Is National Guard needed for Mendocino pot violence?

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Fed up with armed marijuana growers taking over public lands, a group of Mendocino County residents on Tuesday asked the board of supervisors to declare a state of emergency and bring in the National Guard.

"They're everywhere, they are destroying the forest," said Chris Brennan, a Laytonville rancher and federal trapper.

"It's out of control," said Paul Trouette, a county Fish and Game commissioner.

Supervisors directed the county attorney to investigate what a state of emergency would entail and the potential repercussions.

The request comes one week after a sheriff's deputy shot to death a man that the sheriff's office said leveled a firearm at him in a large marijuana garden in the Mendocino National Forest east of Covelo.

Public lands have long been favorite locations for large-scale illegal marijuana gardens. But the problem has worsened, something state and federal drug enforcement officials blame on Mexican drug cartels.

This year, about 440,000 pot plants have been eradicated from the Mendocino National Forest alone, said Michael Gaston, assistant special agent in charge with the U.S. Forest Service.

Large-scale illegal cultivators are shooting and poisoning wildlife, dumping pesticides into streams, diverting streams and taking pot shots at people who attempt to use the forest between the spring and fall, Brennan said.

"I've been shot at," he said.

A half dozen other people at the board meeting, held in Covelo for the first time in many years, said they'd also had warning shots fired in their direction while on public lands.

"There are pieces of the county we don't go in now," said Peter Bauer, a fifth generation Covelo cattle rancher. He said he won't be using some of the grazing permits he has for public lands because of marijuana gardens. "My livelihood is threatened by this," he said.

Paula Fugman no longer rides horses on federal forest trails. "It's really scary," she said.

One Covelo resident called the pot operations "an armed foreign invasion."

Gaston said the U.S. Forest Service has boosted its enforcement manpower and is working with local and state officers. Efforts are focused on apprehending "queen bees" that run the operations, not just the workers who toil in and protect the pot, he said.

The department also is boosting its post-eradication cleanup, which includes destroying miles of black irrigation tubing and other pot-growing infrastructure and hauling out pesticides left behind.

North county residents say more must be done.

"We've already lost the war," said Cory Miller, who lives five miles from the remote area where the shooting took place.

Supervisor John McCowen said the efforts will fail until the federal government decriminalizes marijuana, thus critically reducing its profitability.

Checkpoints at the entrances to forest land would greatly discourage pot growers from entering, she said.

"There are only a few roads in," said Virginia Spivey, a teacher at the Round Valley High School in Covelo.

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