Officials to let Northeastern Wisconsin pot fields reforest naturally

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Jun 21, 2007
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Public forestland that was illegally clear-cut in Northeastern Wisconsin to make way for secret marijuana-growing operations will be allowed to recover naturally, a national forest ranger says.

"Those areas are completely reforesting themselves," said Jeff Seefeldt, district ranger for the Lakewood-Leona district of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

Federal, state and local authorities this summer arrested 12 men they say clear-cut nine large areas in the 1.5 million-acre national forest to grow marijuana.

Most of the sites are in Oconto County, although one is in Menominee County.

Authorities say the 12 suspects lived in the forest while growing the marijuana, although nine of them were arrested at a home on the western edge of the Oneida Reservation, just east of Seymour, where they dried and prepared the harvested marijuana plants, authorities say.

At the time of the August arrests, forestry experts said they likely would spend thousands of dollars removing stumps and debris from the grow areas and then reseed them, to replace mostly aspen trees that were hacked down to ensure the marijuana plants would get sufficient sunlight.

Foresters have cleared debris from the grow sites, but now the strategy has changed, and foresters instead will let nature take its course.

"We talked about reseeding before we actually saw the sites, but once we were out there, we could see the new sprouts coming in," Seefeldt said. "We went to all nine sites … and spent the whole day hauling garbage out, dismantling shelters, but we could see when we went out there, there was already fresh stuff growing. We'll go out and look after it grows for a little bit this spring, but I feel very confident they'll be full of lush vegetation."

Foresters removed shacks and pot-drying racks, hundreds of pounds of fertilizer and hundreds of pounds of garbage.

"It looked like someone had lived there for three months and didn't have local garbage pickup," Seefeldt said.

At all of the sites, the pot-growers had hacked down mature trees about 3 feet from the ground. They left the stumps and hauled all the logs and brush to the outskirts to form Coliseum-type walls around the grow areas.

Marijuana that was planted amid the stumps has all been harvested or hauled away by law enforcement agents. The tree stumps remain, as do the surrounding walls of brush.

"They'll eventually rot away," Seefeldt said of the stumps. "I'm guessing in four years, you'll see a different size of timber."

The surrounding brush walls "will get smaller and smaller, and the bugs and salamanders will have a good time with them," Seefeldt said.

Authorities learned of the grow operations when a hiker came upon one of them.

Authorities put the site under surveillance and, after following people to and from it, they learned of the other sites as well as of the house the suspects were using near Seymour and a storage garage near Bonduel. Investigators seized weapons, thousands of dollars and hundreds of pounds of dried or drying marijuana.

Confidential informants identified Bernabe Nunez-Guzman, the former owner of a Green Bay flooring company, as the boss of the operation, according to the criminal complaint. Informants also identified defendant Raul Avila-Rodriguez as the supervisor for the marijuana-drying operations within the Seymour home, which was owned by Nunez-Guzman, the complaint says.

The criminal complaints do not spell out the respective roles of the other defendants in the operation. They are Adalberto Valencia, Genaro Avila-Rodriguez, Salvador Montez-Canchola, Jesus DelaTorre-Avila, Javier Navarro-Zaragoza, Uriel Perez-Aljandres, Gustavo Barragan-Mendoza, Jorge Perez-Hipolito, Armando Adame-Alvarado and Jose Sandoval-Mendoza.

Only Nunez-Guzman and Valencia were legally in the U.S., lawyers in the case have said. The defendants remain in the Brown County Jail awaiting a July 18 jury trial before U.S. District Judge William Griesbach.

Bad form cutting away National forest for their operations, shame on them

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