Ah, Utah. Home to glorious red rock vistas, alpine meadows, sunny blue skies (or tempestuous storms as have lately been visiting us), and...uh...pot farms?
Yep. One of the larger busts of a pot plant "grow" was just discovered right by my house (relatively speaking), up on Boulder Mountain in lil' ole Wayne County. There is a rich history of growing marijuana in southern Utah, it seems. (Who knew. I pay more attention to ancient ruins and OHV tearing up of the land!) Apparently, as crackdowns on illegal grow operations have stepped up in other states (hello, California), the growers have been moving their tidy little money-makers to federal lands throughout the West, including rural Utah.
Now, all this has many implications. First off, let me clear the air about my own viewpoint on pot. Do I really care if people smoke it? Nope. Have lots of friends who do. Heck, one of the medications my grandmother is on right now is Marinol, which is basically synthetic THC that can alleviate pain symptoms in patients. And there are certainly more alcohol-related car accidents and deaths than, um, any related to pot, as far as I know. Should pot be legalized? I believe it should, with all the usual details to make it as safe as possible for users. Would save taxpayers and law enforcement a lot of headaches. Not to mention make life easier for terminally ill people, among other things. I mean, come on--pot sales probably bring in more money for the state of California than the entertainment industry! Anyway, my two cents. And no, I personally don't smoke it. The control freak in me doesn't like the effects of pot on my system. :)
However, pot is still illegal, and grow operations exist all over, and they are potentially dangerous. And that part gives me serious pause. Here are some reasons why:
1) Probably most of the "garden" tenders are harmless, possibly illegals themselves, who are just trying to make an extra buck (or thousand). But that may not always be the case. Some of those arrested in grow-related incidents were armed, and anytime a person feels threatened, there is the possibility s/he will try to defend her/himself with whatever weapon is currently handy. I don't particularly want to stumble upon a grow operation while out hiking alone (or with friends, or guests) while the tenders are there, and possibly armed and jumpy.
2) Ahem, this is not exactly the intended use for federal lands! Pot grows mean water diversion (in areas that already struggle for water), chemicals dumped into the soil via fertilizers (I somehow doubt the growers are using environmentally-friendly stuff), and people knocking about as they lug equipment far into the back country, probably ignoring any sort of notices about fragile soil, revegetation areas, local fauna, etc. I mean, if you're growing illegal little green plants, you probably don't give a darn about other rules, eh?
3) The growers might be tempted to make grow areas as uninviting to hikers or other outdoor enthusiasts as possible. This could mean a little bit of danger at the most, annoyance at the least. I don't know exactly what they might do, but I'm not sure I want to find out.
4) Well, sure blows my theory about solitude in the wilderness, no? A pot farm in the forest or desert seems to taunt the sacredness of wild spaces to me. If I want to get out, meditate, contemplate, hike, rediscover my connection with the earth, just knowing that grow operations, possibly tended by people who certainly don't want me anywhere nearby, might be out there in my perceived solitude just takes away some of the spiritual beauty and meaning.
A pot farm probably does not have the immediate hazards as, say, a meth lab, of which busts in Utah have been common. But even so, I just don't like it.
So watch out for fields of unnatural green when you go hiking...because I'm sure these grows aren't going to stop anytime soon.