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Press Release

Federal, State And Local Leaders And Experts Announce Results Of Forest Watch, A Public Lands Marijuana Grow Eradication And Reclamation Project

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Today, federal, state, and local leaders joined with experts to announce the results of Operation Forest Watch, a coordinated effort to address the devastating damage done to our national forests by illegal, public-land marijuana grows. This months-long effort, led by U.S. Forest Service and joined by various federal, state, county and local law enforcement agencies, as well as the California National Guard, focused on the eradication of marijuana grows on public lands and sought to remediate the environmental damage caused by such activity.

Making the announcement today were U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Acting Associate U.S. Attorney General Jesse Panuccio, Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood of the U.S. Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, U.S.D.A. Forest Service Chief Forester Vicki Christiansen, U.S.D.A. Director of Law Enforcement and Investigations Tracy Perry, U.S.D.A. Pacific Southwest Regional Forester Randy Moore, Integral Ecology Research Center Director Mourad Gabriel, Bureau of Land Management California State Director Jerry Perez, Major General Matthew P. Beevers Deputy Adjutant General of the California Military Department, California National Guard Counterdrug Task Force Commander and Coordinator Colonel Robert Paoletti, and Bill Ruzzamenti of the Central Valley California High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas.

“Marijuana cultivation on our nation’s public lands is unlawful and is causing significant harm to communities across the West,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio. “The clear evidence shows that this dangerous activity is polluting our streams and rivers with toxic pesticides, harming protected fish and wildlife, and endangering the health and safety of the American people who otherwise look to our national forests and national parks for recreation and conservation. The Justice Department, including our Environment and Natural Resources Division, is providing full support to fighting this illegality, in close cooperation with other federal, state, and local partners. By joining together to oppose the illegal growth of marijuana on public lands, we are working to enforce the rule of law in our conservation areas and to protect the environment and natural resources upon which we all depend.”

U.S. Attorney Scott stated, “Large-scale, clandestine illegal marijuana grows pose a serious threat to our national forests and public lands.  Those who plant and tend the marijuana grows leave a path of destruction: clearcutting vast amounts of timber, diverting thousands of gallons of water, and using deadly and illegal pesticides that seep into the ground and harm wildlife. These types of grows are illegal under any law, and the destruction of our shared national treasures in its cultivation will not be tolerated. We at the U.S. Attorney’s Office are committed to working with all of our law enforcement and community partners to fight this ongoing threat to our public lands.”

“This joint law enforcement operation underscores that we will not tolerate illegal cannabis operations harming our communities and damaging our public lands,” said California Attorney General Becerra.

“The USDA Forest Service aggressively strives to address marijuana cultivation on National Forests, an illegal occupancy and use of National Forest System lands,” states Regional Forester Randy Moore. “Marijuana growers endanger our visitors, employees and nearby communities. The Forest Service is committed in this joint effort to eradicate, reclaim and rehabilitate our public lands to preserve our natural resources for current and future generations to enjoy.”

Maj. Gen. Beevers stated: “The California National Guard has been a key partner with many local, state and federal agencies over the last quarter-century, combatting illegal marijuana grows on public lands with federal funds. This combined effort and support helps protect the environment while adding safety to our communities.”

Sheriffs from the California counties involved in Operation Forest Watch also joined the announcements: Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, Madera County Sheriff Jay Varney, Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko, Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon E. Lopey, Tehama County Sheriff Dave Hencratt, Trinity County Sheriff Bruce Haney, and Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux.

Operation Forest Watch officially began on October 1, 2017, and will end September 30, 2018. So far, over 80 investigations have been conducted on suspected and active marijuana cultivation on federal public lands. US Forest Service law enforcement officers and federal, state and local counterparts have conducted interdiction, eradication and reclamation efforts to restore public lands back to normal. Over 118,000 pounds of infrastructure and trash and over 20,000 pounds of fertilizer, pesticides and chemicals were removed in eradication and reclamation efforts.

Grow sites were found with both aerial and ground reconnaissance.  Numerous warrants were served, resulting in the arrest of over 77 people and the seizure of 82 firearms, approximately 638,370 plants, and 25,334 pounds of processed marijuana and various other drugs. Night interdiction teams in the past week have also been successful in conducting traffic stops and seizing over 10,000 plants, $225,000 in cash, multiple firearms and other illegal drugs.

Much work lies ahead in order to undo the damage caused by these grows. Only 160 grow sites have been reclaimed this year, and from those sites alone over 103,603 pounds of trash were removed along with toxic and illegal pesticides and other chemicals used by the growers. There are 766 sites still left to be reclaimed from various grow sites, some of which date back to 2010.

Eighty-nine percent of sites have been confirmed or strongly suspected to have carbofuran or methamidophos present, up from last year the running total of 75 percent.

Dr. Gabriel stated, “This year’s unprecedented use of illegal pesticides on federal lands is deeply alarming to the scientific community on both the environmental and human health fronts.

Bill Ruzzamenti of the Central Valley California High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) stated, “The environmental deprivation caused by criminal organizations to our public lands should be intolerable for everyone. Bringing law enforcement from across the spectrum of local, state and federal agencies together in Operation Forest Watch is a testament to our combined resolve to protect our pristine public lands for the future.”

Incorporated in the Forest Service results are the results to-date for the California Department of Justice’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), which is the largest marijuana eradication program in the nation. This year CAMP has eliminated 488,502 plants in over 164 illegal growth sites across the state. Agents have made 35 arrests and seized 87 weapons.

Updated August 28, 2018