1,500 pounds of illegal marijuana plants before being destroyed. SEKI photo

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Calif. October 12, 2016 – Nearly 3,000 illegal marijuana plants were eradicated from Sequoia National Park last month. Law enforcement officers discovered a cultivation site in the Yucca Creek drainage west, which is in a designated wilderness area of Sequoia National Park, west of Generals Highway.

The 2,986 plants were removed on September 14 and had an estimated street value of $7.5 million. No arrests have been made and an investigation is ongoing.

“Illegal marijuana grows like this can wreak havoc on the environment,” explained Ned Kelleher, chief ranger for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. “Trash is left everywhere and herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemicals accumulate in the watershed. The cultivators poach native wildlife, clear-cut acres of forest, and create unauthorized trails.”

Illegal grow site. Photo: SEKI

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks this year have seen a five-fold increase in illegal marijuana cultivation over the last five years.  So far this year, 21,000 plants with an estimated value of $52 million have been eradicated. And since the early 2000s, when the trend of large scale cultivation operations first began in the parks, approximately 270,000 plants have been eradicated with an estimated street value of $911 million

Large marijuana cultivation sites can have major impacts on the Central Valley.  A single marijuana plant uses six to eight gallons of water a day, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. That deprives water that would otherwise serve communities downstream with drinking water and provides for irrigation of crops. Because a large number of pesticides are used in growing marijuana, the water that does run off from large cultivation sites can be tainted.

The September 2016 operation was completed with the assistance of the California Army National Guard’s Counterdrug Task Force and the United States Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of California.

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, which lie-side-by-side in the southern Sierra Nevada in Central California, serve as a prime example of nature’s size, beauty, and diversity. Over 1.5 million visitors from across the U.S. and the world visit these parks for the world’s largest trees (by volume), grand mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, the highest point in the lower 48 states, and more. Learn more at www.nps.gov/seki or 559-565-3341.