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More Pot Means More Cops

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
Bucking the national trend of shrinking forest staff, the U.S. Forest Service is doubling the number of law enforcement officers in the state as part of an effort to uproot illicit marijuana growing operations.

By May, there should be 160 law enforcement officers, patrol captains and special agents working the 18 national forests in California, said Ron Pugh, special agent in charge of the Forest Service's Pacific Southwest region, which encompasses all of the state.

Although he said the increase in workers -- which will cost $6 million -- should help, Pugh said the Forest Service could use more in tackling the "daunting task" of stopping those behind marijuana plantings.

"A hundred and sixty is about a third of what we should have," he said.

The 2.1-million-acre Shasta-Trinity National Forest, the state's largest, is set to get four to six new law enforcement officers, said Mike Odle, forest spokesman. The forest has seven officers on staff now and is already advertising for the openings, he said.

"We are hoping to get them on the ground for the 2008 marijuana growing season," Odle said.

The influx of law enforcement officers is just one part of a 10-point plan aimed at stopping marijuana cultivation on the national forests announced late last week by Mark Rey, undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service.

Even with the increased staff and other strategies, the Forest Service will be hard-pressed to stop those planting marijuana gardens in the state, said Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based group advocating for marijuana legalization.

"This is a war they can't ever win, but they can keep a lot of people employed fighting it," Mirken said.

By busting more gardens and groups funding the gardens, the Forest Service will drive the price of marijuana up, he said, giving more incentive for others to grow.

Other points in the Forest Service's plan include working closer with local, state and other federal agencies;

clearing out trash and chemicals left behind by growers to minimize environmental impacts; and trying to arrest people atop the organizations behind the gardens. Officials describe these groups as drug trafficking organizations, or DTOs, and say most of those either are based in or started in Mexico.

When clearing out the gardens, which sometimes number in the tens of thousands of plants, officers have found herbicides and pesticides that are banned in the U.S. but sold in Mexico, said Matt Mathes, regional spokesman for the Forest Service. Growers arrested in gardens also have said their bosses had connections to organized crime across the border.

"Everything leads us to know that the origins of this are in Mexico," he said.

Pugh said there are three families in particular that have roots in Mexico and are thought to be behind many of the gardens.

"This situation can accurately be described in California as the widespread illegal occupation of our national forests by armed foreign nationals for the purpose of conducting criminal activity," Pugh wrote in the plan.

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Copyright: 2007 Record Searchlight
Website: More pot means more law officers in California's national forests
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