As hunters prepare to head to the backcountry for early season big game scouting in many parts of the country, authorities are warning sportsmen about the increased likelihood of confrontations with armed and ruthless marijuana growers on public lands.
It’s a disturbing sign of our times, but more and more hunters in virtually every region of rural America may potentially stumble upon clandestine drug-making and marijuana-growing operations these days.
With some deer seasons already underway in California, hunters there are again being warned to be especially vigilant when in remote areas notorious for illegal pot-growing plantations. Numerous armed confrontations have occurred between growers and unsuspecting deer hunters in the Mendicino National Forest and other areas in the past.
This past weekend, a game warden with the California Department of Fish and Game was investigating a report of a poacher when he came face-to-face with a shotgun-toting Mexican national who was part of a group of persons growing marijuana on the Cosumnes Wildlife Management Area in Sacramento County.
“He came around the corner facing the game warden with a 12 gauge shotgun and the game warden drew his weapon and [the suspect] surrendered peacefully,” Fish and Game Public Spokesperson Andrew Hughan told a local Sacramento television station.
An estimated 10,000 marijuana plants were being removed from the area by authorities this week, along with dangerous chemical fertilizers and other items.
In recent years, the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has stressed that illegal cultivation on public land has grown to highly problematic levels in many areas. The operations are often run by Mexican drug cartels and guarded by heavily armed members of U.S.-based street gangs and illegal Mexican nationals.
An ONDCP spokesman said violent Mexican drug cartels construct, operate and manage 80 to 90 percent of all U.S.-based marijuana plantations—most of which are located in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia.
Last year, a report from the U.S. Forest Service revealed marijuana “grow sites” in 20 states on 67 national forests are causing severe damage to the environment.
“The illegal cultivation of marijuana on our National Forest System is a clear and present danger to the public and the environment,” said USFS Director of Law Enforcement David Ferrell. His warning came in testimony before the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control.
“Many marijuana sites found on national forests are under cultivation by drug trafficking organizations that are sophisticated and include armed guards, counter-surveillance methods, logistics support and state-of-the-art growing practices,” Ferrell said. “It is incumbent on the agency to do what is necessary to ensure that the resources we manage are protected and visitors as well as employees are safe.”
Simply, there are some real bad guys out in the mountains and woods these days.
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