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DRUG GROWERS AVOID FORESTS OF UTAH, IDAHO AND NEVADA

SHARE DRUG GROWERS AVOID FORESTS OF UTAH, IDAHO AND NEVADA

Although a new report says drug gangs are using national forests more to grow and process drugs - and are endangering the public with booby traps, toxic chemicals and guns - Utah, Idaho and Nevada have relatively few such problems.

Rep. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., released a report on Friday from the U.S. Forest Service saying it increased felony drug arrests by 300 percent in 1988, including confiscating 271 arms, including assault weapons. It also eradicated 3,280 marijuana-growing sites, 116 of which were protected by deadly booby traps.The Forest Service also estimated that 384,000 acres in its system were considered dangerous for public use during the fall marijuana harvesting season because of the traps, armed guards and toxic chemicals dumped by portable drug-processing labs.

That number of acres is down from the 800,000 acres considered dangerous in 1986 and 1987 because of greater enforcement activities allowed by the Drug Enforcement Act of 1988, the Forest Service report said.

Meanwhile, in the Forest Service's Intermountain Region of Utah, Idaho and Nevada, the report indicated relatively few of the drug problems seen more in the forests of the South and the Far West.

Drug arrests in the Intermountain Region did skyrocket from four in 1987 to 67 in 1988 - but that is only 2 percent of the drug arrests made nationally on Forest Service land. Also, no weapons were seized in those Intermountain area arrests.

The number of marijuana plants eradicated in the Intermountain Region increased from 329 in 1987 to 932 in 1988 - but that was only two-tenths of 1 percent of the marijuana destroyed nationally in Forest Service areas.

Only two of the marijuana sites in the Intermountain Region were booby-trapped - and they resulted in no injuries.

Also, no mobile drug-processing labs were found in Intermountain forests, but 44 were found nationally. Dumping of chemicals by such labs - usually housed in trailers or U-Haul type trucks - has endangered animals and plants and has injured at least one forest ranger severely enough to require hospitalization.

Wyden released the report as he called for formation of a National Public Land Drug Strike Force to coordinate efforts by the Forest Service, National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Justice Departments and local police to further attack the use of public lands by drug cartels.

Wyden said it is needed to catch drug kingpins, not their low-level aides, and to attack creative ways they are using to hide their labs and protect their drug crops.

"It is clear that the threat posed to our public lands warrants a coordinated national strategy," he said. "Simply put, we need to make the long arm of the law even longer in order to bring these domestic drug cartels out of business."