It is no secret that drug dealers have taken to our vast national forests to grow illegal marijuana. But what is just coming out is the damage such operations are having on the forests.
Live Science reports that the director of law enforcement for the U.S. Forest Service turned the focus on the problem during testimony before a Senate committee last week
"The illegal cultivation of marijuana on our National Forest System is a clear and present danger to the public and the environment," said David Ferrell.
Ferrell said the forest system is ideal for such operations.
"The attributes that make the lands of the National Forest System excellent producers of wildlife habitat and clean water are also prized by illegal marijuana growers," Ferrell said. "The lands are remote with few people, the forest vegetation is dense, there is an extensive system of roads and trails (both open and closed), soils are fertile, and water for irrigation is available for the diverting."
But the growers do not treat the land with the proper respect. Live Science writes:
The growers clear plots to plant, destroying natural vegetation in the area and disrupting wildlife. They transport water from lakes and streams (an average plot of 1,000 plants requires 5,000 gallons, or about 19,000 liters, of water daily). Some growers also liberally apply toxic chemicals to keep their plots clear of weeds, bugs and rodents.
"The most disgusting aspect of it is the pollution," said Warren Eth, who wrote a review of marijuana cultivation in national forests. "They just pour chemicals like nobody's business… and they get washed into streams that flow through national parks."
These operations can also pose a deadly threat to innocent people using the forest.
"Many marijuana sites found on national forests are under cultivation by drug-trafficking organizations that are sophisticated and include armed guards, counter-surveillance methods, logistics support and state-of-the-art growing practices," Ferrell said. "Drug-trafficking organizations present a serious risk to national forest visitors and employees, as individuals are often armed with semiautomatic rifles and handguns."
He added that crops are also protected by "improvised antipersonnel devices," a fancy term for homemade landmines.
The first large marijuana plot on federal land was found in California in 1995, but growing was likely going on for decades before that.