Officials Cite Illegal Grows as Threat to Public Safety and the Environment

DENVER – – 21 August 2012 – U.S. Attorney John Walsh, along with U.S. Attorneys in several other states, announced today a multi-agency marijuana operation targeting illegal marijuana grows on public lands. Growers attempt to use the large acreage of public lands in Colorado to conceal marijuana grows. Law enforcement continuously seek to identify and destroy these grows. Citizens also have called authorities to report grows they encounter while hiking.
The vast majority of public land in Colorado is safe and free of illegal marijuana activities. However, law enforcement operations by the U.S. Forest Service, BLM, National Park Service, DEA and other federal, state and local agencies, have focused on locating and eradicating marijuana grown on public land.
Colorado has seen many illegal marijuana grow operations on public lands in recent years. Since 2009 sixteen illegal marijuana grows have been raided on the National Forests in Colorado. Notably, in the course of responding to the Waldo Canyon wildfire west of Colorado Springs, Colorado earlier this summer, firefighters discovered a substantial marijuana grow site on Forest Service land, which they reported to law enforcement. The 22 acre site had a living area, dams and irrigation lines, and included approximately 7,500 marijuana plants with an estimated $15 million dollar street value. Some of these plants had been burned and destroyed in the fire itself, and the remainder were removed by U.S. Forest Service law enforcement personnel.
In addition to this recent discovery, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) this year in Colorado has seized over 1,400 plants, along with 103 pounds of marijuana and $354,325 in currency, connected to marijuana grown on public land. And last week, the Pueblo County Sheriff, with the active support of the U.S. Forest Service, removed more than 13,000 marijuana plants which were being grown on private land within the San Isabel National Forest southwest of Pueblo.
Illegal marijuana grows cause substantial environmental damage that lingers long after the illegal crop is harvested. Marijuana growers remove natural vegetation to make room for the marijuana, cut down trees to allow sunlight into the site, and divert streams from their natural path to irrigate the land, all in violation of the law. They introduce chemicals and poisons to fertilize the crops and use rodenticides and insecticides indiscriminately, harming the public lands, wildlife and waterways. Trash and equipment litter abandoned sites for years to come. Some of the most pristine public land in the West is being scarred in this way and cannot recover without costly human intervention.
“Use of the public lands for marijuana cultivation is an environmental crime as well as a violation of our nation’s anti-drug laws,” said U.S. Attorney John Walsh. “Those who engage in this activity are endangering public safety and harming Colorado’s treasured wild lands and high country, and will be apprehended and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
“The Forest Service is aggressively and decisively combating this issue because public safety is our top priority,” said USDA Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “We vigilantly police our lands using all available law enforcement means to address this problem, mitigate its associated risks, and clean-up marijuana growing sites. Chief Tidwell adds, “While only a fraction of the National Forest System is affected by this illegal activity, our intent is to provide for the safety of all visitors on our lands.”
“Marijuana trafficking organizations seek to turn our nation’s parks and public lands into their own drug havens,” said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. “Operation Mountain Sweep is a concerted effort to reclaim these wild and beautiful areas, and protect them from further destruction and exploitation. Thanks to the ongoing commitment of our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, we will continue to aggressively pursue and prosecute marijuana traffickers wherever they operate and hide.”
If the public comes across a marijuana grow on public land, they are urged to contact the local police or sheriff, or the relevant federal entity, including the Forest Service, BLM or the National Park Service. A tip line has been established by the Forest Service to report possible marijuana growing activity on Forest Service lands by calling 303-275-5266.

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