Juliette Brown once roamed freely among the buffalo on her family's sprawling ranch in the rolling pine and oak-studded hills in southeast Lake County.
Now the 11-year-old is forbidden from riding her pony alone in remote sections of the 300-acre ranch owned by her father, Supervisor Rob Brown, and the 80 bison have been slaughtered.
The girl's freedom and the bison are victims of trespassers who set up booby-trapped marijuana gardens and camps on the Browns' land and adjacent properties.
“It's scary,” Rob Brown said. “You have to be careful, even if it's on your own land.”
Juliette said she wishes the pot growers would go away.
“I don't think it's fair. I love to ride my pony up there,” she said.
The Browns are not alone. Landowners throughout Northern California are faced with trespassing pot growers who tap their water supplies, pollute streams with chemicals, poach wildlife and create safety worries, law officials say.
“We usually hear from land owners on a weekly basis that are afraid to use their land for fear of running into armed illegal growers,” said Lake County Major Crimes Unit supervisor Sgt. Jim Samples.
“It's a huge problem. It's the same problem hikers have on government land,” said Bob Nishiyama, head of the Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force.
Statistics were not available on marijuana trespass gardens on private lands, but the practice — “poaching” in grower slang — is huge on public land.
More than half of the 2.99 million pot plants seized in California during the state's marijuana eradication efforts last year were on public land. The same is expected this year, but with higher plant numbers. The 2009 Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, still in full swing, had already eradicated nearly 4 million plants by Sept. 1 of this season, said Special Agent Michelle Gregory, a state Department of Justice spokeswoman.