In 1998, law enforcement officers in California discovered a marijuana farm in Sequoia National Park. Since then, officers from a variety of states including Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Hawaii, and even Michigan and Kentucky have discovered a number of pot farms on public lands. Despite increased surveillance from the National Forest Service, state, and local law enforcement, marijuana gardens continue to plague public lands, especially in California.

Because it is difficult to smuggle drugs across the Mexican border, drug cartels in the United States choose to grow their product locally. National and state forests provide growers with vast tracks of land. In many instances, few people travel to the heart of the forest away from designated roads and hiking paths, allowing farmers to plant in relative seclusion.

The number of plants seized over the past decade accounts for millions of dollars in drug seizures.

What Are The Environmental Consequences Of Illegal Marijuana Gardens?

When drug cartels decide to plant illegal gardens in national forests, they must decide where the garden will go, how to tend and water the plants, and how to protect the plants from wildlife. All of these factors have devastating effects on the surrounding environment.

  • Location: Farmers often plant in national forests, using the tree cover to avoid being spotted by helicopters. The farmers will cut down most of the trees in the area, leaving just enough to provide cover from aerial observation.
  • Water: Because few available water sources exist within the forest, farmers develop irrigation lines from the closest source, often from family wells located on the edge of the forest. Farmers steal water from those wells to water their marijuana plants.
  • Water and food chain contamination: To protect the marijuana from insects and wildlife, farmers spray the plants with herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers. These chemicals leach into the ground water. They also poison any small wildlife – rabbits, raccoons, and skunks – that might eat the plants. When the poisoned animals are eaten by larger animals, the poison affects the entire ecosystem. Also, the farmers live with their plants. Human waste and litter pollute any streams and ground water near the farm sites. According to Tommy LaNier, the director of the National Marijuana Initiative, it costs between $15,000 and $16,000 an acre to remove all of the waste from seized farms.

What Are States Doing To Prevent These Gardens?

In California, the National Guard's Joint Task Force Domestic Support-Counterdrug works with local law enforcement to disrupt the growers' water supply. Without water, the farmers cannot grow in the forests.

Idaho offers rewards for those who provide information about marijuana gardens.

After a large drug bust in late 2011, employees at New Mexico's Bandelier National Monument have use information derived from the site to investigate the park.

Oregon, California, Utah, and other states provide safety information for hunters who may encounter these gardens, urging the hunters to avoid contact with the farmers and to contact authorities immediately.