Foreign Drug Cartels In Our National Forests - "A Dangerous Epidemic"

By Barry R. Clausen, September 24, 2002 © With Permission


The world of drug dealing has sometimes been depicted as almost glamorous. Movies such as "Blow" and television shows like "Miami Vice" show fast cars, easy sex and unlimited wealth. This fantasy portrayal of those who sell drugs to others has had no regard for human life or the well being of this nation's youth. In reality, this life style is dangerous, violent, and ruthless. It frequently comes with direct ties to organized crime. But that all happens somewhere else, right? Wrong. This often sadistic element, formerly seen mostly in urban society, has now surfaced in many of America's National Forests, including those in Northern California and the reality is anything but attractive. Larry Jones of the Glenn County Sheriff's office wanted all Californians to know that, "It is not only a northern California problem but it is a tremendous problem state wide."

Going even farther Bryan Roemeling of U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement & Investigations in Washington D.C. states, "The dramatic increase in marijuana production supported by Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTO's) is alarming. It is primarily occurring in California but is not limited there. We have indications that Mexican DTO's are operating in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah and as far away as Arkansas." He further states' "…The problems continues and is increasing. These illegal aliens brought in to tend gardens are dangerous; they are armed and will protect their gardens. The visiting public and Forest Service employees are at risk in many areas of National Forest System lands in California. Evidenced by the shooting of a father and son last year while on their property within the boundaries of the Eldorado National Forest."

It was much easier to smuggle drugs into our country in the time before 9-11. But with a tightening of our borders and continued pressure by law enforcement to locate and seize illegal international drug traffic, certain drug cartels are finding it safer and more profitable to send foreign nationals into America with the intent to set up drug operations in our national forests. In recent weeks a Tehama County Deputy Sheriff was shot by a Mexican national during a marijuana growing operation raid and Siskiyou County Sheriff Deputies conducted a raid that resulted in the arrest of three Asian nationals. Information has also surfaced suggesting that some young Native American tribal members are also being trained to grow marijuana on Sacred Tribal Lands. Many of the Asian and Mexican nationals who are living and working marijuana grow operations are connected to Asian and Hispanic drug cartels. According to Detective Mark Merrill of the Siskiyou County Sheriff Department there are even "Hawaiian's" active within his county.

The story is similar in all of the Northern California counties contacted. Shasta County has had five major raids so far this year. The latest was September 12 where Mexican nationals once again are the suspected growers. Shasta Interagency Narcotics Task Force Commander, Russ Reeves refers to the groups involved in grow operations as "cells" because he says, "Many of these foreigners that work the fields, are so low in the scheme of things they do not even know who they work for." He further stated that much of the money obtained from marijuana growing is used to finance illegal methamphetamine (meth) operations. Reeves went on to say, "These same meth producers then ship their product to other states. We have been successful in tracking some of that."

The safety of all who use either National Forests and/or Bureau of Land Management lands has been intensely compromised by these organized criminal drug activities. Deputies from across Northern California, California Highway Patrol and U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Agents are quick to affirm the danger. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer, Michael Irvine of Fort Jones, California underscored his concerns and pointed to organized crime who he feels are responsible for the risks the general public now face when visiting public lands. California Highway Patrol Officer, Keith Ericson echoed the words of Irvine when he said, "The danger on public lands is a very big concern as a result of marijuana grow operations." According to Darrell Plemons, Chief of Operations for the Tehama County Sheriff's office, "The situation has increased over the last few years to a dangerous epidemic."

In order to shield themselves from law enforcement and ward off unwanted intruders, this lowly element is heavily armed. They have also planted booby traps meant to injure or even kill innocent hikers, ranchers, hunters, backcountry horseman, forest service employees, firefighters or anyone who enters our national forests.

On August 30, 2002 a gunfight ensued between two Glenn County Deputy Sheriffs and two Mexican nationals at the site of a marijuana garden. There were no injuries. One of the two suspects, identified as Juan Carlos Olivera from San Jose, was arrested while the other suspect escaped. Tehama County Deputy Sheriff Troy McCoy was wounded during a gunfight on August 21, 2002 while participating in a Marijuana Eradication Team (MET) raid on a marijuana grow operation. That raid resulted in the arrest of three Mexican nationals also from San Jose. Tehama County Sheriff, Clay Parker's staff has raided 17 growing operations in just the first eight months of this year. Those raids have resulted in the destruction of 27,306 plants and the confiscation of 5 rifles, 1 shotgun and 2 pistols. Both Commander Reeves and Sheriff Parker concur that some of the money from growing marijuana is used to buy chemicals necessary for the production of "Meth."

According to rancher Laverne Daley of Oroville, California, last year a hunter was found shot to death near a marijuana crop close to Daley's ranch. Prior to that a marijuana grower, found to have used the Daley's cattle for food, was apprehended (also near their ranch). That grower had hooked a very fine trip wire to a shotgun at head level on a forest trial leading to his plants. When caught by law enforcement he was in possession of both a grenade launcher and an AK-47 assault rifle.

A Siskiyou County MET drug raid in August 2002 resulted in the arrest of three Asian Nationals and on September 1, 2002 Mexican nationals were found with 7,500 marijuana plants in their possession. According to Detective Merrill, some growers are using only the buds of each plant, which produces approximately 1 pound of finished product. The wholesale value equals about $4,000 a pound with the street value considerably higher.

To view N.A.R.s exclusive photos of that drug raid click here

Law enforcement officers also confirm the massive environmental damage that has occurred at grow locations. Shasta County Sheriff Sergeant Tim McDonald explained that growers use such compounds as rat poison, insecticides and pesticides to kill unwanted animals that penetrate their operations. Growers also carry large amounts of fertilizers to the site. Leftover chemicals are discarded after the plants are harvested and usually end up in creeks and watersheds. Months of humane waste, paper, food cans, propane canisters, food wrappers as well as other forms of garbage are found strewn about. Clean-up costs for these sites are enormously costly for counties. Added to the cost of a well-planned raid that can utilize as many as 35 officers, vehicles and trucks to haul out confiscated plants, helicopter costs at $500.00 per hour, many hours of overtime for the officers involved and then prosecution expenses, it is easy to see how rapidly county funds are depleted.

The main active chemical within a marijuana plant is THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol). Short-term effects of marijuana use include memory loss and impaired learning, distorted perception, difficulty with thought processes and problem solving skills, loss of coordination; and increased heart rate, anxiety, and panic attacks. The marijuana of the past had a low THC level but today's plants show THC levels have increased potency and ultimately the long-term affects are expected to have an increased and dramatic impact on users.

Estimated profits to marijuana growers and Meth producers in each operation may vary from hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions of dollars annually. That's a tidy sum for just six months work and all on our federal lands.


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