Marijuana growers are chopping down U.S. national forests to establish plantations for illicit drug production, reports the Wall Street Journal.
According to an article written by Stephanie Simon and published September 3rd, the recent border crackdown has pushed marijuana cartels to cultivate crops in the United States rather than risk smuggling from Mexico. National forests are especially targeted, with authorities uncovering marijuana farms in 61 national forests across 16 states so far this year, up from 49 forests in 10 states last year.
“So far this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, federal agents have raided 487 pot farms on forest-service land, where they destroyed 2.6 million marijuana plants, seized 138 firearms and made 369 arrests on felony drug charges,” writes Simon.
The illegal cultivation presents risks to wayward hikers, who face confrontation by armed guards or injury from booby-traps set to protect plantations, as well as parks themselves. Authorities believe marijuana farmers were responsible for an 88,000-acre fire that burned last month in in California’s Los Padres National Forest.
Simon notes that the marijuana farms are well-capitalized ventures.
The pot farms are not fly-by-night operations. Growers cut down trees and terrace canyons to create plantations big enough for tens of thousands of plants. They apply pesticides and herbicides — some not approved for U.S. use. They dam or divert streams and hook together miles of PVC piping to build irrigation systems, some rigged to sophisticated timers.
Each camp is typically tended around the clock by guards who may be equipped with assault rifles, night-vision goggles, walkie-talkies and radios to monitor law-enforcement chatter.
Budget cuts have apparently made it easier for pot growers to cultivate their crop.
“California’s marijuana task force, which includes local, state and federal agents, has reduced aerial surveillance and eliminated overnight stakeouts and overtime missions,” writes Simon.
STEPHANIE SIMON. Pot ‘Plantations’ on the Rise. Wall Street Journal Sept 3, 2009.