… County officials say they have been inundated by hundreds of complaints from locals who accuse “crime syndicates” of stealing their farm equipment and their water. Hall documents the impact of the illegal farms depleting aquifers by pumping from protected rivers and digging huge pits to tap into the groundwater… ... “When I say cartels, I’m not talking just Hispanic,” says the Josephine county sheriff, Dave Daniel, who welcomes the idea of state and federal help. “I’m talking Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Chinese, east coast drug trafficking organizations” ...

 

 

‘Something’s not right in southern Oregon’: alarm at rise of illegal pot farms

Armed men in pickup trucks rule over vast illicit industry that has transformed rural counties, depleting water and scaring locals

 

by Felisa Rogers, The Guardian (UK)

12 Jan 2022

 

Christopher Hall parks his old Toyota on a dirt road that dead-ends in a forest in Oregon’s Illinois Valley. He points out a cluster of greenhouses surrounded by piles of trash, and the hillside above, which has been terraced and entirely stripped of vegetation. Guard dogs run through a small clearing, barking at us.

 

Two men pull up almost instantly in a Honda with busted headlights; the driver asks Hall what he’s doing there. For a bespectacled middle-aged conservationist, Hall is surprisingly reckless. Even though he can see the men are armed, he yells back at them: “Where are you from? We know what you’re doing here is illegal! How many plants are you growing?” One man says they’re from Serbia and claims they have a license to grow as another truck pulls up.

 

I tell Hall I think we should move on, and he reluctantly shifts into drive but is unable to resist a few parting shots: “Do you think you can just keep trashing our streams? Have some respect for the land!”

 

This part of south-western Oregon – which encompasses Josephine, Jackson and Douglas counties and was settled by goldminers in the 1850s – has always kept a touch of the wild west anti-authority streak, contributing to its status as a stronghold of illegal cannabis farms since the 1960s.

 

Pot was legalized for recreational use in Oregon in 2015, making it legal for any person to grow up to four plants. But in the past year, longtime locals have been alarmed by the rapid proliferation of unlicensed pot farms, unprecedented in terms of size and allegedly controlled by crime syndicates from eastern Europe, China and Mexico.

 

Hall, community liaison for the Illinois Valley Soil and Water Conservation District, has been flying over the region in a single-engine plane to map illegal pot farms and has pinpointed 1,030 clusters of greenhouses on just 20 miles of the valley, 80% of which he estimates are illegal. Local authorities agree with that estimate. These large grows have flooded the market – a pound of cannabis that was worth $3,000 in 2009 here might now fetch $400, all but killing the industry for small-time legal growers.

 

County officials say they have been inundated by hundreds of complaints from locals who accuse “crime syndicates” of stealing their farm equipment and their water. Hall documents the impact of the illegal farms depleting aquifers by pumping from protected rivers and digging huge pits to tap into the groundwater. “It takes an act of God to get a water right in Oregon, so they just don’t bother. They just dig holes,” he says. “One of the biggest complaints this year is that people’s wells are underperforming or just drying right out,” he says...

 

... Jackson and Douglas counties declared a state of emergency in October and asked Governor Kate Brown for state funding for more enforcement personnel because local authorities are overwhelmed... 

 

... “When I say cartels, I’m not talking just Hispanic,” says the Josephine county sheriff, Dave Daniel, who welcomes the idea of state and federal help. “I’m talking Bulgarian, Ukrainian, Chinese, east coast drug trafficking organizations” ...

 

more, including links, photos 

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jan/12/oregon-marijuana-illegal-farms-environment