Pubdate: Wed, 25 Jul 2012
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2012 The Press Democrat
Author: Julie Johnson


California's 28-year-old marijuana eradication program that has
destroyed millions of pot plants in public and private wilderness
areas is no more.

The Campaign Against Marijuana Planting - CAMP as it was commonly
known - was dropped this year after the state cut funding for the
program. It is being replaced this season with a new name, new bosses
and a scaled-down approach.

The effort to eliminate large-scale pot farms on public land will
continue under federal direction, with the Drug Enforcement
Administration and U.S. Forest Service taking lead roles rather than
state officials.

The program will be "leaner and meaner," with fewer full-time staff
and reduced helicopter hours, said John Sullivan, assistant special
agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration's San
Francisco field division.

"It's going to be logistically tougher. We'll basically do what we can
do," Sullivan said.

In recent years, five teams, each equipped with a chartered
helicopter, covered five areas of the state.

Now there will be three zones in what is called the Cannabis
Eradication and Reclamation Team, or CERT.

The loss of two helicopter teams will have an impact.

The aircraft are the most effective tool in the eradication program
because many sheriff's offices don't have their own, Sullivan said.
Their use save many hours by dropping agents into remote locations, he

"I don't expect our numbers this year to be as high as last year,
however, we never start the year by saying we're going to get more,"
said Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman. "We are going after the
larger grows that are most destructive."

Sheriff's offices may have more control over some aspects of the
program, especially planning the date and location of raids, Allman

"I'm not complaining," Allman said. "The downside is there is less
money for helicopter time. But maybe it was time for a change."

Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas said CAMP has made it possible to
spot clandestine marijuana gardens and then later deploy officers to
destroy them - rather than simply responding to public complaints
about land poaching.

Fewer days and fewer helicopter hours is effectively "reducing our
ability to do enforcement," Freitas said.

The main boon this year is CERT teams will for the first time put a
priority on cleaning up the sites, Allman said.

Before, most raids focused on destroying the plants, and agents rarely
cleaned out pesticides and other refuse, said Tommy LaNier, director
of the National Marijuana Initiative, a federal program funded by the
Office of National Drug Control Policy.

"That's a big part of this new program," said LaNier. "Removing trash,
removing fertilizers, pesticides, black pipes, all to disrupt
infrastructure of these large grows."

A typical outback marijuana farm costs $30,000 to $40,000 to set up
and operate, including irrigation hoses, camping equipment and ongoing
costs such as labor and food, LaNier said.

"When you remove that, you're taking a big hit on their ability to
come back," LaNier said.

Sullivan said agents will load as much hose, pesticides and camping
gear as they can, along with marijuana plants, in baskets hung from
the helicopters.

Last year, Mendocino County spent as much on eradication as it did to
remove hoses, pesticides and perform other clean-up, Allman said.

In addition to CERT, the county will receive $20,000 to clean up
illegal pot gardens from the Mendocino Public Safety Foundation.

Local agencies will provide additional personnel, said Sgt. Steve
Gossett, who runs the Sonoma County sheriff's narcotics unit. "We may
have fewer days than last year," said Gossett. "And (state agencies)
are not providing any personnel, as far as on the ground, which they
had in the past."

Those counties with the most federal and state land may see more CERT
support, he said. Agents pulled fewer plants last year in Sonoma
County and saw greater numbers nearer to population centers, said
Gossett. Those plants tended to be bigger and healthier.

The trend held true statewide, Sullivan said, noting that a found
large plots of marijuana with plants as tall as 14 feet growing in the
middle of crops at Central Valley farms.

"We saw an explosion of these sites," he said. "Growing shifted from
the mountains to the valleys in all the counties."

The now-defunct state bureau of narcotic enforcement ran CAMP in the
past. CAMP began in 1983. All counties except for San Francisco County

In 2011, CAMP eradicated about 2 million plants in California, 63
percent taken from state, federal and county properties, and the
program cost about $1.9 million, according to the state department of

The numbers were down from 2010, when more than 4 million plants were
eradicated and the program cost $2.25 million.

The change from CAMP to CERT is essentially a handoff from state to
federal leadership. The majority of funding over the past five years
came from federal grants, and the state's portion of the budget
hovered around five percent, according to state DOJ figures.

A state DOJ agent will continue overseeing the program this season,
his salary paid for by the Forest Service, to ease the transition.

Eradication teams will be staffed with combinations of local law
enforcement officers, the CHP, state fish and game, federal Bureau of
Land Management, park service and others, similar to teams in the past.

Federal spending will be reduced, although Sullivan said he could not
release budget figures for the 2012 eradication season until the end
of the year.

"We went from five fully-funded teams, managed by state employees, to
other agencies having to backfill the spots," Sullivan said. "We're in
the day and age where resources are tight."
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