Garberville's KMUD radio alerts: Helpful or dangerous?

  • Garberville, California, radio host Anna Hamilton organized a community meeting addressing "What's After Pot?" It attracted more than 150 people, including a county supervisor and business owners. (Sam Quinones/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

Eclectic music, quirky talk shows and announcements about lost dogs and loose cattle are common fare on rural public radio stations.

But in southern Humboldt County, Garberville's KMUD provides one more public service — announcements about law enforcement officials on their way to drug busts, like this recent but undated report.

"Around 9:40 a.m. this morning, a large gray helicopter was seen taking off from the Garberville airport, apparently heading toward Reed Mountain. The occupants were fully dressed in combat gear, and the convoy of cars they arrived in were unmarked."

The message went out to 20,000 listeners tuned to 91.1FM, 88.3FM and 90.3FM in Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties, which together make up Northern California's notorious marijuana-producing Emerald Triangle.

KMUD's unusual reports date back to 1983, when an all-out land and air siege on pot-growing hippies was launched in southern Humboldt County. State, federal and local agents waging the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, as it was called, were joined in 1990 by military troops enlisted for the Bush-era "Operation Green Sweep."

Radio host Anna Hamilton remembers helicopters flying so low that people on the ground could see the occupants' faces and guns. Livestock and horses were literally frightened to death, and dogs were shot, said Hamilton, a long-time Garberville resident and musician.

It was "an apocalypse-style invasion," said Charley Custer, a freelance magazine writer from Chicago who came to Garberville in 1983 to write about the "hippie Arcadia" and never left.

Terrorized residents who felt their civil rights had been trampled during the operations mobilized to fight back. They formed the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project, which initiated the broadcasts and sued to force aircraft to obey federal aviation regulations.

Over the years, pot enforcement has mellowed as law enforcers turned their focus away from hippies and toward large-scale growers on public lands. By doing so, they increased their statewide seizures from 64,579 plants in 1983 to 4.4 million in 2009, 75 percent of them on public land.

In Northern California, more marijuana is now seized in Lake County than Humboldt County, but KMUD's law enforcement sighting reports continue. Spokesmen say they now function more as traffic warnings than drug alerts.

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