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They’re b-a-a-a-a-c-k!

Maybe they never left.

There is clearly too much California news happening today, but a story that I wrote about in August of 2008 has a BIG sequel that is important to those of us who enjoy the great outdoors in California and elsewhere in the U.S. The earlier blog entry was about a danger of the deep woods that dwarfed my occasional anxieties about stumbling upon a bear – a $1 billion (yes, that’s a “b”) marijuana farm bust in Sequoia National Forest during Operation LOCCUST. Thirty-eight people were arrested, some of them heavily armed, and some automatic weapons (machine guns) were recovered.

The California “deep woods” are not so “deep” anymore. At least not where pot is grown.

The pot farms of the Operation LOCCUST bust were 2-4-hour hikes from the nearest access road. Last week, rangers dropped from helicopters into a marijuana farm 1/2 MILE AWAY from Crystal Cave (WGS84:  36° 35′ 22.03″ N, 118° 49′ 32.29″ W) a popular tourist spot in Sequoia National Park. There were five sites in Yucca Creek Canyon where officials recovered tons of trash, netting, camping gear, and chemicals. For six days, the area was closed to tourists and visitors while the law enforcement operations were in progress. There is a steep cliff in the area that might have prevented MOST park visitors from wandering into the pot farms.

I am content to let U.S. law enforcement and Mexican drug cartels resolve this issue among themselves. However, I agree with Dirty Harry Callahan‘s statement that “I don’t mind if there’s shooting, so long as the right people get shot.” That’s the nature of the problem – armed encampments and law enforcement raids within a half mile of popular tourist attractions (the area was closed to tourism during the raids). It seems only a matter of time before the WRONG people (bystanders and “non-combatants,” tourists, hunters, and hikers) get shot, and at least two deputies (below) already HAVE.

In Lassen County, CA, assistant sheriff and commander of the Lassen County Narcotics Task Force, Dean Growdon, is concerned about pot farm violence because hunting season is about to begin. Sheriff Steven Warren said that two deputies are still recovering from gunshot wounds that they received in June when they stumbled upon a pot farm. One grower was shot and killed during the encounter. One of the growers was armed with an AK-47, a true selective-fire weapon.

In Fresno County, the largest marijuana bust ever in the U.S. yielded 420,000 plants worth $1.6 billion in a multi-agency sting. There were 100 people arrested in that raid, including as many as 82 Mexican nationals, who were deported. Sixteen people have been charged. Those with first-time drug offenses would face 10 years to life and a $4 million fine, and those with earlier drug records could receive double that sentence. Details of the growing operations are sketchy, since low-level pot farm workers fear retaliation against their families.

In Sequoia National Park, $1 million has been spent since 2006 on marijuana farm cleanup alone. The ecological damage includes redirection of waterways with PVC pipe, insecticide use, poaching of animals for food, and tons of trash left behind. Crystal Cave has been the site of discovery of many new species, and was threatened by the pot-farming operations.

It’s not just California that is affected. The article details DEA operations in a marijuana farm 40 miles southwest of Denver, CO, a discovery in Idaho of 12,545 plants worth $6.3 million, and six dump truck loads of marijuana (10,000 plants) valued at $8.5 million that were hauled out of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

Once again, PLEASE be very careful in California’s wild areas. With drug cartels planting marijuana farms increasingly closer to tourist areas, it seems to be just a matter of time before we learn of a tragedy involving visitors and tourists.

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo™

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