Although cannabis has been legalized in Oregon, the cultivation of cannabis on public land, such as national forests has remained a problem. These trespass plants are almost entirely operated by cartels. They poison wildlife, exploit natural resources, and pose a risk to outdoor recreators. Although most of these operations are located in the northern California and Southern Oregon national forests, they are expanding to include private and public lands. This is what is happening in Josephine, Jackson, and other counties. There are hundreds of greenhouses covering the valley’s lands. The health consequences could not have been worse.
Our environment is greatly affected by illegal cartel and trespass. Cartel growers remove the native riparian vegetation that is critical for many species of wildlife and illegally siphon water. Indiscriminate with their water use, they dewater key habitats, and play a part in the extinction native salmon. As it has been shown, they are also involved in widespread human trafficking.
California estimates that trespassers divert enough water each year to supply the annual water budget of 50,000 homes. Oregon shares the Klamath Siskiyou ecosystem with a variety of special-status species so the per-capita diversion rate will likely be similar. Every drop of water in Oregon is vital, especially during drought. Water for residential use and agriculture are integral parts of rural livelihoods. However, upstream trespassers are currently stealing water.
Water sources are not only being depleted but also being contaminated. These grows regularly use EPA-banned Pesticides, including Carbofuran which is the deadliest carbamate insecticide made globally and has been confirmed by law enforcement to have been found in both Josephine, and Jackson counties.
Trespassers have been the main cause of major wildfires in recent decades, causing destruction to homes, lives, and watersheds. According to NBC News research and the Cannabis Removal on Public Lands Project report, trespassers have destroyed at least 285,000 acres of California’s public lands. This has resulted in billions of dollars in suppression efforts. One trespasser has set off a wildfire that has ravaged a million acres of landscape fire, causing destruction to communities and destroying public lands for future generations.
Firefighters and law enforcers report encounters between armed growers, as well as the weaponization and use of deadly pesticides like Carbofuran (one quarter teaspoon can kill a 600-lb. black bear). Its combustibility makes it more hazardous in hot fires, where it could be inhaled and inhaled by firefighters.
Congress must act. Bipartisan members of Congress are now working together to increase enforcement efforts and clean-up efforts on public land. The House Natural Resources budget for 2022 increases funding to the Forest Service. It includes directive language acknowledging the issue of trespassing grow and mandating action. It is crucial that the U.S. Senate and Senator Merkley, who chairs the Senate Natural Resources Committee are leaders and affirm these budget reconciliation increases and the directive language. Public land trespassing is a grave threat. It is imperative that we take swift and decisive action to protect our environment, water, land, and environment. The Oregon wildlands’ legacy is at risk.
Rich McIntyre, Jackson County, is the director for the Cannabis Removal on Public Laws Project (CROP).