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July 18, 2007

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Clandestine Pot Plantations: A Growing Threat

Believe it or not, early fall deer hunting seasons are just weeks away in many regions of the country. It’s probably a good time to remind public land hunters of the growing threat to their safety posed by the illegal and clandestine marijuana-growing operations manned by some pretty ruthless characters in the remote places where we often pursue big game.Pot

Last week, during a multi-agency pot-eradication effort in California’s Shasta-Trinity National Forest, the head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) said that illegal cultivation on public land is at historically high levels. Drug czar John P. Walters said the operations are run by Mexican drug cartels and guarded by heavily armed members of U.S.-based street gangs and illegal Mexican nationals.

“Our national treasures are now ground zero for international and domestic drug cultivation and trafficking,” Walters said, as reported by the Washington Times.

It’s an unfortunate sign of the times, but hunters and other folks heading to the backcountry need to take extra precautions.

Simply put, there are some real bad guys in the woods these days.

Last year, a California deer hunter was fired upon when he stumbled on a marijuana garden in a remote part of the Mendocino National Forest. The unnamed hunter told authorities that four male subjects pointed rifles in his direction and began shooting.

In 2006, law enforcement officials eradicated 340,000 illegally grown marijuana plants from the Mendocino National Forest--compared to 124,792 in 2005.

During last week’s California operation, ONDCP spokesman Stephen E. Schatz said violent Mexican drug cartels construct, operate and manage 80 to 90 percent of all U.S.-based marijuana plantations—most of which are in Arizona, California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington and West Virginia.

Schatz said those who tend and guard the gardens do so with high-tech equipment and state-of-the-art weapons.

In 2006, authorities in California seized 2.8 million outdoor marijuana plants, including 1.7 million from federal and state land.

The pot-growing operations also pose a threat to the ecosystem, as trees are often cut, watering operations are installed and garbage and trash are left behind.

The Times story noted that a National Parks Service study concluded that for every acre of forest planted with marijuana, a total of 10 acres are damaged. NPS estimates it costs $11,000 per acre to repair and restore national forest land once it is contaminated with toxic chemicals and fertilizers, human waste, and irrigation tubing and pipes associated with marijuana cultivation.

Have any of you Newshounders ever stumbled upon a pot-growing or drug-making operation while hunting? If so, feel free to share your tale with us.


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I was still hunting a cornfield when I was in my teens and I came across several pot plants growing in 5 gallon buckets. I hadn't a clue who they belonged to. But I promptly pulled the plants from the buckets and stacked them neatly in the corner of the field...the disappeared in a few weeks.


Working as a sworn State Park Ranger in California, I have had the chance to be in on two large plantation raids. The first was in my park and growing within a 1/4 mile of the nearest campsite. We took out 4,600 plants which were growing on a hillside that had been stripped of most vegitation and terraced to hold the plants. There were signs of poaching throughout the grove. We also found boobytraps and weapons in the living areas of the plantation. Catch basins had been dug into the hillside to divert streams for irrigation as well. It took a group of 40 volunteers to haul out the trash and garbage left behind. It filled four dumptrucks with garbage. The enviromental damage from pesticides and herbacides will take a long time to recover.
The second plantation netted 7,600 plants. The area was harder to find but we found it and removed the plants there as well.

Hunters should be on the lookout for telltale signs of an illegal grove. Look for black irrigation tubing and black plastic poli-plastic sheeting. If you see disgarded nursery planters and disgarded herbacide/pesticide bottles or bags you should back out of the area and contact local law enforcement as soon as possible.

These groves are often protected by boobytraps and there are a variety of traps used. An easy one is a mouse trap attached to a 12 gage shotgun shell. It is very poserfull and can hurt or even kill you.

Hunt Safe


It's happened to me a couple of times, on both coasts, in North Carolina and in California.

Probably the most unnerving was the discovery of a patch in northern CA shortly after a reported shooting by pot growers in a different part of the state. A fire went through the area not too long after, supposedly started by a careless camper... I always wondered if it was a careless pot grower instead.

Situational awareness can't be emphasized enough. Pay attention to the things that are around you, especially when they don't seem to fit. Not only can it keep you safe, increased observation of the details can also make you a more successful hunter...


Some incredible stories, guys. And great advice, too. Garydaranger has obviously had some firsthand experience in the field where these operations are located--and his suggestions are right on. Don't even think about trying to be a hero or a detective, get the heck out of the area and contact the appropriate authorities immediately.

Chat Phobia

My dads property we had found about 300 plants scattered around. There were no signs of any garbage or ruined property, it was all naturally grwing without any "setups". We piled the plants and burned them, best fire I seen, I got so good feeling from the smoke and slept great that night ;)