November 21, 2005

Do the math.

What do you get when you put together years of underfunding of the National Park Service, even more years of overfunding the increasingly ineffective drug war, and the increased security and militarization along the US border with Mexico?

Illegal marijuana farms in California's national parks, national forests, and other federal lands.

The shift to growing dope on public lands has taken place over the past decade. Previously, almost all of California's massive marijuana crop was grown in the 'traditional' areas on the North Coast: Trinity, Mendocino, and Humboldt counties. In the last few years, however, illegal farms have turned up in federally protected lands including Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the Point Reyes National Seashore, the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

Mexican drug cartels now are seizing on the state's mild climate and vast stretches of remote lands to set up pot farms across California. Tightened security on the U.S.-Mexico border has also convinced many drug gangs it is easier to grow marijuana in the state than to smuggle it into the country.

Park service officials said the drug cartels took extreme measures to protect their plants, which can be worth $4,000 each. Growers have been known to set up booby traps with shotguns. Guards armed with knives and military-style weapons have chased away hikers at gunpoint....

"In prior years, guards used to flee from Park Service law enforcement but now stand their ground with leveled guns using intimidation tactics," Laura Whitehouse, the Central Valley program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, told the committee.

The illicit pot farms can also cause environmental damage. Growers often cut trees, dig ditches, create crude dams on streams, and haul in plastic hoses and other equipment to irrigate the plants. Fertilizers and other chemicals used by growers pollute watersheds and kill native species. Last year, the Park Service spent $50,000 to clean up tons of litter, debris and human waste at pot farms that were discovered or abandoned.

An obvious [and cheap] way to deal with the problem would be to legalize marijuana, cutting out much of the financial motivation for the illegal dope farms in national parks. Sadly, National Park Service and law enforcement officials seem to be viewing this problem as another reason to increase drug war and border funding.

Via San Francisco Chronicle.

Posted by Magpie at November 21, 2005 12:50 AM | US News | Technorati links |