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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.



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.

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:

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.

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.

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.

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?

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