Our country's system of national parks is in a predicament, due to the funding shortages that have become a chronic condition in this era of GOP government-by-corruption. Unfortunately, while one may be able to survive on a starvation diet for a while, at some point the death slide begins. How long can this go on?
At a public hearing by a subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee in California yesterday, there was this testimony:
Reduction in the number of rangers has put the public at risk by failing to stop drug cartels from planting booby-trapped marijuana farms in areas of Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks east of Visalia, [National Park Conservation Association chairman Gene] Sykes said.Drug cartels? Booby-traps?
The NPCA has more about this stunning new problem:
Between January and September 2004, the Park Service and local and federal law enforcement agencies tracked down and removed $176 million worth of marijuana plants - exceeding the 2003 yearly total. The clandestine marijuana gardens and their guards - men armed with AK-47s - are polluting rivers and streams with fertilizer, trampling delicate soils and disrupting natural drainage, piling trash, laying miles of irrigation tubing, and poaching wildlife.
From testimony at a similar congressional hearing a couple weeks ago:
"Park Service rangers have heard of hikers and fishermen being chased at gunpoint after inadvertently stumbling into a marijuana garden or meeting one of these guards on the trail," [Laura] Whitehouse [of NPCA] said. "The cartels also use booby traps to secure their marijuana gardens - shotguns with trip lines carefully hidden and positioned to shoot an unknowing victim in the face."Hikers and fishermen chased at gunpoint? Shotguns with trip lines?
The appropriation of national parkland for the purpose of cultivating marijuana, according to Karen Taylor-Goodrich, associate director for visitor and resource protection for the National Park Service, is "a truly significant and extensive problem" that the agency is attempting to address despite a dearth of resources.Something has gotten out of hand. It should be a national embarrassment that international drug cartels have usurped the United States' public landsnot just any old public lands, but its most famous parksfor their criminal use, while endangering public safety and polluting the environment.
"While we are attempting to aggressively quantify the overall problem, how much marijuana is being cultivated and the extent to which these organizations operate on parks lands is not fully known," Taylor-Goodrich said. "Our intelligence indicates that most of these cultivation operations were conducted by a small number of Mexican national organizations."
So what is the Republican congress' response?
[Subcommittee chairman Rep. Mark] Souder [R-Indiana] suggested the National Park Service needs develop creative ways to persuade the public and nonprofit "friends of parks" groups to raise more contributions for parks.If I didn't know better, I'd swear I was reading The Onion.
Souder suggested celebrities might be recruited to support fund-raising drives to help national parks in California.