Large-scale pot growers have returned to public lands

 

In the past two decades illegal marijuana grow sites have gone from an unprecedented use of public lands in 2000-2007 to relocating many of the largest grow sites to Valley agricultural lands and greenhouses. Recently, growers in the flatlands have combined dozens of medical marijuana cards for plantings at a single site in an attempt to grow hundreds of plants for “medicinal use.”

In order to avoid violence associated with theft of the valuable cash crop, Tulare County and the local cities have passed ordinances driving the clandestine grow-sites indoors. Now the effects of those policies are again driving the bigger, organized growers back onto nearby public lands using the same locales that have not been planted in several years. 

According to Sequoia National Park law enforcement specialist Jeff Webb, the large-scale growers are going to even greater lengths in the 2015 season to tap limited water sources during the fourth consecutive year of the drought.

“In the past, we might find a couple hundred feet of the telltale irrigation hose,” said Webb. “Now there are several hundred feet leading from a spring to the grow site.” 

On Tuesday, Webb and a NPS clean-up crew, hiked in to a North Fork location to begin the restoration of a large grow site that was raided earlier this season. In addition to removing tons of trash, there are miles of irrigation hose, fertilizers, herbicides, gardening supplies, tools, and just about anything else that might be part of the illegal encampment.

Webb said there was also evidence that at least one bear had been poached and other animals were killed. These grow sites scar park lands and take years to repair and are costly restore.                        

On Saturday evening, September 26, a Three Rivers resident who owns property near the SCE forebay, said he witnessed a “mule train” of several individuals carrying large duffels as backpacks exiting the north side of the East Fork canyon. He called to the trespassers to ask them what they were doing and to leave the area.  

One of the men yelled back something in Spanish that was unintelligible to the property owner. The packers continued on down to Highway 198 where presumably they were to be picked up.

“It appeared that the backpackers were carrying large bags of their harvested pot,” the property owner said. “It’s no telling where they were coming from.”

The resident called the Tulare County Sheriff’s dispatcher to report the incident and was told a deputy would respond. It is unknown whether there was any response or a follow-up investigation.

Kevin Hendricks, the former Chief Ranger of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, said at an employee reunion this past weekend at Wolverton, that in 2013 it appeared that the use of national park land for large-scale grow sites appeared to be over.

“Unfortunately, the big growers are back in Sequoia,” Hendricks said.      

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