The Border Patrol Explorers, a program for volunteer 14-21 year olds that bridges youth with law enforcement issues, pulled irrigation piping and picked-up trash from a site northeast of Winthrop this summer. Law enforcement officials shut down the illegal marijuana grow operation and removed the plants from the site last year. The area is now safe to enter.
“There is a lot of clean-up and restoration work needed on these sites,” said Matt Castle, Fire Management Officer for the Methow Valley Ranger District.
“Sometimes we need to put the hillside back by removing terracing, usually there is pipe from irrigation systems to be removed and there is a lot of trash to be hauled. Unfortunately, the effort needed for clean-up takes money and employees away from work that was already planned. Having the Border Patrol and the Explorers come in and take care of some of this clean-up is a big help,” he said.
Each year, a task force of law enforcement officials work to locate and shut down illegal marijuana growing operations on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service. There are several such sites on the Methow Valley Ranger District in need of clean up and rehabilitation work. Because of safety concerns, some of the sites are not well suited for the attentions of young volunteers and those will be tackled by Forest Service employees.
It costs approximately $5,000 an acre just to clean up a grow site. The restoration of the site to re-establish streams costs another $5,000 an acre. And yet another $5,000 an acre is needed to restore the area to its natural state. The typical marijuana growing site is usually between 10-20 acres.
This site was just one of the many that the U.S. Forest Service has identified in 26 states on 66 national forests.
The crew of eight Explorers who participated in the clean-up was supervised by two U.S. Border Patrol agents.