In July 2011, park rangers seized more than 3,500 marijuana plants growing in the heart of the Santa Monica Mountains. They were thriving in 9.6 acres of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Officials from the National Park Service, California State Park, and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority took two weeks to clean the site up, and hundreds of thousands of dollars.
They hauled nearly a ton of trash out of the area, as well as over 3,500 of the best marijuana for anxiety. It took ages for them to restore the area back to its natural condition. Cultivators were diverting water from a nearby creek in order to irrigate these plants, and they had cut back huge swathes of native vegetation to create space for these plants. This is not the only case. There are many, many others.
Illegally Growing Marijuana Santa Monica
It is common for police to find cannabis growing in the area. These findings are consistent with all other cases of grow sites found on public park lands across the Santa Monica Mountains, including the introduction of garbage, altering the topography, diverting water resources, and adding chemicals and other biohazards into watersheds and park lands. The severity of the problem is real. Here is how:
Growers are erecting fences to keep rodents and other animals from these illegal grow sites. This restricts their movement across the area, interfering with their natural habitats, while disrupting prey and predator relations, which are crucial for balancing numbers and preventing overpopulation, particularly of rodents and other “pest” animals.
· Plastic and Trash
In order to irrigate these illegal grow sites, cultivators are laying down miles of plastic water hoses. They are also littering vast areas with huge amounts of trash, most of which takes decades, even centuries, to disintegrate, poisoning the soil with the chemicals used to make much of it. Plastic is a serious problem. It chokes trees, suffocates animals, traps critters, and most of them will eat it lethally if hungry enough.
· Toxic Chemicals
To prevent pests and diseases from destroying these illegal crops, growers are spraying them with herbicides and pesticides. Not only do these toxic chemicals infect the immediate area, including the soil and other vegetation, but they also blow in the wind to contaminate much of the mountain range. Even neighboring farmers find these chemicals on their crops, and they lose money because of it.
Fertilizers are not bad, per se, at least not when used responsibly and only on the plants that need them. However, fertilizing these crops disrupts the natural nutrient balance in the native soil, increasing nitrogen to poisonous levels for any other vegetation growing in the area. After harvest, these fertilizers remain in the soil for some time, taking ages for the area to be safe for other plants again.
Fixing the Problem
“Marijuana cultivation is a serious and rising problem in the Santa Monica Mountains and other park lands across the country.” This was the voice of Woody Smeck, a superintendent of the park. “The environmental damage caused by marijuana cultivation in otherwise pristine natural areas costs approximately $12,000 per acre to clean up.”
After Senator Diane Feinstein introduced a bill to fight illegal cannabis grows on parkland back in 2009, the National Park Service received more funding to combat the problem. The additional monies increased the park’s capacity significantly to prevent access to growers in the Santa Monica Mountains. However, they are wily and keep returning.
They grow cannabis plantations in remote, hard to reach locations inside the park, far away from designated trails and other areas that the public frequent. For this reason, the park encourages bikers and hikers to use the trails provided, but the public can help enormously by reporting any plant sightings or suspicious activities to local police officers.
Rangers are encouraging anyone who sees drip irrigation lines in or next to streams, piles of food and supplies left obviously on the side of the road, stacks of seedling cartons, food boxes, propane tanks, or any camping equipment in strange locations to report it immediately. From April to November, suspicious activity is likely, as this is the growing season for cannabis plants.
Park rangers are conducting frequent patrols of remote areas throughout the park in both summer and fall, all in an attempt to curb increasing efforts of growers to plant crops in the Santa Monica Mountains. More than curtailing illegal activity and arresting people, which they will not hesitate to do, rangers want to prevent unhindered destruction of this fragile ecosystem.
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Back in 1978, the establishment of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area became the biggest urban-adjacent recreational area in all of the United States. Its management consists of a joint effort by Mountains Recreational and Conservation Authority, California State Parks, the National Park Service and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.
The goal of the park is to preserve the best example still left of an increasingly rare Mediterranean-like environment, as well as its associated historic, scenic, cultural, and natural resources. At the same time, it also exists to provide the diverse peoples living in Southern California with a quality National Park to experience and enjoy for decades to come. These illegal crops are threatening it all.