Mexican Traffickers Grow Pot in US National Forests
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Mexico's drug traffickers are continuing to expand their marijuana operations, by stepping up cultivation of the plant in national forests across the US. According to a report by USA Today's Judy Keen, traffickers are increasingly planting illicit crops on public land, at the detriment of the natural habitat, while creating risks for hunters and other parkgoers. The practice has been documented as far back as the mid-1990s, but it has now spread to 67 national forests in 20 states. David Ferrell, the Forest Service's law enforcement and investigations director, says that undocumented immigrants tended 1,607 cultivation sites in national forests between 2005-2010. "It's a growing problem—literally," says Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. "They're finding that it's easier and easier...to grow within this country." Federal officials are now starting to crack down on the problem. Last August, Operation Mountain Sweep targeted public lands in seven Western states including California, eradicating 578,000 marijuana plants with a street value of $1 billion. Benjamin Wagner, the US attorney for the Eastern District of California, confirms that most of those arrested were "illegal aliens from Mexico or people here of Mexican extraction." The problem isn't confined to the green West coast: a raid this past August of Wisconsin's Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest resulted in the seizure of more than 8,000 marijuana plants and seven arrests, at least six of which were tied to Mexico. Mass seizures of marijuana plants in national forests have also been reported in Ohio and Michigan.