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In the News - Friday, SEPTEMBER 23, 2005

 


THE SECRET GARDENS
South Fork gone to pot;

operatives gear up

for annual harvest

   Sequoia National Park and Three Rivers have received plenty of attention this summer for lightning strikes, recreation, and air quality, but on Tuesday, Sept. 20, the area became a media hub for an attraction that is gaining national notoriety. What correspondents from ABC News, Newsweek, National Geographic, and even The Guardian of London were here to do was observe park rangers and a local task force of law-enforcement officers conducting the first raids of the season on pot gardens located in and just outside Sequoia Park’s South Fork boundary.
   The day began with a briefing for media in the parking lot at Village Market, where Laura Whiteside, a spokesperson for the National Parks Conservation Association, said that her organization is currently asking Congress for $1.6 million that would go directly to Sequoia National Park to help escalate the war against growers who do untold millions of dollars in damage to park resources and are a threat to visitors during each growing season.
   In addition to the media, Whiteside also invited Darren Rose, the district director for Congressman George Radanovich (R-19th District), who came to Three Rivers to update the Congressman on the urgency of the marijuana situation. Radanovich currently is a member of the influential Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation, and Public Lands, so his support is critical, Whiteside said.
   The contingent traveled via motorcade up South Fork Drive seven miles to a staging area where law officers had a roadblock to secure the area while dozens of operatives conducted the raids.

  “The areas that we will be working today include some rugged terrain in the Bennett Creek and Burnt Camp Creek drainages,” said one member of the strike team, who preferred not to be identified. “We’ll be dropping park rangers near one of the garden complexes inside park boundaries. Once the team is on the ground, they will be hiking in steep terrain for more than an hour to reach the location where they will eradicate the garden.”
   To help the rangers reach their remote objective, the team was short-hauled, two at a time, suspended in a sling beneath a speedy Bell helicopter, furnished by CAMP (Campaign Against Marijuana Planting). After the rangers were deployed, other strike team members, including Tulare County’s eight-man SWAT team and a host of CAMP officers, were flown across the South Fork canyon to rugged terrain above 5,000 feet in Devils Canyon, south of South Fork Drive and just west of Sequoia National Park’s boundary.
   In between these runs, members of the media were flown into Devils Canyon to observe gardens from the air and visit the location of former gardens to inspect natural-resource impacts and also get a picture of the magnitude of the ongoing criminal activity. In the air, Lieutenant Marsh Carter, who is the commander of the Tulare County SWAT team, pointed out several garden locations that were unknown to officers before the day’s flyovers.

  “It’s the distinctive green of the new plants among all these various shades of greenery in the canopy that we are looking to spot,” said Lt. Carter. “My first garden bust was right here in Devils Canyon in 1990. In those days, we didn’t have helicopters and we were just a handful of deputies hiking these rugged canyons stumbling here and there on some of the bigger operations.”
   Carter said that in 1999 the number of gardens and scope of the operations in Tulare County just “exploded.” After 9/11 in 2001, Mexican drug-trafficking organizations, using methamphetamine profits, consolidated their operations and became firmly entrenched in Tulare County.
   In 2005, marijuana growing has become even more sophisticated and it is very seldom that any growers are arrested. One female was arrested this past weekend suspected of making a food drop to South Fork growers, Lt. Carter said.
   CAMP receives state and federal funding and is made up of reserve police officers and personnel from the California Department of Justice. Their sole purpose is to assist various jurisdictions with manpower, helicopters, and equipment where the gardens are being grown, supplementing the limited budgets of law-enforcement agencies.

  “The seizure today means that we [CAMP] have now passed the one million mark in plants eradicated this season from gardens in California,” said Neil Cuthbert, CAMP commander. “We still have several weeks to go in the harvest season so we expect those numbers to increase. The statewide eradications that we are doing represent what our intelligence says is about one-half of what’s out there.”
   On Wednesday, Sept. 21, park officials announced that rangers had removed 1,351 marijuana plants from gardens located inside park boundaries. At a street value of $4,000 per plant, pot valued at an estimated $4 billion has already been removed from California gardens during the current season.
   In Tulare County alone, on lands outside of national park boundaries, more than 148,000 plants have been eradicated in the current season. Nobody seems to have a handle on the scope of the criminal activity or what it will require to mitigate the damage to public lands.
   What is certain is that Sequoia National Park needs more funding now, as do the other Tulare County law-enforcement agencies that are waging a war with growers, which, under the current circumstances, they cannot possibly win.

