While visits to national parks may be dropping, the parks are still an ideal destination for one segment of the population: drug trafficking organizations, which grow millions of pot plants amid the natural splendor of America’s mountains and forests. Terrain (Spring 2009), the eco-news magazine of Berkeley’s Ecology Center, reports that these illegal crops have infiltrated “every national park on the West Coast” and are rapidly spreading to public lands out east.
“This is not a hippie thing,” says Ron Pugh, a U.S. Forest Service agent. Your typical mellow, Humboldt County toker probably raises fewer than 50 plants, whereas a large grow site averages 6,600. The massive illegal crops are particularly hard on the environment because growers, often recruited from Mexico, squat on the land for the whole season, leaving behind “mountains of trash” come October. And to keep their thirsty plants alive, many growers tap rivers and creeks using pipes, hoses, and illegal dams. In Northern California, Pugh says, the need for weed has already resulted in dried-up creeks, algae blooms, and diminished salmon populations.