News Release
Date: August 21, 2012
Contact: DEA Public Affairs
Number: 415-436-7994

United States Attorneys Announce Multistate Operation Targeting Illegal Marijuana Cultivation on Public Lands
Enforcement Operation Spans Seven States; Officials Cite Illegal Grows as Threat
to Public Safety and the Environment

AUG 21 (SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Michele M. Leonhart and U.S. Attorneys in several states announced Operation Mountain Sweep, an eight-week, multi-agency and multistate marijuana operation targeting large-scale, illegal marijuana grows on public lands. The operation, lasting from July 1 through the end of August, involves law enforcement activity on public lands in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington. In the course of Operation Mountain Sweep to date, federal, state and local law enforcement in the seven states have eradicated more than 578,000 marijuana plants from public lands.  The DEA estimates the value of this marijuana to be well over $1 billion.

In California, Operation Mountain Sweep involved law enforcement operations on public lands in dozens of counties. As of last week, law enforcement officers in California had eradicated over 96 marijuana grow sites on public lands since the operation began on July 1, seizing at least 484,000 marijuana plants, and arresting numerous persons. The marijuana plants seized on public lands represent 66 percent of all marijuana plants seized in California since July 1. Huge amounts of trash, miles of irrigation line, and many pounds of fertilizer and pesticides were removed from grow sites on public lands.

In the Eastern District of California, 14 defendants have already been indicted as part of Operation Mountain Sweep. All of the defendants were arrested during operations at marijuana grow sites on federal public lands since July 1. Federal grand juries in Sacramento have returned indictments in four cases involving nine defendants charged with cultivating marijuana in the Shasta-Trinity and Mendocino National Forests. Those four cases involved over 23,000 marijuana plants. Six firearms were recovered in those cases. Federal grand juries in Fresno have returned three indictments involving five defendants charged with cultivating marijuana in Sequoia National Forest and Death Valley National Park. Those three cases involved over 14,000 marijuana plants. Two firearms were recovered in those cases.

Public land suffers the effects of the illegal marijuana grows long after the crop is harvested. Marijuana growers remove natural vegetation to make room for the marijuana, they cut down trees to allow sunlight into the site, and they divert streams from their natural path to irrigate the land. They introduce chemicals and poisons to fertilize the crops and use rodenticides and insecticides indiscriminately, harming the land and waterways. Trash and equipment litter abandoned sites for years to come. Some of the most pristine public land in the West is being scarred in this way and cannot recover without costly human intervention.

“Marijuana trafficking organizations seek to turn our nation’s parks and public lands into their own drug havens,” said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. “Operation Mountain Sweep is a concerted effort to reclaim these wild and beautiful areas and protect them from further destruction and exploitation. Thanks to the ongoing commitment of our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, we will continue to aggressively pursue and prosecute marijuana traffickers wherever they operate and hide.”

U.S. Attorney Wagner said: “Those who cultivate marijuana on public lands pose a safety threat to the public and an environmental threat to the land. Many of the grow sites are controlled by drug trafficking organizations, which arm their cultivators with dangerous firearms. The poisons they spread kill wildlife and native plants and pollute watersheds. As a result, law enforcement from a variety of agencies dedicated resources to the investigation, eradication, and reclamation to control this illegal activity. In this district, sheriffs’ deputies and California Department of Justice officers worked shoulder to shoulder with federal agents from the U.S. Forest Service, BLM, DEA and other agencies.”

As part of Operation Mountain Sweep, several national officials today visited the site of a marijuana grow being eradicated on Eldorado National Forest land in El Dorado County, California. Gil Kerlikowske, the Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and Tom Tidwell, the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, were accompanied by U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner, El Dorado County Sheriff John D’Agostini, BLM state director Jim Kenna, and Maj. General David S. Baldwin of the California Army and Air National Guard.

In California, Operation Mountain Sweep is carried out by federal agents from the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and by state and local law enforcement officers. In California, those included officers from the California Department of Justice and deputies with sheriff’s offices in numerous counties. The California National Guard provided critical operations support, planning and logistics, including the use of helicopters throughout the operation.