Sunday, 14 July 2024

National Forest: Watch out for illicit pot gardens

LAKE COUNTY – With more visitors coming into the Mendocino National Forest during the summer months, forest officials are advising people to be on the lookout for illegal marijuana gardens and the people who guard them.

Nearly half a million illegal marijuana plants were seized on the Mendocino National Forest last year and the prime growing period is now underway, prompting national forest officials to advise the public to be especially vigilant when visiting the forest.

“We want the public to be aware that this is going on and know what to do if they encounter marijuana gardens on the forest,” said Forest Supervisor Tom Contreras.

Illegal marijuana growing is an increasing problem on public lands in California. National Forest System lands are becoming increasingly used for growing and harvesting illegal marijuana gardens and these operations can potentially present a safety hazard to forest visitors and employees.

Most of the marijuana gardens are in very remote locations. The national forest has vast and mostly uninhabited lands with many areas of rich, fertile soil and a climate that provides the necessary conditions for growing marijuana. Plants are put into the ground between May and June and harvested in late September through November.

“If a private citizen comes upon something suspicious, don’t enter the area; just leave and notify local law enforcement authorities immediately,” Dennis Cullen, Forest Service Law Enforcement Patrol Captain, advised. “Do not enter any garden area.”

In 2006 the MNF law enforcement team spent over 300 days eradicating 405,399 marijuana plants from 55 illegal marijuana sites on the Mendocino National Forest. More marijuana was taken by this team than any other group in the Forest Service in 2006.

In addition to the criminal nature of the marijuana gardens, there is substantial environmental degradation caused by the illegal growers. Herbicides and pesticides used to remove competing vegetation and gnawing rodents (which are a food source for the northern spotted owls), human waste and garbage, all end up in rivers after winter rains. Also, the irrigation systems dewater small streams needed by fish, and compacts the soil in the gardens, leading to erosion.

The typical marijuana garden has changed from the late 1980s and early 90s. During that time the typical operation had 100 to 1,000 plants. These days, operations are far larger, ranging in size from 1,000 to 30,000 plants, or more. The larger growing operations often have armed individuals tending the gardens, Cullen said.

“Most of the increase can be attributed to the proliferation of foreign Drug Trafficking Organizations,” Cullen said.

Forest Service law enforcement officers work with county sheriff’s departments and Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) teams. Headed by the Department of Justice Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, CAMP teams were created in 1983 for the primary purpose of eradicating illegal marijuana from public lands in California.

Growers can live in the forest near these sites for months at a time. Officers have come across camps with exercise facilities, tree houses, barbed wire fences and numerous firearms, Cullen said.

These camps often contain cooking and sleeping areas which are within view of the cultivation site. Some camps have tents, hammocks and sleeping bags on the ground and have been found with large overhanging tarps as cover for the entire campsite.

There are some things to watch for which may indicate marijuana is being grown in an area. They can include:

  • Isolated tents in the forest where no recreational activity is present.

  • The utilization of trailers with no evidence of recreational activities.

  • A pattern of vehicular traffic or a particular vehicle seen in the same isolated area on a regular basis.

  • Unusual structures located in remote forested areas, with buckets, garden tools, fertilizer bags, etc.

  • Signs of cultivation or soil disturbance in unlikely areas.

  • Black piping and trash scattered in forested areas.


For additional information or to notify law enforcement authorities of a suspected garden area in the Mendocino National Forest, persons can contact Forest Service Law Enforcement at (530) 934-3316.


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