For those of you that follow the news and websites oriented toward National Parks, you may have noted the recent stories about large marijuana plantations found at Sequoia Kings Canyon and other parks out west. These organized grow operations are being run by members of the Mexican Drug Cartels and pose threats to natural resources and visitors. The cartels are increasing their profit margin by growing their product on protected public lands in our country and eliminating the risk and cost of crossing the border to bring it here. They have no trouble recruiting workers in Mexico to plant and tend these farms.
The grow operations are complex and organized involving the construction of irrigation systems, fencing to keep wildlife out, guards, fertilizers, and camouflaging of the sites in an attempt to protect them from observation.
The clearing of trees and foliage to allow sunlight to the plants, the use of chemical fertilizers, deviation of water sources, litter, compaction of fragile soils, erosion caused by digging, and building of trails for workers are all having a heavy impact on plants and animals in these remote areas. The sites chosen for these grow operations tend to be placed in the the richest areas for native plants and result in their displacement and destruction.
Indications are that during the growing season these locations are occupied by armed guards to protect the plants from wildlife damage and detection by persons. As far as I know, we have not yet seen what would happen should an innocent park visitor hiking in the back country stumble into one of these locations. As the media has published, just one of these sites found in California had a street value of $36 million dollars. I would imagine that the Mexican drug cartels would be interested in protecting their investment. These are the same cartels that have been responsible for the violence and death along our border with Mexico. It was a man connected to one of these cartels that murdered US Park Ranger Kris Eggle at Oregon Pipe Cactus National Monument in 2002.
Nor are these industrial sized marijuana grow operations confined to the western regions. Several years ago one of these operation was located in the area of Rockcastle Gorge on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. Other sites have been located on US Forest Service areas in Georgia and the south.
Criminal elements from outside our own country are contributing to the destruction of our national parks. The American people need to be aware of this theft of their heritage. Park Rangers and managers need our help and support to stop these threats. Report any observations you may have of unusual or strange behavior in back country areas. People seen hauling hose, bags of fertilizer, fencing, or any other materials that do not belong should be reported. Use caution when you do see any signs of these activities. Do not make contact with individuals and leave any grow sites immediately before you can be detected. Once out and safe, report the observations you have made as soon as possible to proper authorities.
We all need to work together to protect or national parks and other protected areas.