Marijuana is Big Business in Remote Forest

Marijuana is Big Business in Remote Forest
Posted by CN Staff on November 19, 2006 at 06:47:41 PT
By Dylan Darling
Source: Record Searchlight 
California -- Patrolling some of the most remote forest roads in the north state, DeWayne Little doesn’t see many speeders. So the state Department of Fish and Game warden was surprised to see a white Jeep barreling toward him on a mid-September morning. The driver didn’t see Little’s pickup, and Little had to swerve to avoid a collision.
"Slow down," Little yelled out his window. The Jeep stopped. Little got out of his pickup and walked over to the Jeep, prepping a speech on the dangers of speeding on forest roads. When he got to the driver’s window, he smelled a strong, sweet, skunky scent — marijuana His impromptu driver's ed class had turned into a drug bust.  Harvest Time The past 2˝ months have been harvest time in the north state. But this crop won't make its way to the produce section at the grocery store or be sold by the roadside. It's a hidden harvest -- one made after months of back-breaking work. Hauling gardening tools, irrigation lines, bags of fertilizer and camping gear. Cutting a place for plants to grow, hoping no one will notice. Daily watering. Daily guarding. Trimming, clipping and drying thousands of plants -- all to produce pot. Little had come across two men taking pot out of the public forest where it was grown. Their near-collision occurred Sept. 16 more than a dozen miles into the woods on Fender's Ferry Road off Highway 299 east of Redding. In the Jeep were four garbage bags covered in dust and stuffed to the brim with 19 pounds of marijuana buds. Such a haul in a city would be a big bust, but in the forest it's a small find. Over the past decade, north state law enforcement officers said, marijuana-growing operations have increased in size, organization and number. "The perception is that marijuana cultivation is done by old hippies," said Alan Foster, a special agent with the National Park Service who works out of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area. "The situation we are now faced with is entirely different than that."  Near and FarThe gardeners are almost always Mexican nationals, brought to the United States illegally simply to grow marijuana for Mexican drug cartels, Foster said. Sometimes they start work less than a day after making it across the border. Foster and other law enforcement officers who raid pot gardens in the north state said growers choose public land for the gardens because private land can be seized if its owners are involved with the growing. Also, privately held timberlands and other properties are visited much more often than many areas that are owned by the public. "A lot of the places that they are growing on are these dry, nasty hills that mom, pop and the kids are not going to go hiking on," said Dave Burns, a special agent with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) who spends his summer and early fall raiding gardens in the north state. Some gardens are remote, more than a rough hour's drive from pavement. Others are closer to civilization, such as a plot discovered this year within a half-mile of Shasta Dam, hidden in the manzanita tangles below its overlook. Gardens were also found close to a popular boat dock and near a new hiking trail at Whiskeytown. Though Whiskeytown Lake and its surrounding trails are visited by more than 750,000 people each year, vast marijuana gardens have been found tucked in the recreation area's rugged terrain. The problem isn't one just for the Park Service. The U.S. Forest Service, BLM and north state sheriff's departments, along with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the state Department of Justice and other agencies, are all trying to stop pot growing on public land by raiding the illicit gardens. The effort keeps officers busy with raids throughout the growing and harvest season -- from late spring to mid-autumn. But they say they're not keeping pace with the number of gardens. "We are swimming against the tide," Foster said. Growing Problem Those who raid marijuana gardens say the numbers increase each year. Ross Butler, assistant special agent-in-charge at the BLM's Sacramento office, said he first started seeing large marijuana gardens on public land in the early 1990s. "Each year (since) it has been a little bit more and a little bit more and a little bit more," he said. This year, the Shasta County Sheriff's Department led about 40 raids on marijuana gardens within the county, said Sgt. Todd Larson. Last year, there were about 30 raids. He thinks growers are planting more gardens each year and the increase is real -- not the result of more narcotics officers searching more land every year. "If they want to harvest more, they want to plant more," Larson said. The size of individual gardens has ballooned, too, Foster said. Pot growing used to be done in small, secluded gardens that the growers visited occasionally. Now, there are virtual plantations of pot, covering swaths of land and watered by irrigation lines fed by creeks. A typical pot garden in the late-1980s and early '90s had 100 to 1,000 plants, according to the Forest Service. Nowadays, the gardens have 1,000 to 30,000 plants, or more. These plots have live-in gardeners, who tend the plants and sometimes guard them fiercely with assault rifles and handguns, Foster said. Most growing seasons are now marked by at least one incident of guards shooting at a member of the public or at a law enforcement officer, he added. Late in September, a hunter, looking for game in a remote part of Mendocino County, said he stumbled onto the edge of a marijuana garden. Four men tending the garden pointed rifles at him and opened fire, according to the Forest Service, but the man escaped without being shot.  Evading CaptureWhen sheriff's deputies and police officers raid the gardens, the growers often don't put up a fight; instead they run, most times getting away. Arrests in the gardens don't happen often, mostly because of the terrain, Foster said. Having lived in the gardens for months, the growers know the land much better than the officers do. "They know all the rabbit trails," Foster said. Marijuana growers who live in the gardens usually set up tents or other shelters for sleeping and a kitchen for cooking. Their trash sometimes gets buried, sometimes is left in a pile and often is found by curious bears, Larson said. They also often leave behind their tattered tents, used sleeping bags, blackened stoves, empty propane tanks, worn shoes and still-sharp tools -- all that really needs to go out is the pot. As harvest time approaches in the fall, the workers prepare the pot to be carried out in duffel bags and backpacks. They usually rendezvous with drivers to get the marijuana to the streets.  New WorryLittle, the north state fish and game warden, came across pot that was headed to market. While the pair of Mexican nationals in the Jeep weren't armed, he has had run-ins with people who were. He said he's lucky that those growers chose to run rather than get into a gunfight. With the pot garden problem continuing to grow, Little said many hunters, hikers and others looking for recreation in the woods are also worried about the marijuana growers and whether they're armed. "It used to be the worst thing they had to worry about was getting shot by another hunter, now they have to worry about marijuana (gardeners)," Little said. Source: Redding Record Searchlight (CA)Author: Dylan DarlingPublished: November 19, 2006Copyright: 2006 Record Searchlight Contact: letters redding.comWebsite: -- Cannabis Archives
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Comment #2 posted by John Tyler on November 21, 2006 at 07:14:52 PT
End cannabis prohibition
End cannabis prohibition and these problems would be solved.
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #1 posted by runderwo on November 19, 2006 at 09:39:55 PT
The fruits of prohibition
What else is new?
[ Post Comment ]

Post Comment