Local forest yields record pot haul
Rankings: Sequoia National Forest No. 1 in drug seizures.
Federal officials are reporting an increase in the level of illegal marijuana cultivation on the Sequoia National Forest and say 2007 is turning out to be a record year.
Â“This is probably the largest amount of marijuana thatÂ’s been eradicated on our forest, ever,Â” U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Margie Clack said Monday. Â“ItÂ’s couldnÂ’t have been done without the multi-agency task force.Â”
Clack, in a prepared news release, said Tulare, Kern and Fresno counties Â— the counties within the forest boundary Â— have shattered old records and the forest is once again the No. 1 marijuana-producing National Forest in the nation with 293,187 plants seized by law enforcement out of 86 plantations.
The estimated street value is approximately $87 million.
Approximately 500 pounds of processed marijuana on its way to the streets was intercepted during vehicle stops along dirt roads and highways in and leading away from the forest, officials estimate. To date, Clack said authorities have seized more than 70 percent of the marijuana planted on the forest this year.
Of the 86 gardens located this year, all have been tied to large Mexico-based drug trafficking organizations based out of Michoacan, Mexico with U.S. bases primarily in the California cities of Delano and Temecula.
The number of marijuana cultivation-related arrests has also risen sharply in 2007.
As of Oct. 20, 41 arrests have been made related to illegal cultivation within the Sequoia National Forest, and on adjacent Bureau of Land Management and private lands with the majority of arrests occurring in Kern County.
Clack said the arrests are primarily the result of a strong multi-agency cooperative effort between Kern County SheriffÂ’s Department Major Violators Narcotics Unit, Kern County SheriffÂ’s Department Special Weapons and Tactics Team, South Valley High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, Tulare County SheriffÂ’s Department, Tulare County Narcotics Unit, Tulare SheriffÂ’s Tactical Enforcement Personnel, Fresno County SheriffÂ’s Department, BLM, U.S. Forest Service, California National Guard, Campaign Against Marijuana Planting and resident patrol deputies from mountain communities in Tulare and Kern counties.
Another new trend observed by law enforcement officers this year is the development and expansion of marijuana gardens into more remote, higher elevation areas of the Sequoia National Forest.
Clack said three gardens were located on the Kern Plateau this year, with the largest being in the Lion Meadow Area. Sites have been located in environmentally sensitive areas, including the Kiavah, Golden Trout and Domeland Wilderness areas.
Â“Authorities say, over the last few years the raids have become more dangerous to law enforcement officers and the number of reported encounters between illegal growers and forest visitors has been on the increase,Â” Clack said in the release. Â“The public needs to be reminded to be alert when hiking through remote forest areas. According to officials, if the public should come upon something suspicious, immediately leave the area and notify local law enforcement agencies.Â”
Officers say their next step is the clean-up and removal of material left behind at the plantation sites.
Â“The residual effects from marijuana cultivation are becoming a national environmental disaster on public lands,Â” Clack said. Â“Marijuana growers leave behind thousands of pounds of fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides, trash and irrigation piping which seriously degrade water quality in forest creeks and downstream water values.Â”
All of the sites are in rugged, remote areas that require strenuous hikes to reach. Officers estimate a crew of 10-20 people and a minimum of five to eight hours are needed to clean up each site. All of the debris, including miles of plastic water lines, camping gear, trash, toxic pesticide materials and miscellaneous clothes, must be airlifted by helicopter and flown out to roadsides, where it is removed onto trucks for disposal.
Authorities said they hope they have put a dent into eradicating marijuana plantations on forest lands this year. That said, more than 100 sites still need to be cleaned up.
In 2006, there were 71,190 plants removed from 36 gardens on the Sequoia National Forest.
Contact Glen Faison at 784-5000, Ext. 1040, or email@example.com.