Pubdate: Sat, 30 Jul 2016
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Press Democrat
Author: Julie Johnson


KELSEYVILLE - This was far from the cocktail-hour networking meetings 
for cannabis companies, worlds away from sterile laboratories 
measuring THC levels and the marketing teams channeling a great 
entrepreneurial push fueled by California's recent embrace of the 
medical marijuana industry.

This was the Lake County wilderness, where an orange peel, a crushed 
Coca-Cola can and a cairn of rocks marked a footpath leading into the 
chaparral-covered hills southwest of Kelseyville.

A sheriff's detective in camouflage gear pushed through a dense 
thicket until the underbrush lightened between manzanita trunks. He 
stepped into a clearing and onto a line of black quarter-inch hose, 
something that's become as ubiquitous in North Coast backcountry 
areas as poison oak.

Nearby, two men sleeping on cots under low-slung tarps were startled 
awake by the sound of deputies sneaking into their camp. They bolted, 
running through the woods wearing only underwear as the two officers 
chased after them, weighted down in vests and gear belts.

"When we hike in, almost every time we run into someone," Lake County 
Detective Frank Walsh said standing in the abandoned campsite several 
hours later. "They split up, heading somewhere toward Kelsey Creek. 
There are too many places for them to run to."

Three years after the state cut funding for its now-defunct marijuana 
eradication program, local law enforcement agencies backed by federal 
dollars continue to battle against clandestine marijuana farms that 
proliferate in the region's rugged hillsides.

Law enforcement officials across the North Coast say they are using 
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration grants to target the largest and 
most environmentally damaging pot gardens, often those planted by 
people trespassing on public or private lands. Nationally, the DEA 
spent $18 million last year on pot eradication, $5.3 million of that 
in California.

Lake County's 1,329 square miles are rural and wild. About half are 
public lands, mostly in Mendocino National Forest. County officials, 
including Sheriff Brian Martin, say it's one of the top marijuana 
producers in the state. It is a hard claim to verify for an industry 
that sources marijuana from a wide variety of places, from six pot 
plants in grandma's garden to illicit plots hidden in the remote 
mountains. But state marijuana eradication reports regularly put Lake 
County at the top.

So far this season, its sheriff's detectives have destroyed 160,000 
pot plants. The vast majority - except for "a couple thousand" - were 
from what Walsh calls "mountain gardens," cannabis farms hidden in 
remote areas of private or public lands.

The illegal garden outside Kelseyville was spotted on private 
property several months before officials secured a search warrant to 
check it out. Walsh said they watched the area and had seen supply 
drops and men hiking gear into the woods.

On an unusually rainy June morning, Walsh's team - about a dozen 
National Guardsmen and Bureau of Land Management officers - met 
before dawn and made the hourlong trek into the site.

The sleeping campers - who had probably been calling that patch of 
wild woods and pot gardens their home for months - bolted through the 
brush, one almost immediately disappearing into the wilderness. The 
second led Walsh and a BLM officer on a half-mile chase until he 
finally vanished in the woods somewhere near Kelsey Creek.


Marijuana plants eradicated in 2015 reported to CAMP program

Total statewide: 832,085

Top 10 counties:

Trinity 90,283

Lake 83,635

Mendocino 66,818

Tulare 66,509

Shasta 60,143

Sonoma 52,593

Santa Clara 39,538

Humboldt 37,455

San Bernardino 37,265

San Diego 36,679

- - Source: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, as reported to the 
California Department of Justice

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration grants given to California 
agencies for marijuana eradication

2016 - $4,298,828

2015 - $5,368,410

2014 - $5,325,000

2013 - $5,496,500

2012 - $5,287,500

2011 - $1,883,755

- - Source: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom