Legalization of cannabis in several states, including California, has already affected consumer markets but unfortunately there is still incentive to grow illicit marijuana on public lands to sell on the so-called black market. On Wednesday, Sept. 5, a law enforcement task force composed of National Park Service rangers, Tulare County Sheriff’ Offices deputies, California Department of Fish and Wildlife Officers, U.S. Forest Service personnel, and officers from the California Justice Department, raided an illegal cultivation site within the boundaries of Sequoia National Park.
More than 3,500 plants with an estimated street value in excess of $5 million were eradicated. The site was located in a remote area of designated wilderness, the National Park Service reported, but a specific location was not provided.
Three Rivers shares boundaries with Sequoia National Park at its main entrance on Highway 198 and at the end of North Fork, South Fork, and Dinely drives and on Mineral King Road.
It was also reported that extensive environmental damage was caused by the operation including vegetation removal, terraced hillsides, and approximately 10,000 gallons of water that was diverted daily to water the grow site. Large amounts of trash, fertilizers, and pesticides were also found at the site.
For nearly two decades, well-organized drug-trafficking outfits have been using grow sites for large-scale cultivation in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and on adjacent Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands. Where water flows year-round, marijuana will grow
and often the same sites are planted in recurring cycles, mostly in the 5,000 to 6,000 feet elevations.
The majority of raids occur in late summer/early fall, close to harvest time, when the plants are the largest and easiest to spot during aerial inspections.
In the last 14 years, 300,000 plants with a street value of $850 million have been removed from Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. No arrests have been made in the September 5 raid; the investigation is ongoing.