A public employee watchdog group claims that the U.S. Forest Service police are “dangerously unprepared” for an influx of Mexican drug gangs’ “mega-marijuana” growing operations. According to the not-for-profit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) the gang operations have expanded as far north as Michigan and Wisconsin, growing large tracts of marijuana on public and American Indian lands. PEER reports that U.S. Forest Service law enforcement agents there are “dangerously unprepared” for this “explosive growth.” It said the Forest Service has never seen “multi-thousand plant grows” tended by armed gangs in the region previously, and that the regions around the trafficking routes and cultivation areas are becoming increasingly dangerous.
In a Press Release published on October 31, PEER quoted a 2010 Forest Service briefing memo, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act order, which reported a “disturbing new trend” in the northern border states along the Great Lakes. According to that report, the region is approaching a level of illegal drug growing activity, not unlike the illegal operations on California’s public lands, where Mexican drug gangs cultivate millions of dollars worth of marijuana. This activity has caused extensive environmental damage, and has raised the level of violence in nearby communities.
According to PEER, “drug traffickers have engaged in intimidation of local citizens and law enforcement, including threats of kidnapping and shootings in the region. It also says the Forest Service restricts its employees from working in local forests during growing seasons and that gangs have set forest fires in the region.”
Although the number and size of the marijuana growing operations have spiked dramatically over the last few years, “the Forest Service is outgunned, outmanned and disinclined to deal with the growing role of Mexican drug gangs,” PEER said in its statement. PEER’s Executive Director Jeff Ruch accused the Forest Service of being more concerned about covering up the problems than solving them.
Analysis: This rapidly growing drug problem is epidemic throughout the southwest, and has now expanded into the northern Great Lakes region. Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico have been struggling with this problem for a number of years. Reports of drug growing and trafficking are rampant throughout the mountains and forests of the southwest and the need to find solutions for the growing Mexican drug gang problems is more urgent than ever as it continues to expand.
In our view, a major public-private collaboration between the local ranchers and farmers and law enforcement is badly needed to help identify the trafficking routes and growing fields, known to locals but not usually reported to authorities for a variety of reasons. This is not a problem that can be ignored. The trafficking routes that provide access for marijuana growers are also used to transport the brain-destroying drug, crystal meth, from the super labs in Mexico to the streets of cities and towns throughout the US, and most particularly throughout the West.