Posted: Thursday, June 30, 2011 10:00 AM
BLM official says operations on the rise in the West
By SEAN ELLIS
JACKPOT, Nev. -- Criminals are establishing more and increasingly sophisticated illegal marijuana operations on public and private lands in the West, a federal agent says.
"The problem is becoming a lot more prevalent here in Idaho," Stan Buchanan, superintendent ranger of the Bureau of Land Management's Boise district, said. He spoke at the Idaho Cattle Association's midyear conference.
Buchanan said the people who grow the marijuana are well armed and will not hesitate to defend their illegal interests, which can net them several thousand dollars per plant.
While he said farmers and ranchers know the land better than anyone and can be the agency's eyes and ears, he cautioned them to make a hasty retreat if they accidentally run into one of the operations.
There were two shootings at marijuana operations in Oregon last year and five in California, Buchanan said.
"No one knows the ground better than you guys, your families and your employees," Buchanan said during a joint meeting of Idaho and Nevada cattle ranchers. "But your safety ... is the bottom line. When in doubt, leave the area and report it to law enforcement."
Buchanan said about half of the marijuana operations he has investigated in the Pacific Northwest are on private land.
Like legal crops, marijuana is grown mostly during the spring and summer months and harvested in early fall. Buchanan said growers use gravity-flow irrigation systems that divert water from nearby streams and newly placed or hidden irrigation pipes are one of the many indicators of a marijuana operation.
"If you see irrigation lines that hadn't been there before, that's a good clue," he said, adding fertilizer and pesticide containers, plastic PVC tubing, makeshift reservoirs, Dixie cups, hidden campsites and large amounts of trash to that list.
During his presentation, Buchanan presented several slides showing marijuana sites, including ones in Owyhee and Blaine counties in Idaho, in Malheur County, Ore., and in the Nevada desert where marijuana was grown among sagebrush plants.
He also provided several examples where garden tenders engaged in shootouts with federal employees or held them at gunpoint. In one incident where two officers were shot, BLM rangers killed a grower who fired at them with an AK-47 assault rifle.
He said the vast majority of the people who tend the operations are peasants from Central America who have been threatened to defend the operations at all costs.
Ranchers asked several questions of Buchanan, who told them the bottom line is that while the BLM could really benefit from the intelligence they provide, their safety should always come first.
"There are all kinds of crazy stuff out there, so stay vigilant," he said.