Desert Invasion - U.S.


National parks' pot farms blamed on cartels

By Zachary Coile, San Francisco Chronicle

Hikers in national parks such as Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon are encountering a danger more hazardous than bears: illegal marijuana farms run by Mexican drug cartels and protected by booby traps and guards carrying AK-47s.

National Park Service officials testified in Congress on Thursday that illegal drug production in national parks, forests and other federal lands had grown into a multibillion-dollar business in recent years -- mostly concentrated in California.

"These activities threaten our employees, visitors and our mission of protecting some of the nation's most prized natural and cultural resources," Karen Taylor-Goodrich, the National Park Service's associate director for visitor and resource protection, told the House Resources Subcommittee on National Parks.

Last year, National Park Service officers seized about 60,000 marijuana plants, with an estimated street value of $240 million, from parks in California. About 44,000 pot plants were removed from Sequoia National Park near California's Central Valley. Another 10,000 plants were seized in Yosemite National Park.

The Park Service also has found pot farms and other drug trafficking activities in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in Shasta County as well as two Bay Area parks: the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Point Reyes National Seashore....

But Mexican drug cartels now are seizing on the state's mild climate and vast stretches of remote lands to set up pot farms across California. Tightened security on the U.S.-Mexico border has also convinced many drug gangs it is easier to grow marijuana in the state than to smuggle it into the country.

Park service officials said the drug cartels took extreme measures to protect their plants, which can be worth $4,000 each....

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