California's 28-year-old marijuana eradication program that has destroyed millions of pot plants in public and private wilderness areas is no more.
The Campaign Against Marijuana Planting — CAMP as it was commonly known — was dropped this year after the state cut funding for the program. It is being replaced this season with a new name, new bosses and a scaled-down approach.
The effort to eliminate large-scale pot farms on public land will continue under federal direction, with the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Forest Service taking lead roles rather than state officials.
The program will be “leaner and meaner,” with fewer full-time staff and reduced helicopter hours, said John Sullivan, assistant special agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration's San Francisco field division.
“It's going to be logistically tougher. We'll basically do what we can do,” Sullivan said.
In recent years, five teams, each equipped with a chartered helicopter, covered five areas of the state.
Now there will be three zones in what is called the Cannabis Eradication and Reclamation Team, or CERT.
The loss of two helicopter teams will have an impact.
The aircraft are the most effective tool in the eradication program because many sheriff's offices don't have their own, Sullivan said. Their use save many hours by dropping agents into remote locations, he said.
“I don't expect our numbers this year to be as high as last year, however, we never start the year by saying we're going to get more,” said Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman. “We are going after the larger grows that are most destructive.”
Sheriff's offices may have more control over some aspects of the program, especially planning the date and location of raids, Allman said.
“I'm not complaining,” Allman said. “The downside is there is less money for helicopter time. But maybe it was time for a change.”