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CROP site. Photo: Jackee Riccio.

The PLANT Act: A rare bipartisan effort on behalf of public lands

Representatives Jared Huffman (CA-02), Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), Salud Carbajal (CA-24), TJ Cox (CA-21), and others introduced the Protecting Lands Against Narcotics Trafficking (PLANT) Act in July. This bipartisan legislation provides resources to help local, state, and federal law enforcement eradicate illegal marijuana grows on public lands and establishes a fund to restore land that has been damaged by illegal cultivation activities. The bill also increases criminal penalties for the environmental crimes (killing animals, poisoning water, contaminating soil, etc) associated with grows on public land.

Trespass marijuana cultivation on public lands has been a major problem for decades, and the chemicals involved are getting even deadlier. In 2018, 89% of trespass grow sites on public lands were confirmed to have traces of carbofuran or methamidophos, pesticide components that are prohibited in the US.

When he introduced the bill, Representative Huffman noted that “Trespass marijuana grows are increasing throughout my district and the U.S., making forests and other public lands unsafe for working and recreation, threatening endangered wildlife, and contaminating rivers and streams.” Congressman Huffman represents the “Emerald Triangle” of Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties in northern California that are known for cannabis production. Public lands in these counties like the Mendocino National Forest, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, and Six Rivers National Forest have suffered the longest from this serious problem. Resources are badly needed to identify and cleanup the backlog of old sites on these public lands and elsewhere.

The bill authorizes $25 million per year for fiscal years 2021 through 2026 to identify trespass grows, clean them up, and prevent the establishment of new ones. The money has to actually be appropriated by Congress, but an authorization is an important step. This means that tribes, counties, federal land managers, and others will finally have resources available to identify all of the grow sites and clean them up. This will lead to restoration jobs, often in rural areas where investments are sorely needed.

Funding will also be available to help prevent the establishment of new grows. This will require more law enforcement officers in the field on our public lands. At present in California, there is an average of one law enforcement officer for every 250,000 acres of federal public land. CalWild supports doubling the current law enforcement staffing level for the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management in areas where growing is most problematic. This would enable federal land managers to stay ahead of the criminals.

One of the most welcome aspects of the bill is that it will increase coordination among all of the key federal, state, local, tribal, and other players in spending the influx of money that will flow to the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service as a result of the PLANT Act. This close coordination will help ensure that the resources flow to where they are needed most such as in northwestern California.

For more information on the issue of trespass marijuana cultivation on public land, please visit