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Illegal Marijuana Gardens Create Hazards for Mendocino National Forest Visitors

September 14, 2004 - Growing and harvesting illegal marijuana gardens on National Forest lands continues to increase and these operations present a safety hazard to Forest visitors and employees.

"We want to remind Forest visitors that this is occurring and what they should do if they encounter a growing site when they are in the woods," said Jim Fenwood, Mendocino National Forest Supervisor. "This is a particular concern now since deer hunting is underway and the Mendocino National Forest is a very popular hunting location."

Most of the illegal gardens are in very remote locations. National Forests have vast and mostly uninhabited lands, with many areas of rich, fertile soil and a climate that provides suitable conditions for growing marijuana. The plants are put in the ground during the spring and harvested in late September and October.

"Deer hunting season brings thousands of hunters into the national forest and there is potential for Forest visitors to accidentally come upon an active illegal marijuana garden," Daryl Rush, Mendocino National Forest Patrol Captain, said.

"If a private citizen comes upon something suspicious, don’t enter the area; just leave and notify local law enforcement authorities immediately," Rush advised. "Do not enter any garden area."

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 20,000 plants, or more. The larger growing operations often have armed individuals tending the gardens, Rush 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.

According to Rush, so far this year local Sheriff’s Departments in Glenn, Tehama, Colusa and Lake Counties, and Forest Service Law Enforcement Officers have eradicated over 17,000 plants from the Mendocino National Forest, with a street value of $51 million.

Most recently, on September 7 this year, Forest Service Law Enforcement Officers and Glenn County Sheriff’s Officers eradicated more than 3,000 plants with a street value of $12 million from the Mendocino National Forest.

Officers have come across camps with pole and barbed wire fences and numerous firearms, Rush said. Growers can live in the Forest near these sites for months at a time. 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 use 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.

In addition to the criminal nature of the marijuana gardens, there is substantial environmental degradation caused by the illegal growers. Excessive use of herbicides and pesticides 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 de-water small streams needed by fish, and the compacting of the soil in the gardens leads to erosion.


"We also want to remind people that fire restrictions are in still in effect on the Mendocino National Forest and conditions are extremely dry," Fenwood said.

For additional information or to notify law enforcement authorities of a suspected garden area in the Mendocino National Forest, persons can contact Rush at (530) 934-1164.

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