Mr. SMITH of Texas. Madam Chairman, first of all, I would like to consider this the Smith-Herger amendment because I appreciate so much the gentleman from California and his comments a few minutes ago.
Madam Chairwoman, Mexican drug cartels are converting America's national parks and forests into farms for their illegal crops, damaging these protected ecosystems and threatening the safety of visitors and employees.
The Drug Enforcement Administration calls marijuana the ``cash crop'' that finances the cartels' drug trafficking operations. And now our federal lands are being used to grow this crop.
The Justice Department's National Drug Intelligence Center reports that Mexican drug cartels grow their marijuana in remote areas of public lands where there is a limited law enforcement presence.
The two primary regions for these marijuana sites are the Western region, comprised of California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington, and the Appalachian Region, including Kentucky, Tennessee, and West Virginia.
The pristine lands of our National Forest System are particularly enticing to these drug-trafficking operations. The dense, expansive forests provide optimum marijuana growing conditions with little risk of detection.
America's national forest system, managed by the U.S. Forest Service, is comprised of 193 million acres of land with 153,000 miles of trails and nearly 18,000 recreation sites. Only 175 law enforcement officials and detectives patrol this vast expanse of land, including 36 million acres of wilderness area.
The men and women of the Forest Service law enforcement and investigations, together with their Federal, State and local partners, seized 2 million marijuana plants from more than 300 sites during the 2008 growing season. This is a dramatic increase from 2004, when fewer than 750,000 plants were seized. The Forest Service reports that for each of the estimated 660 marijuana sites in the National Forest System, it costs $30,000 to remove the marijuana and restore the ecosystem of each site. That is under $20 million to rid our forests of marijuana.
Forest Service law enforcement officers are also battling against clandestine methamphetamine labs on Forest Service lands and increased drug trafficking across forests that share a common boundary with Canada and Mexico.
Yet, in fiscal year 2009, only $15 million was allocated for all of the Forest Service's drug enforcement activities. My amendment increases this amount to $25 million. We can and must do more to put an end to the dangerous trend of using federal lands for illegal drug cultivation and distribution.
Now, Madam Chairwoman, finally I want to say just in summary that this amendment would weaken the cartels' drug-trafficking operations. It will help the only 175 law enforcement officials to patrol the 36 million acres of wilderness area, and it will send a strong message that we want to increase funds for these efforts.
So I appreciate my amendment being supported tonight.
I yield back the balance of my time.
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