WASHINGTON – More than 275 million people visited national parks last year – a figurative handful hiked into the back country of a few western parks and set up clandestine marijuana plots.
“National parks are special places for all Americans – places where we bring our family and children to enjoy nature’s wonders and learn about our heritage”. “Marijuana farms like the one recently destroyed in North Cascades National Park are a blight on our national parks” said National Park Service Director Mary A. Bomar.
Marijuana growers have, in the past decade, plowed fragile land, spread fertilizer and herbicides and dammed nearby streams to irrigate their crop. “These people slip in and out of their camps for supplies, tend and vigorously defend the marijuana crop that can be worth millions of dollars if it gets to market,” Bomar said. “And anyone who stumbles on their operations is in real danger.”
During the recent raid conducted by a combined group of law enforcement officers, more than 16,000 plants were removed from the park and destroyed. It was the first time a marijuana plot had been discovered in a national park in Washington State. Illegal marijuana growing sites have previously been found – and destroyed – at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Santa Monica National Recreation Area, and Point Reyes National Seashore. “Our goal is a comprehensive strategy, integrated with our partners and adequately funded, to provide pre-emptive investigative and eradication support and aggressive prosecution of the growers,” Bomar said. “We believe such a plan will stop the spread of marijuana cultivation operations and force them out of national parks entirely.”
The National Park Service strategy partners include the Office of Drug Control Policy, the U.S. Attorney’s Office as well as local and state law enforcement offices and other federal agencies. “My thanks go out to the men and women of the National Park Service and the other local, state and federal agencies who work together to stop this illegal activity,” Bomar said. National parks budgets are stretched far enough without having to deal with illegal marijuana growing operations, Bomar said. “And the price we pay to deal with marijuana growing operations goes well beyond law enforcement costs.” To clear the ground for marijuana, growers remove all plant matter, including rare and endangered plant and tree species. They terrace hillsides, impound streams, introduce chemicals to pristine mountain water. “They don’t carry out their human waste or garbage,” Bomar said. “And they build and camouflage living quarters.” Bomar said park lands require millions of dollars of rehabilitation work – up to $15,000 per acre – and years to heal from damages growers can inflict in a single day. National Park rangers refer to park land, protected sites, native animals and plants as park resources. “These resources are why national parks exist” Bomar said. “Hundreds of millions of people from the United States and abroad come to national parks each year and are inspired by these resources.” Bomar said national park visitors can help by notifying park rangers if they observe unusual behavior or see illegal camp sites. “We cannot be complacent about this,” Bomar said. “Marijuana cultivation operations are dangerous, illegal and they destroy valuable natural resources people cherish.”