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News (Media Awareness Project) - US OR: Drug Cartels Leave A Scarred Forest Legacy
Title:US OR: Drug Cartels Leave A Scarred Forest Legacy
Published On:2011-12-13
Source:Mail Tribune, The (Medford, OR)
Fetched On:2011-12-14 06:02:50
DRUG CARTELS LEAVE A SCARRED FOREST LEGACY

The environmental damage left by drug cartels lingers long after raids
have shut down their Southern Oregon plantations

Southern Oregon's forests carry the scars created by drug cartels that
abuse them to make money in the lucrative marijuana market.

An intense crackdown on Mexican drug cartel growing operations in
Southern Oregon's hills appears to have pushed the cartels elsewhere,
but they have left behind a legacy of environmental damage - and,
potentially, a threat to other forest users.

Several of the 31 marijuana-growing sites busted on public lands in
2010 continue to be environmental hazards marked by hills of trash,
scattered fertilizer and pesticides and contaminated creeks that spill
into fish-bearing streams.

"These grow sites are a disaster for the public," Jackson County
Sheriff Mike Winters said. "You can't believe what you see when you
get into one."

Winters produces a thick stack of photographs taken at the gardens and
spreads them out on a table.

They show filthy campsites strewn with Pepsi bottles, car batteries
and countless packets of Ramen noodles.

One photo, taken near Ramsey Creek in Josephine County, shows a pile
of trash that had tumbled over into the water. Junk can be seen
floating downstream.

"This all flows down into our rivers," said sheriff's spokeswoman
Andrea Carlson.

The trash in many of the raided gardens remains to this day; no one
has gone in to clean up the sites.

Winters said 2010 was such a busy year for marijuana raids that the
Southern Oregon Multi-Agency Marijuana Eradication and Reclamation
team, or SOMMER - which covers Jackson, Josephine, Coos, Curry,
Douglas, Klamath and Lake counties - didn't have time to haul out the
garbage along with the plants.

"We were going from one grow to another," Winters said. "And there's
so much trash at some of these sites that it would take a large team
of guys days to haul it out. In some respects, the marijuana is easier
to remove than the garbage."

The creeks are further damaged by the fertilizer haphazardly dumped
around the gardens to spur growth. Some of the photos show pools and
streams that have turned a unnatural shade of turquoise because of
fertilizer contamination.

"Who knows what's in these particular fertilizers?" Carlson said. "And
here it is entering our streams."

Winters said the campsites often come equipped with generators and
propane burning stoves used to cook food. But they are most notable
for the huge piles of garbage that accumulated when the camps were
active.

Jackson County Commissioner John Rachor is troubled by the thought of
the abandoned marijuana gardens dotting the forestlands.

"I helped out by driving a dump truck to haul out the marijuana at
some of these places," he said. "I've seen what they look like and it
isn't pretty."

Rachor reached out to a local environmental group looking to put
together cleanup teams that would hike into the remote campsite to
haul out cartel garbage.

He hit a snag, though, when law enforcement with the Bureau of Land
Management and the U.S. Forest Service both said such missions could
put volunteers at risk.

"They said these places can be booby trapped and are dangerous,"
Rachor said. "You have to have people trained to deal with these things."

Winters discourages anyone from entering a garden, even if it's to
help clean up after the cartels leave.

"You just can't send a group of school kids in there," Winters said.
"It's not safe."

Winters says he's working on a plan to eventually clean up the
mess.

When the sheriff's department begins training in the woods for future
raids, he will direct them to the old grow sites. Once there, deputies
will end their day by hauling out the garbage left over from previous
gardens.

"This is the most cost-effective way we can do it," Winters said.
"It's killing two birds with one stone."

Even though the cartels have been largely silent this year, they could
return in 2012 and pick up where they left off, Winters said.

He advises anyone who comes across a marijuana garden in the forest to
quickly back away and leave the area.

"Don't ever enter one of these gardens," he said.

In 2010, two bow hunters in Jackson County came face-to-face with
armed guards patrolling a pot garden, Winters said.

Anyone who encounters a garden should move away to a safe distance and
then call 9-1-1.

Local police are keeping in contact with departments in northeast
Oregon that are dealing with large marijuana gardens run by cartels.

A 91,000-plant garden was found this summer outside Enterprise. It is
the largest marijuana garden found in Oregon history.

Winters worries that continuing budget cuts will hamper efforts to
combat the cartel gardens on public lands across the state.

"These cartels aren't going away," he said. "There's too much money
involved. And they will keep coming back as long as we let them."

[sidebar]

Cartel Connection

About this series: "Cartel Connection" is a look at the impact of drug
cartels on Oregon, the West Coast and Mexico and efforts being made to
combat their growing power.

Sunday: After several years of crackdowns, Mexican drug cartels have
mostly moved on from Southern Oregon . . . for now.

Monday: The violence that accompanies drug cartels is not limited to
Mexico and some believe the only way to head it off is to legalize the drugs.

Today: Cartel marijuana growing sites have left a legacy of
environmental damage in Southern Oregon's forests.
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