The forestry service has seen serious pot-growing operations sprout in 67 national forests in 20 states. Growers in national forests all over the country have caused “severe” damage to these natural treasures. The U.S. Forest Service is calling for increased cooperation between government agencies to prevent further forest damage, while some experts believe changing drug laws — including the legalization of marijuana might reduce the need to grow marijuana in parks.
Marijuana growers seek out national parkland for their hidden weed farms because the forests are incredibly vast, security is incredibly light and conditions are ripe for growing, the website Live Science reported. But as covert cultivation of pot farms on U.S. National Forest System lands becomes more common, environmental costs are mounting, the website’s report details. “The lands are remote, with few people, the forest vegetation is dense; there is an extensive system of roads and trails (both opened and closed); soils are fertile, and water for irrigation is available for the diverting,” explained David Ferell, director of law enforcement for the U.S. Forest Service. Limited security is another major factor luring marijuana growers to squat on federal lands. “National parks and forests are vast lands that are sparsely policed,” said Warren Eth, who wrote a review on marijuana cultivation in national parks. “In some areas, there is one park ranger for every 100,000 acres. No one can possibly police or patrol that area.”
Growers who take advantage of national parkland by establishing pot gardens are doing more than breaking the law with their green thumbs, the report notes. They’re ripping out native vegetation to clear tracts for their own crops, adversely impacting ecosystems and scaring off wildlife. They transport water from lakes and streams (an average plot of 1,000 plants requires 5,000 gallons, or about 19,000 liters, of water daily). Some growers also liberally apply toxic chemicals to keep their plots clear of weeds, bugs and rodents, Eth said. “The most disgusting aspect of it is the pollution,” he said. “They just pour chemicals like nobody’s business … and they get washed into streams that flow through national parks.”
The U.S. Forest Service has reported 67 major marijuana-growing operations in national forests in 20 different states, but the agency says large plots weren’t detected until 1995. Increased security at national borders, thereby making pot smuggling more difficult, may have fueled some of the marijuana cultivation in national parks, Eth said. “The Mexican cartels and other growers began to think to themselves that they could make more money and run less risk if they were to grow it stateside,” he said.