Drug traffickers have been planting millions of marijuana plants on U.S. soil uncomfortably close to tourists sites. Federal authorities say harvesters are guarding their grow turf with heavy weaponry.
“We destroy their plants and they come back, sometimes to the same spot, and replant,” said U.S. Forest Service Special Agent Russ Arthur.
“It’s definitely possible that hikers and campers are going to find themselves in the middle of a field facing some very dangerous, armed bad guys, because this problem is everywhere, and it’s only getting worse.”
So far, 15 U.S. states as far north as Washington have been linked to drug cartel, reports CNN.
Just last week, a section of Sequoia National Park in Sierra, Nevada was closed to tourists and visitors so rangers, who dropped from helicopters into marijuana farms, could chop the marijuana plants.
There were vast areas among five sites in the Yucca Creek Canyon where rangers collected masses of trash, netting, chemical and camping materials, which suggested the growers had been there or planned to stay there for long stretches of time.
Though authorities destroyed the patch, whoever wanted to profit probably got what they wanted. Seventy-five percent of the plants had been harvested, said park spokeswoman Adrienne Freeman.
“Last week for six days, instead of having families and children walking down to Crystal Cave, we were flying helicopters to do a law enforcement operation,” she said. “That’s not fair. You should be able to come to the park and enjoy it.”
Dean Growdon, an assistant sheriff and commander of the Lassen County, California, Narcotics Task Force, said he’s especially concerned about pot farm violence now because hunting season is about to start.
“We get more reports this time of year from hunters who’ve stumbled onto sites,” he said. “We had a guy who discovered they were growing on the back portion of his property.”
Law enforcement authorities are aware of the dangers of stinging pot harvesting operations, as two incidents in June left two deputies shot when they stumbled across pot fields, Sheriff Steve Warren said.
One incident left a grower shot dead by one of the deputies while the surviving growers are being prosecuted Warren said.
“Our guys saw the field and were trying to make their way back to get help when they ran into the growers. There were two [suspected growers] laying back on a rock and when our guys saw them, there was a moment when everyone just froze,” said Warren. “There was a guy in a tent that had an AK-47 and our guys have a gun on him.
“To me, that grower, he was on a suicide mission. He could have never believed he would live through that,” the sheriff said.
While federal agents have made great strides in their efforts to raid the grow sites, making arrests are often difficult because growers are very familiar with the terrain.
Oftentimes, when officials drop into their camps, growers easily escape making foot chases nearly impossible.
Sequoia National Park spokeswoman, Adrienne Freeman, $1 million has been spent since 2006 on marijuana plantation wipeouts, and the damage done to Crystal Cave will be recognizable for many years, said the .
“We are continually discovering new species in that cave, and we are letting Mexican cartels threaten to wipe that out,” she said.