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Pot plantations laying waste to national forests

With its delicate, bright-green leaves, it’s a beautiful plant to look at.

And its medicinal qualities are well-known, but it requires huge amounts of water and light to grow. 

And that’s just the start of the problems caused by marijuana that authorities have been discovering growing in national forests.

Sheriff Frank Rogers says he first started seeing pot plants growing on public lands about twenty years ago, when he was a young cop, hunting for grouse on a ridge in the Buck Mountain area, near Twisp.

“You know you’re just hiking along – and at first I didn’t realize it." Rogers says. "And then, when we stopped for a second, it’s like, ‘jeeze, we’re standing in a bunch of marijuana.’”

He says that grow site, in Okanogan County, was only about a hundred plants. Another one he found a few years later, in Stevens County, was twice as large, with buckets of water hauled in to keep it growing.

And now, the National Forest Service says they’ve been finding tens of thousands of plants, with whole irrigation systems installed in the forest floor,  some with automatic sprinklers and generators.

Problem has moved up the coast

Spokesman Tom Knappenberger says “drug trafficking organizations” have taken hold in the Northwest.

“They’ll tap into a nearby stream and they’ll just cut out a big section of usually a valley floor. And plant their crops and put up this structure of irrigation equipment," Knappenberger says. "And there are usually people living there, and they're armed. And all they care about is growing their crop and getting it harvested.”

After a bust, the forest service says they’re often left dealing with toxins from fertilizers and pesticides, as well as human waste and trash.

(Here's a video showing some of the waste growers can leave behind.)

It’s a problem that has moved up the coast from California and takes place mostly east of the Cascades, where marijuana is easier to grow.  

Authorities say if you think you’ve come upon a grow site, back out immediately, and report the location to the forest service or to local law enforcement. 

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to