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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.

Marijuana advocates say the efforts would not be necessary if pot was completely legalized.

Pot eradication records also have been broken in Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties with Lake County poised to again take the number one spot, with more than 800,000 plants seized, most of it on public lands. In Sonoma and Mendocino counties, most of the pot has been seized on private land, Gregory said.

Conflicts with pot growers have some landowners considering selling their land. Others take extra precautions.

"I'm aware of it all the time. So when I'm going someplace, I usually am armed," said Larry Mailliard, who owns about 15,000 acres near Yorkville.

He said he has come face to face with a couple of trespassers who fled when they saw him.

Brown's problems came to light after a brush-clearing project uncovered 7,500 marijuana plants last fall.

An outraged pot tender emerged from the brush, yelling at the bulldozer operator in Spanish, then made a call on his cell phone before disappearing.

After the pot garden was eradicated, Brown became the target of vandalism he believes was connected to the garden. Vandals shot a buffalo and harassed others. They cut fences and broke gates, allowing bison to escape. By spring the animals had become so wild and unmanageable they were breaking through fences on their own and Brown felt he had no choice but to slaughter them.

"It was heartbreaking," Brown said. "Six months before, we could feed them out of a (handheld) bucket."

He estimates the buffalo were worth between $30,000 and $40,000. But the impingements on his land use and his daughter's freedom upset him the most.

"Those things you can't put a price on," Brown said.

Mailliard said he won't let the pot growers keep him from hiking his property — albeit with his dogs and a gun — but he does warn visitors and deer hunters who use the land to be careful.

"I tell them if they find plastic hoses, get out of there. You have to be aware of your surroundings," he said.

He said most rural landowners he knows in the area have reported problems with trespassers growing pot on their land.

A woman who has been battling pot growers who steal water and use her Laytonville-area property for their gardens compared the problems to "the wild wild West." She asked not to be named because she fears her neighbors.

Mailliard said he is especially concerned about the environmental degradation the growers cause.

They divert streams, pollute them with fertilizers and cut trees to let in more light, he said.

"It upsets me greatly," Mailliard said.

They also kill deer and other animals for food and to keep them from eating their pot, law officials said.

"We went into a garden the other day and the way we knew we were getting close is there were dead animals all over the place," Nishiyama said.

He said he feels badly for hard-working ranchers who are subjected to further hardship because of pot growers.

Brown is clearing more brush from his property, hoping it discourages pot growers from returning.

He's planning to reintroduce buffalo to his land in a year or so but the restrictions on Juliette won't be lifted any time soon.

"With the booby traps and stuff, it's too risky," Brown said.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson@pressdemocrat.com