Earlier this summer, Law Enforcement officers raided a number of canyons between Independence and Lone Pine where they seized over 50,000 marijuana plants.
Inyo Narcotic Officials say that these big outdoor farms have appeared locally in the past several years. Despite the recent raids, Inyo Narcotics Enforcement Team commander Jeff Hollowell says that theyll most likely be back.
This invasion of the pot growers is not limited to the Eastern Sierra. Recently officials in Yosemite National Park reported that they seized 7500 marijuana plants from two farms near Wawona. Scott Gediman with the Park Service reports that they don’t see many of these farms in Yosemite, but marijuana farms are a huge issue in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Both Park Service officials and local law enforcement report that the large outdoor farms are the work of drug cartels from Mexico. While some marijuana operations buy or rent houses to grow their product indoors, INET Commander Hollowell reports that its far cheaper upfront to grow outdoors. He explained that these cartels often need just a few thousand dollars to buy the fertilizer and black PVC irrigation tubing to get started.
In comparison to the millions of dollars that can be made with these outdoor farms, the labor force needed to farm the marijuana is cheap as well. Hollowell reports that the cartels recruit people in Mexico to tend to the gardens by choice as well as coercion. The deal may be to work a summer in the gardens in exchange for help crossing the border. A coyote brings you into the country, you owe $2500, Hollowell explained.
A mid level boss may promise money or to bring a family across the border. The work can be lucrative, he says. The growers are told to stay at the grow site until they are told to leave or until the cops come. If something goes wrong, the bosses know where the growers family is, he explained.
These cartels are not new to California, but Hollowell says they are spreading out. He also explained that law enforcement doesnt find all of the farms and that the cartels might only lose a few of the many farms they have to law enforcement raids.
Forest Officials point out that up until the early 90s the typical operation had 100 to 1,000 plants but now they see a range of 1,000 to 30,000 plants with armed individuals tending the gardens.
What does all this mean for people in the Eastern Sierra? For one, the Forest Service recommends that hikers watch out for signs of cultivation, like fertilizer and black plastic tubing as well as isolated tents in areas where there is little recreational activity.