Water and wildlife in the nation’s public forests are slowly being poisoned by insecticides and other chemicals used in illegal marijuana operations, say forest police and researchers. They warn that the potential environmental damage could last generations.
Many of the grows are the work of highly organized drug cartels that take advantage of the forests’ thick canopy to help hide their operations. Some sites go undetected for years.
“The true crime here is the fact that they’re killing off basically America’s public lands, killing off the wildlife, killing off our water,” says Kevin Mayer, a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement assistant special agent in charge. “This is stuff that, you know, it’s not gonna repair itself.”
Now, an unlikely coalition in California — including environmentalists, law enforcement agents, politicians, wildlife ecologists and representatives of the legal cannabis industry — have joined forces to try to reduce these illegal operations and the environmental threat they pose.
Some in that coalition recently visited a site discovered deep in California’s Shasta-Trinity National Forest. They and a group of armed Forest Service agents made their way down a steep hillside above a creek on a warm fall day, through a tangle of Douglas fir and madrone trees and big leaf maples turned golden yellow.