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Shasta-Trinity National Forest discusses hazardous pot grows

Growing illegal marijuana in the areas of northern California has been in the headlines for decades. But what does it take to find one of these sites, And how much does it cost to clean up?

Posted: Nov 20, 2019 8:04 PM

CALIFORNIA - Growing illegal marijuana in the areas of northern California has been in the headlines for decades.
But what does it take to find one of these sites, And how much does it cost to clean up?

For years illegal marijuana cultivation in the so-called Emerald triangle has been a hot button topic and has been covered by almost all of the national news stations.

Action News Now wanted to find out more about the boots on the ground that deal with this every day to get a scope of the problem.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, 90% of the illegal marijuana cultivated is grown on public lands, 64% of it in California alone.

Much of it in what's called the emerald triangle which is an area including parts of Humbolt, Shasta, and Trinity Counties.

That means law enforcement here with the U.S. Forest Service is always on the ground looking to find them.

"We are constantly trying to locate these in the National Forest," says U.S. Forest Service Patrol Captain Carson Harris "that could be difficult at times especially on this forest with five law enforcement officers for 2,200,000 acres."

That is why the U.S. Forest Service works heavily with allied agencies such as the Shasta and Trinity county sheriffs offices.

Harris told us it wouldn't be wise for one agency to try and tackle this problem alone and instead they work more like one unit between law enforcement to tackle this problem.

One thing that Harris says is often overlooked but is seriously one of the largest issues is the environmental impact of these grow sites.

"I think over the past several years the emphasis is leaning towards the environmental impact," he told us.

This manipulation starts with the sites themselves.

Most are built by tearing down existing landscapes and destroying public lands which include the depletion of soils, damage timber, clear native vegetation, and creates significant soil erosion problems.

Water also is a huge issue since they grow sites are on public lands they are stealing public water.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, more than 9 billion gallons of water per year are illegally diverted for trespass grows.

For context thats about the yearly water supply for around the size of the City of Redding.

For another example, the 1.1 million illegal marijuana plants removed in California in 2016 would have used approximately 1.3 billion gallons of water.

Beyond the impacts on the land, the chemicals and toxic waste left at these sites are tremendous.

Harris says "it's very typical to use pesticides and chemicals as well to facilitate these operations and those effects can be very detrimental for years."

For crews to even enter into these sites according to the USFS "Minimum Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is now mandated for work occurring in grow site operations where hazmat conditions are anticipated. Leather 8" boots, long sleeve shirts, leather gloves, and eye protection are now mandatory."

As for the planning of cleanups, Harris says "The background time that goes into an actual reclamation of a site is extensive."

Then there's the cost to do a cleanup.

The USFS estimates the average cost to reclaim a marijuana cultivation site is approximately $15,000-$30,000.

However, some sites but up too $150,000 based on several different factors.

Even for that price don't expect that they are quick, sites like those can take up to a year to clean and rehabilitate because of the massive detrimental impact to the site.

All of this is to say that these sites continue to be an issue but law enforcement is doing all they can to help combat the problem and clean up our public lands so people can enjoy them for generations to come.

"With marijuana being such a detriment on our public lands and public resources it’s kind of at the forefront of our law enforcement right now," Harris says "Not only just for the U.S. Forest service but for our local law enforcement as well."

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