When the season of marijuana raids wraps up, thousands of plants, worth millions, will have been eradicated from the county, but left behind will be heaps of rubbish.
At the heart of the effort to reclaim the forest sites polluted by these remains is a volunteer group whose members dedicate countless hours. Leading the group is a man whose life, as a result of taking the lead, looks markedly different than it did 10 years ago.
Shane Krogen was told by his doctors that something had to change or something was going to give. Overweight and diabetic, the stress of his role as a business owner was taking its toll. Around the same time, in the early 1990s, Krogen learned his sporting goods store, California Outfitters, could adopt a Forest Service trail to maintain. "It was a natural progression for the store to take on a trail," he said.
Although he made the decision to close the store a few years later, the trail work took on a life of its own.
Approached by Forest Service drug agent Kevin Mayer, Krogen began leading the volunteer restoration work for lands affected by marijuana growth working in conjunction with law enforcement.
"These are wonderful, wonderful people to come out an give what they do," said Tony Spada, Fish and Game warden during a recent raid.
For Krogen, a vision for the volunteer group was born. "I could see the program had a lot of potential," Krogen said.
In 2001, the much trimmer and relatively stress-free Krogen became the full-time paid volunteer coordinator for the Forest Service. "I had no idea when I first started that this had the potential to become a fully functioning nonprofit organization," he said. "I started with a trail and now I'm living a dream."
The dream has not come without its challenges, however. "Anytime you start something new it's a learning process," Krogen said. "At some point the novelty wore off and the numbers of volunteers dwindled as people realized how hard the work is.
"I started asking myself the hard questions like what kind of impact are we really making?"
The impact? The program has grown from volunteer base of 30 to nearly 70, with anywhere from a $5-$20 return on every dollar from grants or donations, and reclamation has spanned hundreds of acres.
Krogen said his work is far from complete. "Our next big goal is directed towards youth involvement. My vision is to integrate a cross-section of youth; inner-city kids with mountain kids and kids from the suburbs. I think bringing them together to do this kind of work teaches them things like social tolerance.
"That's the beauty of a program like this: It's not the work, but the learning. You throw a bunch of folks in the woods in a situation where they have to work together and it forces people to move past differences."
While his job includes coordinating trail work, environmental reclamation remains a daunting task. At its start the trail crew was the only volunteer effort of its kind to work on reclamation of forest land damaged by marijuana.
"The more we've done reclamation, the more we realize something is wrong," he said of the illegal growing. Krogen added that he is now more passionate about scientific research that will explore the long-term effects. "Californians are, by and large, not against marijuana. But if we came up with the data to show how serious this all is, it might change their minds.
"Now, I'm not sure I'm in the business of changing minds, but we want to have the data to show this is not about legalization, it's about the damage being done."
Krogen said he hopes his volunteer group can eventually partner with university scientists to assist in testing.
For the time being, however, the magnitude of the reclamation effort means restoration remains little more than a goal. The group typically has only enough funding to reclaim 10 percent of the 50 percent of known gardens eradicated.
Furthermore, with sites in backcountry areas, efforts are often multiday trips, a big commitment for most volunteers.
But Krogen said one time is all it takes. "All I ask is come on one trip. One of two things will happen, we'll never see you again, or you'll find your niche.
"We have a job for everybody and the great thing about not getting paid is you get to do what you want. Plus you get to get out into the wilderness."
Krogen said he hopes to triple his volunteer base and put the groups on a rotation. He also hopes to get more volunteers from the mountain communities.
"If they got a sense for how close this crap is to their backyards, they could be better advocates. They could at least decide for themselves whether this is an issue."
This is the final installment in a series that has looked at the impact illegal pot gardens have on wilderness lands.