Battle Against Marijuana Growers Temporarily Closes Crystal Cave at Sequoia National Park

Another marijuana growing operation has been spotted in the steep and rugged foothills of Sequoia National Park not far from Crystal Cave. NPS photo.

The latest chapter in the battle against marijuana farms in national parks led to the closure of Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park while rangers swooped in on a growing operation with an estimated street value of $20 million.

The operation was within a half-mile of the cave, according to park officials. Situated in a steep area of Sequoia, one rife with rattlesnakes and black bears, the pot farm is just the latest to be found within the National Park System. While Sequoia used to be the only park with such growing operations, in recent years they've been spotted in Yosemite, Kings Canyon, North Cascades, Redwoods, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and Golden Gate National Recreation Area, said Scott Wanek, chief ranger for the National Park Service's Pacific West Region.

“Every year we seem to be adding parks that are used for this activity," he said Thursday.

As the operations have sprouted in more and more areas, they've also become more sophisticated, the chief ranger said. No longer restricted to lower altitudes in chaparral, growing operations now can be found in conifer forests in the parks, he said. Plus, from the horticultural side advances have enabled the growers to produce not one but two crops a year, said Chief Ranger Wanek.

The associated impacts on the parks' landscape can be tremendous, he said. Often a one-acre growing plot will translate to 10 acres of disturbance when the growers' camps are taken into consideration, the trails they cut through the landscape, the dumpsites they create, and the intricate irrigation lines they install.

"Now it’s not a big deal to route water miles away from the source to a growing location," said Chief Ranger Wanek. "You can run a lot of that lightweight irrigation tubing in a very short time.”

Then, too, there's the impact on the wildlife. Chemicals and fertilizers used in the operations contaminate streams and enter the food chain by poisoning animals that are they fed upon by scavengers. Small mammals and rodents are targeted by the growers so they don't eat the marijuana plants. Larger animals are killed for food.

“We’ve found piles of deer hooves and bear paws. I’ve gotten photos off of these guys posing with dead bears," said the chief ranger. "It’s the worst of everything we’d expect to see in the backcountry all happening in one area here."

Those behind the operations are Mexican drug cartels, not "your basic summer-of-love kids," said Holly Bundock, a public affairs specialist the West Region office.


They should just legalize, regulate, and tax the stuff and put these scumbags out of business.


My travels through the National Park System:

The sooner they legalize marijuana, the sooner they can recover the damage done by groups forced to hide - vegetation and animals. The demand is never going away and thinking that so called "enforcement" is effective is paramount to sticking your head many feet down into the sand.

Point Reyes National Seashore has had one too. One was actually uncovered when someone else moved back to the same area and started another pot farm. One growing site in Golden Gate NRA was on land administered by Point Reyes NS.

-- Never mind - edited out a duplicate post --

Cut back on the weed, YPW. ;)


My travels through the National Park System:

One of the biggest problems outside of poaching in the national parks. One possible solution: Bring out the National Guard to protect our national parks and it's dwindling natural resources. In Africa they shoot the damn poachers on sight and should do the same with marijuana growers and illegal hunters.

The federal government has no constitutional authority to regulate/prohibit marijuana. (Recall that it took a constitutional amendment for the federal government to ban alcohol consumption.)

I agree with those calling for cannabis legalization. California is supposedly considering decriminalization. Hopefully, the federal government will respect states' rights, but I'm not holding my breath as federal raids against medical marijuana dispensaries in California have continued under the Obama administration.

The positive environmental effects of legalization don't stop at Sequoia; hemp fiber could be grown in California's Central Valley, replacing water-intensive cotton, and hemp seed oil could partially offset petroleum consumption.

Frank, so how do you resolve the immediate problem with illegal trash growing weed in our national parks? Sit on are cans and do nothing. Immediate action is needed now! To completely legalize weed in California will take a coons age to resolve, in the mean while national parks become a drug haven for pot growers. Precise and deliberate action is needed now and not for the courts to drag on a legalization process that will take infinity to resolve. And again, the national parks become a strangled hold by the drug cartel and their little peons. The word "peon" is not being used here in a insulting fashion but being used in the same terminology and context as a illegal and unskilled farm worker.

Anonymous, sending in the National Guard to stormtroop through national parks isn't a great idea, either.


My travels through the National Park System:

Barky, in all do respect...why? Even if it's a temporary stop gap, it's better then letting the parks run wild with these lawless renegade pot growers. At least bring in the National Guard to get a better control of the situation until the lackadaisical courts decide what to do regards to legalizing weed. It's getting pretty late in the game in stopping wildlife poaching and illegal pot growing in the national parks. In the meanwhile, wildlife and are precious natural resources are taking a severe beating from these illegal activities. Again, why wait?

The pot industry is dangerous and profitable simply because it's illegal. If pot were decriminalized it would instantly take the profit away from organized crime, my tax dollars would not go to support people in prisons, and it would cut the personal risk for law enforcement and anyone else involved. Legal growers could have their own plantations and wouldn't need to use national parks. Too bad the powers that be don't see the logic of this; but then again maybe they would lose too much money if it were legal? ;)

P.S. The new captchas are hilarious! I just got "86 Grandma"!

The other major impact of this large-scale organized (cartel) pot growing in National Parks (and National Forests, too) is that the growers are well-armed to defend their substantial investments, which makes it very dangerous to hike in the wrong place and stumble on growing operations. I haven't been willing to hike the backcountry around Mineral King for over a decade, although few hikers have been shot at and I don't think that any have been killed.

Next spring when guns are legal in parks, it will be even harder for rangers and law enforcement officers to fight the cartels, as their guns and fertilizer and camping equipment will all be legal if they are stopped at roadblocks.

