forward to seeing Ferruginous Hawks and then finds their habitat destroyed by an endless forest of nut trees, he’s experienced an environmental impact almost universally unacknowledged.
Even crows are hazed away from the orchards. The most popular method is propane-powered air cannons. If you’re walking your dog and the cannons frighten the dog, well, that’s your problem, but it’s a problem you couldn’t anticipate when you bought your quiet country home before it was surrounded by almond orchards. And it’s certainly not a problem associated with environmental impacts.
Instead, “environment” in the Valley today almost always means “fish.” Both are dirty words. Political and social leaders utter them with a perfect admixture of contempt, disgust, and dismissal.
Thus, when county supervisors, the Local Area Formation Commission, irrigation districts, and others are charged with determining environmental impacts from loss of rangeland or annexation into an irrigation district, the usual response is, “no impacts.” Agriculture has generally been exempt from strictures imposed by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in any case, but in the few cases that do arise, it’s rare farming receives anything less than a free pass.
People who raise questions about environmental impacts are almost always slotted into the category of fish fanatics. Their concerns about noise, loss of wildlife and open space, and other effects on quality of life aren’t even acknowledged, let alone respected.
Nonetheless, such quality of life issues are the reasons the state instituted CEQA requirements. Agriculture, especially industrial agriculture, shouldn’t be exempt from requirements imposed on other businesses. An environment is a place people and animals live, a home.
Next: History? Not around here.