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Marijuana and Methamphetamine Trafficking on Federal Lands Threat Assessment
February 2005


The National Forest System (NFS), managed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service consists of 191.6 million acres of federally owned reserves composed of 155 national forests and 22 national grasslands in 42 states and Puerto Rico. NFS lands adjoin approximately 700 miles of the U.S.-Canada border and nearly 60 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) is the primary conservation agency in the United States and manages 23 percent of the land in the country, including 596 miles along the 3,987-mile U.S.-Canada border and 751 miles along the 1,917-mile U.S.-Mexico border. The DOI comprises four bureaus with law enforcement authority--the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service (NPS), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Indian reservations are federal lands held in trust for the Indian Nations. Drug trafficking and abuse have reached significant levels on Indian reservations and are addressed in a forthcoming report. DOI statistics incorporate BIA seizure and eradication data.

Armed Marijuana Smugglers

In Arizona, officers from the Tohono O'Odham Police Department arrested five Mexican nationals in five incidents that occurred in January 2003. In each incident, the defendants crossed the Arizona portion of the U.S.-Mexico border in a remote area of the Tohono O'Odham Reservation carrying marijuana and firearms. According to the officers, some of the defendants stated that they found the weapons en route, while others stated that they carried the weapons for their protection. All of the smugglers stated that the organizations for which they were smuggling marijuana did not provide them with the weapons.

Source: Tohono O'Odham Police Department.

Marijuana and methamphetamine production and transportation on federal lands, in addition to posing an overall threat, contribute to the threat of violence against law enforcement and private individuals. According to USDA Forest Service and DOI reporting, cannabis cultivators and methamphetamine producers on federal lands often are armed, and cannabis grow sites and methamphetamine laboratories frequently are booby-trapped. Law enforcement officers have seized shotguns, handguns, automatic weapons, pipe bombs, grenades, and night vision equipment from drug producers and smugglers on federal lands. For instance, USDA Forest Service reporting indicates that the number of firearms seized on Forest Service lands during drug enforcement actions increased from 294 in 2002 to 346 in 2003.

Violence Against Law Enforcement

On August 9, 2002, a U.S. park ranger assigned to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was shot and killed while assisting the U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) in apprehending two Mexican citizens who had fled across the border into the United States. Mexican authorities requested the assistance of U.S. law enforcement when the two headed for the border in a sport-utility vehicle. The vehicle was abandoned in Arizona, and the suspects continued on foot. A USBP helicopter directed the ranger and USBP agents toward the individuals. One was easily apprehended; however, the other, while fleeing, shot the ranger. Mexican authorities subsequently shot the individual, who was identified as a high-ranking member of a drug trafficking organization (DTO).

Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation Phoenix Field Office.

Drug production and transportation on federal lands often result in environmental damage, including the destruction of vegetation, contamination of waterways, and disruption to wildlife. Cannabis cultivators often clear timber and ground cover to prepare large grow areas. Pesticides used by cultivators to protect their crops often poison native wildlife and foliage. Furthermore, hired workers who live in camps near grow sites typically leave behind trash and human waste that must be removed in order to restore affected areas. Methamphetamine producers destroy the natural resources of federal lands. Hazardous chemical waste from methamphetamine laboratories on federal lands usually is dumped near production sites, along remote roads, and in abandoned mine shafts, polluting waterways, killing vegetation and wildlife, and rendering areas unsafe for visitors and employees. Moreover, methamphetamine laboratories are prone to fires and explosions and, therefore, are a significant forest fire risk.

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