Hikers on Northern California trails need to be aware of the potential danger they face from people illegally growing marijuana on public lands, usually national forests and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land.
Marijuana is legal to grow and use in California and several other states, but there are still a large number of illegal grows out there.
When a Hiker Finds a Marijuana Grow/Cultivation Site in the Forest
Here’s the text of the press release sent to me by Laura Mark, Acting Special Agent in Charge for national forests in California.
Be Safe on our National Forests:
What to do if you Encounter a Marijuana Cultivation Site
VALLEJO, Calif., May 5, 2009 – As the summer approaches, the Marijuana Cultivation season will begin and it is especially important to be aware of your surroundings on national forests.
Marijuana growers will be active on the national forests from now until usually the end of October and here are some clues that you may have come across a garden:
- The smell of Marijuana especially on hot days is like a skunk.
- Hoses or drip lines located in unusual or unexpected places.
- A well used trail where there shouldn’t be one.
- Voices coming from an unusual place.
- People standing along roads without vehicles present, or in areas where loitering appears unusual.
- Usually plantations are found in isolated locations; in rough steep terrains (typically between 500 to 5500 elevation).
- Camps contain cooking and sleeping areas with food.
- Small propane bottles are another indicator (so the grower can avoid detection of wood smoke).
- Fertilizer, weapons, garbage, dead animals.
- Individuals armed with rifles out of hunting season.
What to Do if You Find a Marijuana Grow Site
As soon as you become aware that you have entered a cultivation site, or have encountered any of the above listed situations, immediately reduce the threat by removing yourself from the area. Walk, crawl or run out the way you came in and make as little noise as possible. The growers may be present, and may or may not know that you have found their operation.
Contact Law Enforcement to Report the Marijuana Grow Site
As soon as possible, contact your nearest Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer or Deputy and report as much detail about the incident as you can recall.
(End press release)
Cross-Country Hiking Makes Encountering a Marijuana Grow More Likely
Note that you are most likely to stumble upon a marijuana garden if you are hiking cross-country well away from established hiking trails. I’ve had one encounter with likely pot growers. It occurred on a spring in the lower reaches of a mountain range when I saw a beautiful creek with small waterfalls off in the distance and decided to hike cross-country to it. As I left the creek I encountered people hiking in who definitely were not typical hikers and who were likely scouting the place for a potential pot farming operation. I got out of there as fast as I could without making it obvious, and then I reported it to the national forest agency law enforcement.
Would Legalizing Marijuana Help?
I think the very real danger of armed criminals growing pot on national forests and Bureau of Land Management property is another argument in favor of legalizing marijuana. Legal pot means we don’t have to worry as much about this, although it is a complicated issue. And no, I don’t smoke pot. (Although I definitely did in the distant — and hazy — past.)