I typically avoid discussing political or otherwise loaded subjects in my blog posts. However, as this one could directly impact me or anyone else who enjoys exploring our wilderness areas, I decided to address the topic with a quick post. My goal here is to provide information, and to convey my thoughts on the subject. It is up to the reader to decide their own course of action.
In recent months I have read a number of news articles online and heard a couple of reports on NPR regarding marijuana growing operations on public lands, and specifically in national parks. The phenomenon is nothing new- I recall news stories from even 30 years back about locals and their growing operations in Hawaii and California. I had not thought much about it till recently, when one turned up in southeast Utah. One person was arrested there, a Mexican national illegally in this country. Now another operation has been found- see the 17 June Salt Lake Tribune article. This one was abandoned, apparently due to lack of water. Who was responsible for it was not mentioned in the story.
When I first heard about Mexican drug gangs using public lands in the United States for growing operations I could not believe that they had infiltrated our national parks. Once I read how they operate, the damage they do, and the threat they pose, I felt angry. These are sophisticated operations, with full time gardeners, or “tenders” on hand. They bring in food, supplies for the workers, equipment for irrigation, and fertilizer. The tenders remain with their crops until the pot is harvested. Then when they are finished all the waste from their months of living on-site and debris from the operation is left in place.
One recent story on NPR talks about the problem in Sequoia National Forest. Another story tells of how a grad student was threatened at gunpoint by drug tenders as he did research in Plumas National Forest. Take a look at the photos of one of the camps after the tenders have left. Not what I want to find on my public lands, not to mention the threat that may confront me out there.
And now, since I am already on a heated topic, I have to mention the recent legislation to allow the carrying of firearms in National Parks. Read a summary of it here, with lots of comments (mine can be seen around mid-May). I didn’t think much of it at first, other than wondering why it was being brought up again- I think it was President Reagan in the 1980’s who made it illegal to carry firearms in national parks, and I don’t think it has been an issue since then. Then I started reading about Mexican drug gangs using our wilderness for their operations. I am not sure if there is any correlation between the two, but the timing suggests there is. Now that the gangs are operating in southeast Utah I plan to take a closer look at the legislation, and the exact locations where the illegal operations have been found.
Regarding carrying a weapon while hiking, if I felt threatened in a wilderness area I had chosen to visit, I would reconsider and likely choose to visit somewhere else. There was a time when I would consider carrying protection while backpacking. It is something I have done, mostly years ago in the east, and only recently while I searched for missing fugitives (before I established that there was absolutely no threat posed by them).
Now I am faced with that decision again- I will not stop visiting southern Utah and other wilderness areas. I will not stop searching out and exploring the most remote places I can find. So, do I feel threatened by Mexican drug gangs? Not really, not yet. Do I need to think about carrying a weapon for protection? Maybe. Hmm… am I worried about every other yahoo packing weapons along with them into the bush, just because they can? Probably more than I’m worried about Mexican drug gangs.
Since I have really reached no conclusion here, I think I’ll just go back to Utah, unarmed for the time being.