Today, Oregon's Senator Jeff Merkley sent a letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee calling on them to preserve funding for the National Guard Counterdrug Program. The program has been critical to detecting and disrupting drug activity, particularly large-scale marijuana growing operations on public lands in Oregon. The President's proposed budget for 2013 would drastically reduce the National Guard program.
"Because the drug traffickers operate in areas inaccessible to vehicles and miles from the nearest trail head, the use of the ONG's [Oregon National Guard's] helicopters are often the only way to find, eradicate, and, after a successful operation, clean up the grow sites," Merkley wrote. "Under the proposed budget, funding for the Program in Oregon would be cut by 66 percent. This level of funding would significantly reduce, if not eliminate, all counter-drug air support for law enforcement within Oregon."
Merkley continued, "Unfortunately, the budget proposed by the Administration would effectively surrender our national forests in Oregon and along the west coast to these drug traffickers."
More than half of Oregon's land is federally owned, making the state a particular target for drug cartels seeking to grow marijuana in federal forests or on other remote public lands. These grow operations harm the environment and put tourists, hunters and other recreational users at risk from drug traffickers, who are frequently armed.
The full text of the letter follows below.
April 26, 2012
The Honorable Daniel K. Inouye The Honorable Thad Cochran
Chairman Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Appropriations Senate Committee on Appropriations
United States Capitol, Room S-128 United States Capitol, Room S-146A
Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20510
Dear Chairman Inouye and Ranking Member Cochran:
I write with great concern regarding the President's fiscal year 2013 budget proposal for the National Guard Counterdrug Program (Program). The requested level of funding is well below this year's level and would be wholly inadequate to support the National Guard's counterdrug mission.
The National Guard has a critical role assisting federal, state, and local agencies' efforts to detect and disrupt drug activity. In Oregon, the air support provided by the Oregon National Guard (ONG) is one of the key resources used by our law enforcement community to detect and clean-up large-scale marijuana plant growing operations within our federal forests and public lands. As federal drug enforcement agencies have reported, these marijuana growing operations are funded and operated by violent international drug trafficking organizations who place armed criminals in our national forests to tend to the plants and defend the site from intruders. While the location of these marijuana growing operations within Oregon vary year-to-year, the drug trafficking organizations regularly establish themselves only within remote and inaccessible tracts of land.
While we must uproot these large-scale marijuana grow sites within our national forests for their role in the trade of illicit drugs, we also must eradicate them to address the immediate threat they pose to the safety of citizens who enjoy our public lands. There are millions of families who use our national forests and public lands for vacations and recreational activities. Our local sheriffs and elected officials have been working hard to educate the public about how to spot these growing operations, but Oregonians who use our public lands for hunting, fishing, and camping should not have to do so in fear. These grow sites, even if they are quickly found by law enforcement, are also heavily polluted with fertilizer, plastic irrigation tubing, and other supplies that are brought in by the drug traffickers. At some grow sites in our state, the drug trafficking organizations have systematically destroyed the forest by building terraces in which to grow the plants and indiscriminately cutting down trees and slashing through undergrowth.
Because the drug traffickers operate in areas inaccessible to vehicles and miles from the nearest trail head, the use of the ONG's helicopters are often the only way to find, eradicate, and, after a successful operation, clean up the grow sites. Under the proposed budget, funding for the Program in Oregon would be cut by 66 percent. This level of funding would significantly reduce, if not eliminate, all counter-drug air support for law enforcement within Oregon. Unfortunately, the budget proposed by the Administration would effectively surrender our national forests in Oregon and along the west coast to these drug traffickers.
The Administration's budget proposal would undermine the work of our law enforcement community that is focused on dismantling this threat. I stand ready to work with you and our other colleagues in the Senate to ensure that the Program is funded at an adequate level.
Jeffrey A. Merkley
United States Senator