Friday, 19 April 2024

Forest Service expands law enforcement presence on National Forest

MENDOCINO NATIONAL FOREST – Federal officials are stepping up their efforts to address illegal marijuana growing in the Mendocino National Forest, with additional help from personnel from other areas and a local law enforcement staff that has been quadrupled in size.

US Forest Service Special Agent Toby Barton came from Missouri last year to join the Upper Lake Ranger District staff. He is tasked with investigating crimes in the forest, extending from Upper Lake all the way to the Six Rivers National Forest in Humboldt County.

Barton is part of a significantly enhanced law enforcement team for the Upper Lake Ranger District. Previously, there was just one law enforcement officer for the district. But last year that number was raised to four.

Currently there is Barton and another officer on the ground, and two others completing their training.

That increase is based on the significant presence in the forest of criminal activity, especially that linked with illegal drugs.

In recent years the Mendocino National Forest has had more seizures of illegal marijuana than any other National Forest in California. Likewise, Lake County as a whole has led all of the state's 58 counties for the amount of marijuana eradicated.

Last week, Lt. Dave Garzoli of the Lake County Sheriff's Office reported that marijuana seizures across the county this year were getting close to last year's record.

In the National Forest, at least, this year already has surpassed 2007.

Barton said so far this year they've seized 500 pounds of processed marijuana and made seven arrests in the National Forest. That 500 pounds is “a substantial amount” of marijuana, said Barton, and more than twice last year's take.

Of those arrested, six were in the Upper Lake Ranger District and one in Covelo, said Barton.

Barton said most of the individuals who have been arrested for drug activity in the forest have been Hispanic males who are in the country illegally.

In looking at who is ultimately responsible for the illegal grows in the Mendocino National Forest, Barton suggests, “I believe most of it is going to be part of the drug trafficking organizations from Mexico.”

That viewpoint is consistent with statements made by local and state law enforcement officials, who identify those drug rings as using marijuana growing on public lands to fund and support other drug trafficking – including methamphetamine – in California and beyond.

Barton noted that California's marijuana growing activity is much larger than other places he's worked.

He said he's been working on saturation patrol in certain parts of the forest as part of the eradication effort, but he wouldn't specify the location in order to protect his investigations.

When it comes to tracking the marijuana trade, this is the busiest time of year, said Barton.

Because of the size of its marijuana issue, the Mendocino National Forest is getting additional help right now, thanks to a special detail of Forest Service law enforcement officers from throughout the state and national.

Barton, who usually starts tracking the illegal growers as early as March, said he expects the growing to stop for the winter by the end of November or whenever the first snow falls.

Forest officials told Lake County News last year that to restore and clean up an acre of wildland subjected to illegal marijuana growing costs around $11,000.

Barton said restoration work in the affected areas hasn't started. “That'll come after everything has been eradicated.”

It also will depend on how much money is available for the cleanup effort, he said.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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