WAR IN THE WOODS: “Wild Justice” Game Wardens on the Road About Marijuana Grows on Public Wildlands

   01.15.12

Testifying before the US Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control On December 7, 2011, US Forest Service Chief David Ferrell stated that in 2011 “Marijuana cultivation occurred on 67 National Forests in 20 states.” And this is just a drop in the bucket. Large marijuana gardens are also found on BLM, US National Park, state and regional parks and state and national Wildlife Refuges. A far cry from the “hippie gardens” of the 60’s and 70’s, today’s pot gardens on public lands are thousands of plants and almost entirely the work of international drug cartels.

These gardens wreak havoc on the land, fish and wildlife, with heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides, growers poaching wildlife and damming and diverting streams. A thousand plants consume 5000 gallons of water a day, and the typical garden is 10-20 acres. Also, the growers, who live with the gardens 24/7 from April through October, are all armed, and the gardens are often booby-trapped, turning the woods into a war zone as recreationists and state and federal land managers are threatened, chased out of the woods, and sometimes shot. Sometimes people who do venture into the woods find bodies buried in shallow graves, apparently the result of wars between different cartels.

Rogue marijuana cultivation on public lands is now found all across the US and Canada, but by far the epicenter is California. California is the place where the most dope is grown as it has one of only five Mediterranean climates in the world, and it’s the third largest state in land mass of all the US, allowing for remoteness. According to John Gaines, chief of California’s Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, more than half the nation’s domestically produced marijuana is grown in California. The state interagency marijuana eradication task force, CAMP (Campaign Against Marijuana Planting), estimates more than five million marijuana plants were eradicated in 2011 (the number is growing every year). State and federal agencies participating in the CAMP Operation Green Acres 2 also made 143 arrests and seized 142 weapons in 2011, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. CAMP feels they are only able to eradicate about 10% of what is being grown.

The marijuana cultivation season generally runs from April through October – the prime recreational season. Sportsmen need to be aware of what these gardens look like, and what to do if they come upon one. They also can provide an invaluable service by helping with clean-up. In 2011 the USFS in California performed clean-up and restoration on 335 sites, removing 130 tons of trash, 300 pounds of pesticides, 5 tons of fertilizers, and over 260 miles of plastic irrigation piping.

Conveying the story of the explosion of marijuana gardens on public lands are California’s Fish and Game Wardens, who have come into the spotlight recently, thanks to the National Geographic Channel’s documentary reality series “Wild Justice,” which is about the work the wardens do, is produced by award-winning producer Thom Beers and Original Productions (“Deadliest Catch,” “Ice Road Truckers”). The series premiere for “Wild Justice” November 2010, set a record for reality series premieres on National Geographic with 3.2 million viewers. Season 2 of “Wild Justice” will kick off Sunday, March 11, at 9pm on the National Geographic Channel.

Two of the lead wardens on “Wild Justice,” John Nores* and Jerry Karnow,** who will be appearing at two International Sportsmen’s Exposition shows and the Safari Club national convention, will offer workshops on the marijuana on public lands problem and what must be done to reclaim the woods.

Some may wonder why game wardens are involved, but actually aside from regular wildlife law enforcement, game wardens are often on the first line of defense in rural areas as they are among the most woods-wise of all law enforcement officers, as well as being full police officers. “We are serious cops, not bird-and-bunny cops,” Lt. Nores says. “It’s like we’re doing all these special ops, like they do in Afghanistan. Except we’re in the eastern foothills of San Jose.”

“Wardens end up being the ‘go-to’ cops for hunters and anglers that unfortunately are faced with stumbling upon illegal organized crime marijuana grows in their traditional and favorite outdoor spots,” says Warden Karnow, President of the California Fish and Game Wardens Association. “The illegal big game poaching, poising of game fish, and basic habitat destruction from this illegal cultivation, usually on public lands or large game-rich ranches, is a true danger to sportsman. It has got to stop and Game Wardens across the country are the front line warriors to stop these criminals. Avid sportsmen and sportswomen themselves, Game Wardens want you to be vigilant for your safety, and also work closely with your local Warden to push these criminals out of OUR woods.”

Upcoming Schedule of Workshops:

  • January 21, International Sportsmen’s Exposition, Sacramento, CA – “Wild Justice and Wardens Work,” Saturday, Jan 21 at 3:30 p.m. at the Adventure Theater.

Panelists:

Lt. Nores, Warden Jerry Karnow, DFG Law Enforcement Chief Nancy Foley, and “Wild Justice” Producer Molly Mayock. Panel discussion followed by book signing for Nores’ War In The Woods.

  • February 2 and 3, Safari Club International 40th Convention, Las Vegas, NV – 2/2 — 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Lagoon 1 and 2/3 – 12:30pm to 2:00pm

“War in the Woods: Marijuana Cultivation, Safety Considerations for Sportsmen and Women – Wardens Karnow and Nores will use audio and video clips and power point presentation, to cover sportsman safety considerations and protocol when encountering a marijuana cultivation site in our nation’s woods, the environmental and wildlife damage associated with such sites, and what SCI and other conservation groups can do to help. Highlights from “Wild Justice,” as seen on the National Geographic Channel, will also be presented.

  • International Sportsmen’s Exposition – Phoenix, AZ, Feb 24 and 25. Both will entail power point seminars followed by book signings by Lt. Nores. Times not yet finalized.
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