Illegal marijuana operations on public lands have become a pervasive national problem, and the situation is particularly acute in California. According to the Sacramento Bee, these types of operations are found in every county in the state.
Mexican drug cartels are frequently the culprits and pose a serious threat to members of the public who may inadvertently stumble on armed guards when they are hiking in national and local parks. Illegal pot grow sites are also major threats to local plants and wildlife, since the growers often use large amounts of rat poison to keep animals away from their plants and use pesticides intensively.
According to the USDA, law enforcement personnel eradicated 3,900 such sites on public land between 2005 and 2010. Since game wardens are highly trained law enforcement personnel, they are well suited to intercepting these criminals on public lands. Those who work for the California Fish and Wildlife Service are trained peace officers who are issued four service weapons: a shotgun, a rifle, and a sidearm.
One site in California that has had persistent problems with large-scale illegal pot operations is the Stone Lakes Wildlife Refuge near Sacramento. Despite raids in 2012 and 2013, growers keep returning to this 6,550-acre park to re-establish their sites. Part of the reason for this is that growers can spend as much as $20,000 to start an illegal grow site, and they want to recoup their investment.
Game wardens and other law enforcement officials returned to this refuge on April 29, 2015 to eradicate a large-scale growing site that had been identified by patrol planes. The officers found a man armed with a handgun. He refused to surrender it and pointed it at a game warden who has a great deal of experience in marijuana cultivation and raids. This law enforcement officer responded by fatally shooting the armed guard. It was clear that the intruder presented a threat to the game warden’s life, so the shooting was clearly justified.
This joint operation was a success, and officials used a helicopter to help remove the marijuana plants along with pesticides, fertilizer, and rat poison. Their efforts should help prevent the criminals from coming back to reestablish an illegal farm on this site.
With their vigilance and proactive activities against criminal enterprises on public lands, game wardens protect both themselves and the public against these dangerous foes.