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For Immediate Release: Oct 31, 2011
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

MEXICAN DRUG GANGS INVADE GREAT LAKES FORESTS

Forest Service Cops in Michigan and Wisconsin Decry Agency Head-in-Sand Stance


Washington, DC — Mexican drug gangs have expanded their mega-marijuana operations into the Upper Midwest, according to an internal briefing memo released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  U.S. Forest Service law enforcement agents in Michigan and Wisconsin say their agency is “dangerously unprepared” for the explosive growth of “Drug Trafficking Organizations” in this region which had not before seen “multi-thousand plant grows” tended by armed gangs.

The undated 2010 briefing memo obtained by PEER under the Freedom of Information Act describes a “disturbing new trend” in which Great Lakes states are on a trajectory approaching the notorious Mexican gang incursions onto California public lands.  The memo warns that the number and size of cultivation operations has spiked dramatically since 2008 but that the Forest Service is outgunned, outmanned and disinclined to deal with the growing role of Mexican drug gangs:

  • “Drug traffickers have harmed and threatened innocent civilians and law enforcement.  There have been attempts to kidnap civilians and there have been several shootings this year alone”;  
  • “During the season when DTO [Drug Trafficking Organization] is prevalent, we have been forced to restrict our employees from working in large portions of the forest”; and
  • Drug gangs have set “large forest fires” and wreaked extensive resource damage in the forests.

“The leadership of the Forest Service’s law enforcement program seems far more intent on covering up problems than addressing them,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch.  “The public has a right to know what dangers they may encounter while hiking in the woods.”

Forest Service law enforcement officials had earlier released only a highly redacted, virtually unreadable, version of the memo to PEER, claiming that it was pre-decisional and revealed sensitive law enforcement techniques.  PEER later obtained the memo from another branch of the Forest Service which released it largely un-redacted as an attachment to a 2011 report on severe morale problems within the region.

The 13-page memo recounts a litany of instances in which Forest Service brass refused requests for inter-agency cooperation, training and surveillance.  It paints a stark picture of an agency in denial:
  • “We are not prepared in terms of manpower, training resources for ourselves and local agencies, investigative and operational resources…”
  • Supervisors “denied, ignored or failed to support requests for additional training, funding and public education efforts” while one supervisor tried “to convince others that eradication and cultivation numbers in Wisconsin had actually decreased” (emphasis in original); and  
  • Referring to an all inclusive gag order against law enforcement officers speaking with the media, “we are not reasonably allowed to use the media to educate the public on the dangers” they face.

“This memo is a cop calling for help from a stone deaf chain-of-command,” added Ruch.  “Disturbingly, the indifference and self-serving reaction from Forest Service leadership may pose a greater threat to public safety than the gangs themselves.”