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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Barbara Grothus Guest Blog: Los Alamos Burns - Just Say Now

BarbaraGrothusCr This is a guest blog by Barbara Grothus, an artist and activist who supports the legalization of marijuana, among other progressive measures. She says, "I also support the DFNM blog, and I hope others will too by making a donation today!" (Click on the orange DONATE button on the upper left side of this page or use this direct link.)

I grew up in Los Alamos and spend a lot of time there now, taking care of my mother. I was meaning to write about the big fires then (2000) and now (2011). There are some interesting contrasts between the events. But I simply don’t have the time to spend on it.

Nevertheless, there is a story that I wish someone with the resources and skills could write. Basic facts about the 2011 fire: it was the largest fire in the history of the state of New Mexico, and for the first day it consumed one acre every 76 seconds. A fire moving that fast across the landscape does not consume everything, until it reaches a canyon, at which point it is sufficiently contained that it does burn, baby. It burns.

Frijoles Canyon in Bandelier National Monument is such a place. In 2011, it burned. Fire is always a bit capricious, and there are some areas in that canyon that managed to escape the conflagration. One such area happened to contain a farm with 9200 pot plants, 10 feet tall, essentially ready to harvest. The official estimate of the value of the crop (easily disputable, but let’s take them at their word) is $9.2 million. It has been reported that the farmers fought the fire; they burned a perimeter around the crop to protect it. If they had done this burn anytime before the fire was rapidly advancing, they would have been discovered, and they were not. This was a huge, fast-moving fire. They were absolutely brave in protecting that crop. The crop was saved, the farmers survived.

The farm was discovered by overhead surveillance after the fire, partly because there was some kind of a tarp visible amidst the green island where unburned forest also remained as before, visually protecting the crop. The area stood out because of the absolute black -- “like black paint” -- covering every surrounding surface, as one person described it to me.

The authorities report that they saw two men who returned to the site after the fire. The farmers were able to escape a sudden, multi-agency law-enforcement net. The canyon walls are reported to slant at 45 degrees, making it a steep hike in and out. At the site was some kind of a dugout shelter, a watering system, a rifle, a bottle of hot sauce and insecticide, with directions printed in Spanish. This leads them to believe (I know) that the farmers are part of the “Mexican drug cartel.”

This is the first time that a pot farm has been discovered in a National Forest in New Mexico. It was a large off-grid enterprise with few employees. That is a very big cash crop, even by half. It may not be the first year that the area was farmed. I am sure they are now reexamining past satellite footage. 

I have talked to a variety of people about this story, and I am sure it would be compelling if someone could devote more time to it. When the National Lab was no longer “at risk,” the national media went away. But there is a story here. Just say Now.

This is a guest blog by Barbara Grothus. If you'd like to submit a piece for consideration as a guest blog, contact me by clicking on the Email Me link at the upper left-hand corner of the blog.

September 24, 2011 at 10:03 AM in Drugs, Alcohol, Guest Blogger, Los Alamos | Permalink

Comments

So funny!

Posted by: Sean | Sep 24, 2011 10:58:40 AM

I wonder who "owned" that crop. No way was it some Mexican cartel. More like some lab workers who wanted to make a few bucks. That is why NOBODY will ever investigate this story.

Posted by: fool on the hill | Sep 24, 2011 3:28:34 PM

f-o-h, That is some interesting speculation. And what power would anyone who works at the lab have over a reporter?

What interests me is that the "business" is huge for a couple of people, quite impressive money in NM, and in this economy generally.

There is a history of mj cultivation in national parks/forests in places like CA, where it is not uncommon. And it is the sort of cash crop that makes the risk worthwhile, enough that they risked their lives to protect it during the fire. They had to be in there while the fire was raging. Impressive.

I think it is a great story. I hope someone can do more with it. I would love to know more.

Posted by: bg | Sep 24, 2011 10:07:10 PM

Entrepreneurship! All Americans should support it not arrest it!

Posted by: Lorelei | Sep 25, 2011 5:09:00 PM