Danger from individuals cultivating marijuana

While only a fraction of our public lands are affected by illegal marijuana cultivation, the Pacific Crest Trail Association, U.S. Forest Service and our other agency partners believe that safety risks are real and everyone should be informed about them. Dangerous people protecting marijuana cultivation sites may be present on the Pacific Crest Trail corridor, especially in Southern California, but also all along the trail. Hikers and equestrians should be aware that armed individuals may violently protect their grow sites.

The safety of Pacific Crest Trail visitors, volunteers and employees is our top priority. Marijuana cultivation occurs on some public land and it’s important for everyone to be aware of their surroundings.

A small portion of the garbage and debris left in the forest at a drug trafficking organization's marijuana grow site on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California. (US Forest Service photo)

A small portion of the garbage and debris left in the forest at a drug trafficking organization’s marijuana grow site on the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in California. (US Forest Service photo)

The disturbances that marijuana cultivation makes on natural resources causes extensive and long-term damage to ecosystems and impacts the supplies of public drinking water for hundreds of miles. Growers clear native vegetation before planting and sometimes use miles of black plastic tubing to transport large volumes of water from creeks that are often dammed for irrigation. The use of banned herbicides and pesticides by marijuana growers kill wildlife and competing vegetation. This loss of vegetation allows rainwater to erode the soil and wash poisons, human waste, and trash from the grow sites into streams and rivers.

Here are some clues that you may have come across a marijuana cultivation site

  • Sometimes marijuana smells like a skunk on hot days.
  • Hoses or drip lines located in unusual or unexpected places.
  • A well-used trail where there shouldn’t be one.
  • People standing along roads without vehicles present, or in areas where loitering appears unusual.
  • Grow sites are usually found in isolated locations, in rough steep terrain.
  • Camps containing cooking and sleeping areas with food, fertilizer, weapons, garbage, rat poison, and/or dead animals.
  • Small propane bottles, which are used to avoid the detection of wood smoke.
  • Individuals armed with rifles out of hunting season.

As soon as you become aware that you have come upon a cultivation site, back out immediatelyNever engage the growers as these are extremely dangerous people. If you can identify a landmark, PCT mile point, or record a GPS coordinate, that’s very helpful. The growers may be present and may or may not know that you have found their grow site.

Get to a safe place and report as much detail about the location and incident as you can recall to any uniformed land agency employee or to the local law enforcement agency. Please also notify the PCTA. Leave the way you came in, and make as little noise as possible.

Additionally:

Forest Service personnel, joined by representatives of six federal and civilian partners, cleaned more than 6,000 lbs of trash and 7,000 lbs of irrigation pipes from an illegal marijuana cultivation site on the Lassen National Forest, Oct. 17-20, 2016. The site contained three large camps, numerous dumping locations and more than 1,250 lbs of fertilizer and pesticides. The cultivation operation was growing between 16,000 and 20,000 plants near the Pacific Crest Trail along Screwdriver Creek, a tributary of the Pit River which drains into the Shasta Lake Reservoir and the Sacramento River. Water diversion and contamination by pesticides from the site have adversely effected Screwdriver Creek. The Screwdriver Creek clean-up was part of a two-week operation, spearheaded by the Lassen National Forest, involving multiple grow sites. If the work being done were to be contracted, the cost would likely exceed $1 million. By managing the reclamation itself and enlisting help from partners, the Forest Service anticipated the cost to be closer to $250,000. Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service, Region 5

Forest Service personnel, joined by representatives of six federal and civilian partners, cleaned more than 6,000 lbs of trash and 7,000 lbs of irrigation pipes from an illegal marijuana cultivation site on the Lassen National Forest, Oct. 17-20, 2016. The site contained three large camps, numerous dumping locations and more than 1,250 lbs of fertilizer and pesticides. The cultivation operation was growing between 16,000 and 20,000 plants near the Pacific Crest Trail along Screwdriver Creek, a tributary of the Pit River which drains into the Shasta Lake Reservoir and the Sacramento River. Water diversion and contamination by pesticides from the site have adversely effected Screwdriver Creek.
The Screwdriver Creek clean-up was part of a two-week operation, spearheaded by the Lassen National Forest, involving multiple grow sites. If the work being done were to be contracted, the cost would likely exceed $1 million. By managing the reclamation itself and enlisting help from partners, the Forest Service anticipated the cost to be closer to $250,000.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service, Region 5


U.S. Forest Service. (2011). Be Safe on Our Public Lands – What to do if you Encounter a Marijuana Cultivation Site. Retrieved from http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/inyo/alerts-notices/?cid=stelprdb5324909

↑ Back to top
Photo by: Nathaniel Middleton