Dianne Hellrigel and Ryan Henson | Marijuana Grows Pollute Public Land

Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

We must protect public lands and our water from trespass marijuana grows.

While many hoped that the legalization of cannabis would curb destructive trespass marijuana growing on our public lands, the unfortunate truth is that it has not.

Today there are thousands of cartel-controlled marijuana trespass grows that are polluting California’s public lands.

These operations have increased throughout California, including in the Angeles National Forest where major trespass grows are a persistent problem.

Trespass marijuana grows have devastating impacts. Cartel operators routinely cut trees, divert and dam streams, and use pesticides that contaminate soil and water and kill wildlife. These pesticides are usually those banned by the Environmental Protection Agency, because they have been shown to be extremely dangerous to people and animals. 

Predators like mountain lions, bobcats, owls and bears are especially at risk from being poisoned.

These deadly chemicals do not stay in place; there is clear evidence of trespass grow-related poisons going into public waters and community water systems. 

The accelerating expansion of cartel marijuana grows on Southern California lands presents a clear and present danger to public water supplies. This is especially true in the Santa Clarita Valley, because about half of our water comes from local groundwater.

We now know that these trespass operations have been the cause of major wildfires throughout California. According to research done by the Cannabis Removal on Public Lands Project, trespass grows have burned a minimum of 285,000 acres (more than 445 square miles) on California’s public lands, which have cost billions to suppress.

In addition to causing fires, trespass grow operations endanger firefighters, with many incidents of firefighters being confronted by armed growers.

The U.S. Forest Service is severely understaffed due to Congress’ meager funding of that agency. On California’s 20 million acres of national forests, there are only enough resources to support an average of one law enforcement officer for every 250,000 acres (more than 390 square miles). That is a lot of rugged and remote country to patrol. 

The Bureau of Land Management, which manages some areas near Castaic Lake, is even more under-resourced than the USFS.

The Angeles National Forest gets on average less money per acre than many other California national forests despite receiving visitation levels that exceed those of many national parks.

Congress must take sustained action if we are going to take back the Angeles Forest and our other federal public lands from the cartels. We encourage Rep. Mike Garcia and his colleagues to act to address this vexing issue. We know that Mr. Garcia cares about public lands, as he voted for the Protecting America’s Wilderness Act when it passed last year.

We urge Congress to approve robust funding for the USFS and BLM to address this vexing issue. Our communities are counting on it.  

Dianne Hellrigel
Executive Director, Community Hiking Club & St. Francis Dam National Memorial Foundation

Ryan Henson

Senior Policy Director, CalWild and
Cannabis Removal on Public Lands Project

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