In a collaborative effort between Los Padres ForestWatch and US Forest Service Law Enforcement, 14 ForestWatch volunteers led by Tanner Yould joined US Forest Service officer Russ Tuttle to remove trash and other materials from an illegal trespass marijuana grow site north of Lake Casitas. The group met in the early morning of Saturday, September 19th, in an attempt to beat the heat, but temperatures quickly surged to nearly 100°F before noon. Despite the sweltering heat, the volunteers were able to fully clean the site and remove an estimated 450 pounds of trash, 1.5 miles of irrigation hose, four propane tanks, and three lead batteries. Huge thank you to all of our volunteers for their hard work and dedication.
Special thanks to Kit Stolz for joining us to cover our story. Read on below to see his full article that was featured on the front page of Ojai Valley News.
The following article is reprinted courtesy of Ojai Valley News
by Kit Stolz, Ojai Valley News correspondent
Fifteen volunteers, some coming from Santa Barbara and Camarillo, sweated through 97-degree heat Saturday to remove trash, irrigation hoses and chemicals from a marijuana grow site off Santa Ana Road near Lake Casitas.
Approximately 2,000 plants grown under a canopy of native chamise, had been hauled out and destroyed by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department last year. Though the growers were arrested, the camp remained.
The nonprofit environmental group, Los Padres ForestWatch, organized the cleanup in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service.
Russ Tuttle, a Forest Service law enforcement agent, spoke to the volunteers on Santa Ana Road before leading them approximately three-quarters of a mile to the site.
“We have an epidemic of destruction of public lands at these illegal grow sites, which are operated by the Mexican Mafia,” he said. “Whatever you may think about this issue, there is no doubt about the collateral damage. These people clear-cut the forest, they use chemicals that are not sold in this country to force the plants to grow as rapidly as possible and they use poisons to prevent animals from eating the plants.”
Tuttle added that the bust, which had come from a tip to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, resulted in two arrests.
“Narcotics guys with the Sheriff’s Department put a lot of work into this one,” he said, “over 200 hours of surveillance.”
Tuttle warned the volunteers to stay away from any chemicals found at the site. He mentioned the pesticide carbofuran, which has been banned in many countries for its toxicity. He said that he had “blistered out” after skin contact with it on busts in the past, and been forced to evacuate by helicopter. As little as a quarter of a teaspoon of this material can kill if ingested.
“This is bad, bad stuff,” he said. “It’s made to kill animals quickly. We’re giving you gloves and masks to protect yourself from any possible exposure — you don’t want any of this getting into your lungs.”
Among the volunteers was John Petersen of Santa Barbara, who happened to have been the first to see evidence of the grow site on a hike last summer. He said he had been walking his dogs in the area, well away from any other dogs, and noticed a black irrigation line in the brush. He retreated from the area and reported it to authorities.
“It kind of creeped me out, thinking about it,” he said. “I could have been very close to where these guys were camping out and never known it.”
Four students from California State University at Channel Islands also were there to help. Jacquelyn Hanley, a senior, said the group was part of an environmental sciences class, and for an assignment were given a choice of participating in various environmental cleanups on Saturday and chose this one.
“I thought this (cleanup) might be more interesting,” she said.
After the group signed waivers, Tuttle led the way through a barbed wire fence, across a dry meadow and into the underbrush. A half-hour of walking brought the group to the site. They donned gloves and masks, and began loading industrial trash bags with the remains of the camp, including empty Spam cans, worn boots, camping chairs and bags of fertilizer.
Megan Deornellas, of Ojai, said she and her husband, Jeff, came because they care about the wildlands around Ojai.
“We really like hiking around here,” she said. “We want to give back, to make sure that these kind of places are still going to be here for us to enjoy.”
After more than an hour, the group gathered an estimated 450 pounds of trash, 1.5 miles of irrigation hose, four propane tanks, and three lead batteries to be carried back to the road. This took more than an hour, with many stops, in the heat, before the materials could be put in a dumpster or set aside for hazardous materials disposal.
“It makes you see that there are more consequences to people smoking weed than you might think,” Hanley said.
Additional unpublished photos courtesy of Tanner Yould