Print Page

News.bytesNews.bytes Extra, issue 388

Mustangs again help clean up trash from marijuana garden

Faced with hauling piles of drip irrigation tubing and bags of garbage up steep slopes in Mendocino County, the Bureau of Land Management’s Ukiah Field Office called for some extra horsepower – mustangs. (text continues below)

Kenny Klee picks up black plastic bags of trash from a brushy area, as his mustangs wait behind him
Above: Kenny Klee gathers garbage at a marijuana growing operation at Sheldon Creek to pack out on his mustangs.

Below: Erik Weinmeister, right, briefs California Conservation Corps team members before starting work at the site.
Erik Weinmeister, right, briefs California Conservation Corps team members before starting work at the site.

For the second year, Kenny Klee from Redwood Valley and his mustangs, Keno, Ranger and Casey, helped BLM haul out the remains of a pot-growing operation. Klee led the mustangs carrying bags of garbage up a steep narrow trail through a thick growth of poison oak.

The BLM Ukiah office received a Department of Interior Environmental Achievement Award last year for cleanup of the Hemlock Ranch garden, a 5,000 plant “grow.” That project was one of two BLM Ukiah cleaned up that year as the pilot project for BLM California and the first one where adopted mustangs were used to remove the materials, said Gary Sharpe, supervisory resource management specialist for BLM Ukiah.  The latest project on Sheldon Creek was a 15,000 plant grow that was raided in the nursery stage.  The plants were still seedlings and the terracing and water systems were under construction.

In addition to the volunteer efforts by Klee, BLM Ukiah contracted this year for the first time to get assistance from California Conservation Corp workers to clean up the area by Sheldon Creek. (continued below)


CCC members in uniform pick up trash in a brushy area and place it in black plastic trash bags
California Conservation Corps members worked in thick brush in the Sheldon Creek drainage to gather garbage and drip line, and remove impoundments from the creek.

“Last year it was all done using BLM employees and volunteers Kenny and Beverly Klee with their horses.  These young people are paid minimum wage and many are completing high school degrees or GED’s and earning scholarship money for college.  Most come from difficult backgrounds and are working to improve their lives and futures.  With a large percentage of the CCC crew coming from a metropolitan environment, working so closely with horses was an entirely new experience for many of them.  Because of the success of this project, the CCC will be Ukiah’s primary source for workers rehabilitating BLM lands impacted by large-scale marijuana cultivation,” Sharpe said.

Fifteen CCC crew members led by Erik Weinmeister filled in holes dug for the pot plants, gathered garbage for the mustangs to pack out and removed diversions in Sheldon Creek installed to irrigate the plants. They cleared brush along the trail to give Klee space for the horses. They also restored two large springs that had been dug out, cut out chicken wire fencing put around one of the springs to keep wildlife out and pulled cut brush back into the garden plots to help re-establish ground cover.

BLM’s goal is to develop a “rapid response” using the CCC crews to reclaim the pot-growing areas, he explained. The land managed by BLM Ukiah is in one of the main pot-growing areas in California. According to the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting – a long standing interagency task force covering Northern California - Lake County was first in seizures last year and Mendocino County was fourth, with Shasta, Tulare and Humboldt counties the others in the top five.  The Sheldon Creek operation was raided by COMET – the Mendocino County unit similar to CAMP but limited to operations in Mendocino County.

“Until recently, the Bureau’s focus has been on raiding the growing operations and nothing was done about rehabilitation of the damages done.  My goal is to establish an organized and efficient means of rehabilitation that is both rapid in its response as well as adaptive in technique and targets.  It depends on dialogue and coordination with the law enforcement officers involved and the establishment of flexible working relationships with those who accomplish the rehabilitation – CCC, back country horse packers, helicopter services, local law enforcement, aviation support teams, volunteer organizations, and local land owners.  It is a work in progress and is quickly building up speed,” Sharpe said.

In addition to leaving garbage and diverting natural steamflows, the operations damage water quality, Sharpe explained. Growers were mixing fertilizer in a pond they built in the streambed. They are also cleared understory in scrub oak woodlands, terraced the watersheds, poached game and killed all rodents. They sprayed insecticides - some brought in from Mexico and illegal in the US and dug out natural springs.

Large capacity (up to 10,000 gallon) portable and collapsible water storage tanks are now on the market that promise to remove even more water from the system and allow cultivation in new areas where lack of water has prevented it before.

By quickly restoring the areas, BLM hopes to discourage future marijuana production at the sites, in addition to repairing the environmental damage.

Kenny Klee lashes black plastic trash bags onto the backs of his mustangs
Kenny Klee loads Ranger the mustang with bags of garbage and irrigation tubing.

Kenny Klee leads three mustangs up a steep slope among the trees
Kenny Klee leads his mustangs, Keno, Ranger and Casey, up a steep slope out of the drainage.

 Two men and three mustangs head over the hill on a dusty trail
A CCC crew member, Klee and the mustangs head over the hill to drop off the garbage from the pot-growing operation.

- D. Christy, BLM, 6/09

BLM-California News.bytes, issue 388

Last updated: 06-24-2009