Drug War Spreads to America's National Parks

 
PRESS RELEASE
  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date:   May 4, 2005
Contact:   Andrea Keller Helsel, National Parks Conservation Association, 202-454-3332


Drug War Spreads to America's National Parks

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The nation’s leading park advocacy group, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), today announced that America’s national parks are under assault from drug cartels and illegal drug trafficking and called on Congress to provide adequate funding and staffing to enable the National Park Service to combat this growing threat to parks and visitors.

“Our national parks should be a refuge for visitors and a safe haven for wildlife and other treasures, but that is not always the case,” said NPCA President Tom Kiernan. “America’s national parks are under assault—and need immediate attention.”

The number-one national park for growing marijuana in the United States is Sequoia National Park in California, which is next to the number-one county in the nation for illegal marijuana cultivation. Since 2001, the National Park Service has attempted to thwart cultivation of more than 180 acres of marijuana gardens guarded by armed growers in dense terrain. Last year, rangers found more than 44,000 marijuana plants with a street value of $176 million. Funds intended for park operations are being diverted to rid the park of marijuana gardens: Sequoia National Park spent $500,000 out of its own budget to clear garbage pits, miles of irrigation hose, and other debris left behind when the gardens were eradicated.

Drug smugglers are also known to frequent short-staffed national parks along U.S. borders, putting visitors and rangers at risk. In the past year, the Park Service has disrupted marijuana, heroin, and cocaine smuggling at Biscayne National Park (Florida), Acadia National Park (Maine), Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (Arizona), Amistad National Recreation Area (Texas), and other parks.

NPCA’s new report, Faded Glory: Top 10 Reasons to Reinvest in America’s National Park Heritage, points out that the annual operating budget of the national parks is short more than $600 million annually, limiting the ability of the Park Service to address drug smuggling and other threats.

This week, 78 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and approximately two-dozen members of the U.S. Senate are sending letters to the House and Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittees, seeking an additional $150 million for the fiscal year 2006 operations of the national parks to address critical needs.

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