With high-grade marijuana now bringing in even higher profits than methamphetamine, and post-9/11 border security tighter than ever, Mexican marijuana cartels are digging their heels deep into American soil, most notably in wilderness areas on public lands in California, according to Joe Robinson of the Los Angeles Times. “Parts of Sequoia [National Park]
are no-go zones for visitors and park rangers during the April-to-October growing season, when drug lords cultivate pot on an agribusiness-scale,” writes Robinson.
Last year alone, rangers and drug enforcement officials removed 100,000 marijuana plants from California national parks, with almost half coming out of Sequoia. Meanwhile, authorities removed half a million pot plants from national forest and federal Bureau of Land Management lands in California during 2004. In the past, pot busts on public land usually netted a few hundred plants. But these days, busts on wilderness lands take an average of 3,500 plants, signaling a boom in pot sales.
While no one likes the idea of foreign drug cartels operating on American soil, what bothers environmentalists primarily is the effect on the health of protected public lands. The armed growers feast on poached venison, spill pesticides, divert water from streams and dump tons of trash. For every five acres of marijuana cultivation, 180 acres of wilderness are impacted from clearing the understory of foliage, cutting terraces into slopes, running miles of irrigation hoses from creeks and rivers, and setting up elaborate backwoods basecamps.
“In a national park everything is protected,” reports Sequoia National Park’s lone drug enforcement agent. “You’re not even supposed to take a pine cone. It’s beyond what should be acceptable in today’s society.”
But funding droughts in recent years have meant the slashing of law enforcement budgets for public lands. With the massive expansion of operations deep in the woods, a few agents here and there stand little chance of even making a dent in the cartels’ cultivation efforts. So until more money makes its way to Sequoia and other public lands, visitors would be wise not to venture too far off trail.