The Rollercoaster Romance of Resource Based Economies

As incredible as Hayfork’s marijuana story is, it’s actually a familiar one. Hayfork is a boomtown. Trinity County was born out of the gold rush and has yet to shake its boom and bust pattern.  The gold and timber eras dominated the landscape, fueling the engine of local development with trees and minerals, the economy and population peaking alongside them as they hit their stride, and then waning when economic and regulatory conditions slowed them to a halt.

The Hayfork economy has been singularly tied to these industries. During the 70s and early 80s when the logging industry was in its heyday, Hayfork was primarily a timbertown. It supported two sawmills, and a town of loggers and woodsmen blossomed from the buzzing of its sawblades.

But in the late 80s the logging industry began to slow. Public forest management garnered attention, and increasing regulation and scrutiny of the industry challenged the timber market. In Hayfork this culminated in the early 90s with the closing of it’s last remaining mill. In a town of 2000, 180 people lost their jobs overnight. With no more mills, the town lost it’s economic backbone and the logging era ended.

In the aftermath of this collapse, many people moved away to find work. Property values were low, job options limited, and with no prevailing industry to speak of, the economy slumbered. Poverty was high, and with the main source of economic viability depleted, there was little opportunity to revitalize.

Marijuana arrived on this bleak scene, flooding into Hayfork like timber and gold before it. An echo of the past, population is growing as new arrivals come seeking the promised money of the marijuana trade. As before, few alternative jobs and abundant land create conditions for one resource industry to dominate the economic structure of the town. And as before, the landscape is bearing an immense burden.

For Hayfork, economic growth is a rollercoaster romance, riding peaks of profitability in the form of gold nuggets, timber, and pounds of marijuana, and dives in the form of regulatory response and market crashes. The relationship between Hayfork and larger industrial trends is characterized by under-regulation and resultant natural resource damage. Again and again, the growth of industry precedes regulation, drawing on the land until regulation catches up, creating a pattern of boom and bust industry that results in economic instability and cumulative environmental degradation.

Marijuana has arrived as the latest manifestation of this pattern. The industry has strengthened the economy, providing income to many of the residents in the community, offering them an increased quality of life and access to opportunities they would otherwise not have. It has also increased revenue for many local businesses, fostering expansion and job creation.

But the long term profitability of the industry is in question– the exponential volume of people producing weed has created a glut of supply that is driving prices down. With production on the rise and prices in decline, making a decent profit is increasingly hard. State and national policy will shape the viability of the industry as they sort out the legitimate and, by association, black markets, determining how accessible and profitable marijuana farming remains.

At the same time, regulation will also make or break the health of the land. The amount and method of farming will have a vast and long-term impact on the landscape– decisions about water use, garden size, and allowable farming inputs will decide the health of watersheds and forests.

The outcome of this industry—how it is regulated and how long it remains profitable—will have a big impact on the economy and the environment. How Hayfork weathers the threat of the next rollercoaster dive remains to be seen, but marijuana farming has arrived as the latest boom, carving out the terms for the future of the community.