For my California NCFP friends: hope this doesn’t happen to you…(my italics). This is from an editorial in the Colorado Springs Gazette here that touches on some of the problems we are experiencing here. I personally agree with legalization, but we can’t pretend that unexpected problems don’t exist, and we need to consider that some of the massive amounts of money that this new industry is generating should be used to help (duh!).
Dave Condit, deputy forest and grassland supervisor for the Pike-San Isabel and Cimarron-Comanche National Grasslands, recently accompanied Forest Service officers on the raid of a Mexican cartel’s major grow operation west of Colorado Springs. It was among at least 17 busts of cartel operations in the past 18 months. He describes the type of operation mostly based in Mexico, before legalization made Colorado more attractive. Condit said the agency lacks resources to make a dent in the additional cartel activity in the region’s two national forests.
“It was eye opening to put on the camouflage and sneak through the woods at 4 in the morning,” Condit told The Gazette’s editorial board Friday. “I had no idea the scope of these plantations. These are huge farms hidden in the national forests. The cartels de-limb the trees, so there is some green left on them. Other trees are cut down. They fertilize the plants extensively, and not all these fertilizers and chemicals are legal in this area.
“This is different than anything we have experienced in the past. These massive plantations are not the work of someone moving in from out of state who’s going to grow a few plants or even try to grow a bunch of plants and sell them. These are massive supported plantations, with massive amounts of irrigation. The cartels create their own little reservoirs for water. These operations are guarded with armed processors. They have little buildings on site. The suspects we have captured on these grows have all been Mexican nationals.”
Condit said the black market invading Colorado’s national forests has grown so large the entire budget for the Pike and San Isabel forests would not cover the costs of removing and remediating cartel grows in the forests he helps supervise.
“There’s a massive amount of resource damage that has to be mitigated,” Condit said. “You’ve got facilities and structures that have to be deconstructed. We would need to bring in air support to get materials out of there. There are tens of thousands of plants that have to be destroyed.”
Condit hopes the Colorado Legislature will channel a portion of marijuana proceeds to the Forest Service to help pay for closure and reclamation of cartel operations.
“For every plantation we find, there are many more,” Condit said.
Authorities captured only two cartel suspects in the raid Condit witnessed, and others escaped by foot into the woods.
“This operation had a huge stockpile of food. Hundreds and hundreds of giant cans (of food), and stacks of tortillas two or three people could not consume in months,” Condit said. “So it appeared they were planning to bring in a large crew for the harvest. I wouldn’t have thought you could hide something like that in our woods, but you can.”
Officers seized a marijuana stash and plants worth an estimated $35 million that morning. Merely destroying the plants presented a significant expense.
“Whether you’re a recreational shooter, a weekend camper, or you’re going to walk your dog in the woods, you should be concerned,” Condit said. “Some of these people have guns. If you stumble into $35 million worth of illegal plants, I’d be concerned. We are concerned for our own personnel.”