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Print

Marijuana cultivation in national forests has caused “severe damage”

January 05, 2012 at 11:11 PM

The State Journal-Register

Marijuana cultivation sites in 67 national forests in 20 states have caused “severe” damage, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Illinois is not immune, but large-scale marijuana growing has not been discovered in the state, a Forest Service spokeswoman said.

Forest service director of law enforcement David Ferrell testified about the nationwide scope of the issue before a U.S. Senate caucus on international narcotics control last month.

The forest service said sites found under cultivation included armed guards, surveillance and sophisticated growing practices.

In California, cleanup and restoration of 335 sites generated 130 tons of trash, 300 pounds of pesticides, five tons of fertilizer and 260 miles of irrigation piping.

“Across the USFS, the types of growing operations vary, ranging from small-scale, local growers to larger sophisticated gardens,” said Amanda Patrick, public affairs specialist in Harrisburg in southern Illinois. “The Shawnee (National Forest) is no exception as marijuana cultivation has been found within the 280,000 acres that make up the forest, though areas discovered have been smaller in nature and have not been linked to larger drug trafficking operations.”

The Shawnee is in far southern Illinois, stretching from the Mississippi River east to the Ohio River.

The forest service said the effects of marijuana growing include the clearing or herbicide treatment of native vegetation and water being diverted from streams, lakes and drinking water supplies.

Water consumption can be extreme, with 1,000 plants requiring up to 5,000 gallons of water a day.

The forest service said it costs $5,000 per acre to clean a marijuana-growing site. Restoration of streams costs an additional $5,000 an acre, as does the effort to restore the site to its natural state.

Typical sites across the entire U.S. Forest Service system are 10 to 20 acres.

“Our law enforcement team will continue to work with local, state and other federal law enforcement partners to ensure the safety of visitors and protect USFS lands,” Patrick said.
“Our goal is to deter, disrupt, and dismantle all drug trafficking related operations who utilize U.S. Forest Service lands for these illegal activities.”

Visitors who encounter illegal activity should contact the nearest federal, state or local law enforcement agency.

Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528.

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