Pot growers have been here before on the North Fork, and they probably will be back after the next season of any appreciable precipitation. Last month, a National Park Service law enforcement team, including a contingent of the California National Guard’s Counterdrug Task Force, dropped in on a remote marijuana grow site in the Yucca Creek drainage near the western boundary of Sequoia National Park.
By the time the last load of pot and the raiding rangers were short-hauled out, nearly 3,000 mature marijuana plants had been removed from the site. The marijuana was being cultivated west of the Generals Highway near a tributary of Yucca Creek, which drains into the Kaweah River’s North Fork, in Sequoia National Park’s wilderness.
Had this haul been trimmed and packaged, it would have had an estimated street value of $7.5 million, the NPS calculated. This recent raid brings the year-to-date total of eradicated plants to more than 21,000 — a five-fold increase in the last five years. Since 2002, when large-scale growers began planting the nearby national park lands, approximately 270,000 plants have been destroyed with an estimated street value of $911 million.
According to studies by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, a single marijuana plant requires six to eight gallons of water daily and can create a huge impact on the water resources of the Central Valley. Because pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals are used in pot growing, the run-off from these large grow sites is often tainted and can degrade downstream supplies.
“Illegal marijuana grows like this can wreak havoc on the environment,” explained Ned Kelleher, chief ranger of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. “Trash is left everywhere, and herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals accumulate in the watershed. The cultivators poach native wildlife, clear-cut acres of forest, and create unauthorized trails.”
No arrests were made in the September 14 raid, and the investigation of the illicit site is ongoing.