A new video produced by the California Department of Fish and Game highlights a major challenge for game wardens in state woodlands - illegal marijuana growing operations endangering officers, wildlife and the environment.
The video, focusing on encounters by state game wardens with illicit pot fields believed planted for Mexican trafficking networks, describes growers killing deer and bears and dumping pesticides and other pollutants in state forests and public lands.
"We're seeing poaching, pollution and habitat destruction," state Fish and Game warden Patrick Foy said in an interview.
The agency video, describing "illegal cultivation on a grand scale," said state wildlife officers have run into armed suspects in back country areas frequented by hikers or anglers. Four times since 2005, state game wardens have found themselves exchanging fire with pot growers.
The video said the illegal plantations, often involving tree cutting, stream water diversion and an infusion of toxic substances into the natural environment, destroy 10 acres of habitat for each acre of pot cultivation.
Though the video only focuses on growing operations tied to Mexican-run networks, Foy said game wardens also encounter pollution problems from California residents - some claiming to be medical cultivators - who plant vast outdoor marijuana gardens in the wild.
"I've investigated some that use copious quantities of pesticides and fertilizers," Foy said. "They look you in the eye and say they run an organic operation. But you can see the pesticide residues."
The Fish and Game agency video can be viewed below.