I hope that folks who want to carry in parks will avoid areas with growing operations: experiences with armed hikers might change the behavior of the growers from non-lethal warning shots to shoot first, and in encounters between groups of armed growers and armed hikers, the growers will have all of the advantages.

The pot industry is dangerous and profitable simply because it's illegal. . . . Too bad the powers that be don't see the logic of this; but then again maybe they would lose too much money if it were legal?

Exactly. Nice to be in agreement with you, Bat. Ditto, Paul.

Sounds like a few are rather meek on thee issue of going after these SOB's (that are ripping up our national parks with their illegal pot growing). Damn right it's dangerous business going after these low life individuals that are literally tearing are parks away from us. Are we going to be intimidated and do nothing and allow this illegal activity to go on? We got poachers, meth labs and pot growers all in the business of drugging are youth, destroying families and taking care of a few pot destroying are national parks all in the same process. What in the hell are we fearful of or waiting for!? No more small token forces to rid the noxious weed and low life scum that's keeping all of us from enjoying the WHOLE national park atmosphere and experience. And, plus not having to worry about being shot in the back for taking that extra step into the backcountry.

I usually let this one go, but...

our = possessive pronoun. Example: "This is our heritage."
are = third-person plural form of the verb to be. Example: "We are going camping."

Tricky homonym. And a homonym of homonym is hominem, as in ad hominem, which is an attack and goes against NPT's code of conduct, FYI.

As for "a few" being "rather meek" about taking on those growing pot in national parks, I think Anonymous has mistaken criticism of federal drug policy for spinelessness. It is precisely these government drug policies that have led to the degradation of national park resources.

"...taking care of a few pot heads..."

Almost 100,000,000 Americans, or about a third of the population, have admitted to smoking marijuana. This is more than "a few" pot heads. And if cannabis were decriminalized, it could be industrially farmed, and stories like this one would disappear from the headlines. Interestingly, alcohol prohibition also resulted in resource degradation in parks, as people made makeshift stills in many parks; Mushpot Cave at Lava Beds National Monument still has the remnants of a gin still. Ending prohibition ended these practices.

The war on drugs costs upwards of $30 billion a year, which is enough to wipe out the NPS maintenance backlog or fund the NPS for 10-15 years. Our government is teetering on bankruptcy, and the FDIC is on the brink of collapse as banks are going under at an increasing rate. How long can we go on throwing money down the drug war rat hole? Time to end prohibition.


Your pretentious pontificating isn't necessary and, frankly, is belittling. Should I take you up on your recent request to be deleted from the Traveler?

Frank, what do you advocate in resolving the pot issue in our national parks? You seem to slam government at every twist and turn, and NEVER offer any concrete ideas or solutions...except mock and criticize.

Your pretentious pontificating isn't necessary and, frankly, is belittling. Should I take you up on your recent request to be deleted from the Traveler?

By all means, please.

Especially if my "pretentious pontification" is more belittling and deserves harsher retribution than anonymous comments that use the phrase "illegal trash growing weed". It's ok to call Mexicans "illegal trash"? And my comments are belittling?

And then "SOB" and "damn" and "low life" and "hell" and "low life scum".

So, again, if my comment is so horrible in comparison, delete my account.

Of course it is possible to be civil and not be condescending; but if everyone agreed with everyone else there would be no point to having a forum. Some are better at being tactful than others. I for one do enjoy the articles and occasionally have an opinion to offer. This is your site and it is up to you to decide if our comments will be welcome.

Bat, you're absolutely right about being civil and not condescending. And at the Traveler the last thing we expect is for everyone to be in agreement. We encourage and welcome debate and discussion ... as long as it's conducted with civility. That's harder for some than others. We try to be judicious in monitoring comments.

Over the years we've exhibited a wide latitude. Frankly, we've got better things to do than serve as hall monitors. But after individuals have been cautioned -- in some cases repeatedly -- about the tenor and pointedness of their comments, comments that are directed at a specific individual rather than made in a more general nature, we feel there's little recourse but to rein things in.

Anonymous asked

Barky, in all do respect...why?

when I disagreed about the National Guard fighting drug growers in the national parks.

Here's why: you use the right tool for the right job. The National Guard is a great organization for supporting the Army in times of war. It's a great organization for responding to natural crises. It's a good (but not great) organization when used to quell riots or prison breaks. But it's a terrible organization to include in law enforcement activities. They are not law enforcement, they are a military force. Growing pot in parks is a law enforcement problem, not a military problem.

If there was a situation where heavy firepower made law enforcement moot, and greater weaponry was needed, then I'm sure they could ask the Guard to get involved, but law enforcement would HAVE to be in charge of the whole operation. The Guard would just provide the heavy equipment.

Use the right tool for the right job. Military people for military problems, law enforcement for law enforcement problems.


My travels through the National Park System:

While I'm not a fan of the legalization of loaded firearms in national parks, I don't think the new law really makes that much of a difference when it regards bringing in firearms to protect illegal activities. It's been legal to transport firearms in national parks as long as they're broken down and rendered inoperable. This rider has a requirement that people have a concealed carry weapons permit and actually carry them concealed. I don't recall anything in the legislation that allowed for open carry.

I'm not sure that an LE ranger could even stop anyone randomly unless there's probably cause. If they had something like a traffic stop and then noticed a large cache or firearms, then there's something to work with. At the very least I'd think they'd notice regular vehicles/people entering. I don't think weapons are the big thing - they'd probably notice the large quantities of fertilizer and big bags of weed.

For the most part I'd think they'd want to avoid major roads or might even use off road vehicles.