Congress Examines Drug Trafficking in National Parks

 
PRESS RELEASE
  FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date:   November 17, 2005
Contact:   Laura Whitehouse, National Parks Conservation Association, cell: 559-908-0361


Congress Examines Drug Trafficking in National Parks

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The leading voice for America’s national parks, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), today testified before Congress about the increasing danger to rangers and visitors, financial costs, and environmental damage caused by illegal drug cultivation and trafficking in the parks.

“Illegal marijuana cultivation within Sequoia National Park, for instance… has had serious consequences on the safety of park staff and visitors, the experiences of visitors, and the park’s already-tight budget,” NPCA Central Valley Program Manager Laura Whitehouse testified before the Parks Subcommittee of the House Resources Committee. “The parks are in desperate need of increased backcountry patrols, and helicopter time to patrol and conduct surveillance of these hard-to-find growing areas. Without further investigation of marijuana activities within the parks, park resources—as well as visitors and park rangers—are in danger.”

According to NPCA’s 2005 report, Faded Glory: Top 10 Reasons to Reinvest in America’s National Park Heritage, rangers confront illegal drug cultivation and/or trafficking at Sequoia National Park and Whiskeytown National Recreation Area in California; Organ Pipe Cactus and Coronado national monuments in Arizona; and Amistad National Recreation Area and Padre Island National Seashore in Texas, among other park sites nationwide, including Yosemite.

In 2004, more than 44,000 plants were eradicated within Sequoia National Park. That same year, about 10,000 marijuana plants were eradicated from within Yosemite National Park and on its border, with a street value estimated at over $30 million.

Drug cultivation and trafficking in the parks is a dangerous enterprise. “In addition to employing armed guards, the cartels use booby traps to secure the marijuana gardens—shot guns with trip lines carefully hidden and positioned to shoot an unknowing victim in the face. Families that may have once worried about stumbling across a bear while hiking through Sequoia are now threatened by the hidden dangers of armed guards and booby traps,” Whitehouse said.

Drug cultivation also causes extensive environmental damage and threatens the health of local residents: “Pollution from fertilizer and pesticide runoff kills native fish and enters the watershed and water supply of nearby communities like Three Rivers. Growers also poach wildlife. Trash left behind is a fire hazard.”

NPCA is seeking an additional $600 million annually to address the parks’ chronic funding shortfalls, and warned today that any across-the-board cuts imposed by Congress, as discussed in the national media recently, would further hinder efforts by the National Park Service to combat drug trafficking in the parks.

“Until Congress and the administration address the parks’ critical funding needs, the safety of rangers and visitors, and the preservation of our heritage, will remain at risk,” said Whitehouse.

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