Marijuana growers are devastating national forests and creating a "clear and present danger to the public and the environment," a top Forest Service official testified before the Senate last week. Major marijuana plots have been detected on some 67 forests across 20 states, and the trend is only growing, the Forest Service's law enforcement director says. The forests make it easy to avoid detection thanks to a lack of people and an abundance of dense vegetation, and they provide an environment in which the plants can thrive, David Ferrell noted. "There is an extensive system of roads and trails (both open and closed), soils are fertile, and water for irrigation is available for the diverting."
And there's little policing of these lands, to boot. "In some areas there is one park ranger for every 100,000 acres. No one can possibly patrol that area," a lawyer tells LiveScience. And it's wreaking havoc on the environment: Chemicals including rat poison get dumped on land and washed into streams coursing through the parks; plots are razed to make way for the plants, disrupting wildlife in the process; and a massive amount of water is removed from lakes and streams to sustain the pot. A number of solutions have been suggested, from a larger government crackdown to pot legalization, which might prompt growers to do their work elsewhere.