Missing man’s cause

of death determined

   Phillip Arens, 42, whose body was found Sept. 10 near Crescent Meadow in Sequoia National Park after a three-day search, died from exposure, the Tulare County Coroner has determined. Arens, of Auburn, was last seen waiting in the Crescent Meadow parking lot while his brother hitched a ride to retrieve his car in Mineral King following a backpacking trip.
   It is unknown exactly how Arens arrived at the bottom of the steep embankment where his body was located, but nighttime temperatures during the period were near freezing.
   Arens is the 11th weather-related fatality in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks this year.

Fire station re-use

on county agenda

   District One Supervisor Allen Ishida has several hot issues right now, but none are more important to a handful of Three Rivers community groups than what to do with the former Fire Station 14 on South Fork Drive. The fire station has remained vacant since crews moved into the new fire station on Sierra Drive earlier this year.
   On Wednesday, Ishida announced that the re-use of the fire station would be on the Board of Supervisors agenda for their regular meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 4.

  “If I can count on the support of my colleagues on the Board, it looks like the project will be approved in concept on that day,” Ishida said. “I expect that full approval would come in the next week or so with the move-in after November 1.”
   Under the terms of the agreement with the groups who want to use the facility — Three Rivers Cemetery District, Volunteers In Patrol, and Community Food Pantry — the lead tenant would be the Three Rivers Community Services District (CSD). A condition of the deal is that the county would recoup rental income equivalent to taxable income if the building was to be sold.
   Ishida also said that the CSD has agreed in theory to manage a small toddler park next to the Three Rivers Library. It’s not yet known when the approximately $50,000 would be made available for the project.

50 YEARS AGO
’55 flood memories sought

   How can one possibly put the 1955 Three Rivers flood into perspective? Ironically, as of Aug. 29, 2005, there is a way to describe what occurred here two days before Christmas.
   On a larger scale, Hurricane Katrina’s impact on New Orleans is hauntingly similar to the Three Rivers incident. Consider this comment in the Jan. 4, 1956, issue of the Visalia Times-Delta:

  “...Rampaging waters have wiped out Three Rivers as it was previously known and the town is now a completely different place.”
   In December 2005, The Kaweah Commonwealth will publish an issue commemorating the 50th anniversary of this local disaster. To that end, we are collecting the memoirs of those who were there.
   Please submit written memoirs to The Kaweah Commonwealth via email (3rnews@kaweah-commonwealth.com), mail (P.O. Box 806), or drop off at the newspaper office (41841 Sierra Drive).
   Photos may be scanned and emailed, but the highest resolution possible should be retained. Photos may also be brought to the Commonwealth office.

‘E-cycling’ is so e-asy

   Last Saturday’s “Clean Up Event” at the Three Rivers Fire Station, sponsored by Tulare County Environmental Health, was so successful with its collection of electronics that the organizers want to ensure Three Rivers residents an opportunity to keep those outdated TVs, cell phones, and computer components going to where they belong — a recycling company. And thanks to Chantelle Horton of Three Rivers, an ongoing arrangement to recycle “e-waste” is just a phone call away.

  “I’m the do-it-yourself e-reycling contact right here in Three Rivers,” said Chantelle.
   Chantelle is a program coordinator with CSET’s new E-Recycling Solutions. The recently organized company creates jobs for the underemployed and receives recycling funds under the provisions of the Electronic Waste Recycling Act of 2003. The company organizes collection events and operates an ongoing drop-off center at 8234 West Doe in Visalia.

  “We certainly appreciate the commitment of our Three Rivers neighbors to recycle,” said Chantelle.
   To deliver electronic items to Chantelle for recycling, call 779-3592.

Park fire crews staying busy

   Quarry Fire— Ignitions on this prescribed fire in the Giant Forest area of Sequoia were ended Friday, Sept. 16. The burn, when complete, will encompass 352 acres. The popular Congress Trail was closed this week for visitor safety, but will reopen today (Sept. 23).
   Comb Fire— This wildland-use fire was lightning-caused and first discovered on July 22. It has burned over 1,000 acres in Kings Canyon NP and Sequoia National Forest, but activity is currently low.
   Grant West Fire— Ignitions on this prescribed fire began yesterday (Sept. 22). The burn will treat 366 acres, located in the northwest corner of the Grant Grove area in Kings Canyon NP. Several area trails will be closed.

TECH TALK
Gone Phishing:

Don’t get hooked

by Internet scams

by Anthony Moreno

   In May 2005, the Federal Trade Commission published a report titled, “How not to get hooked by a ‘Phishing’ scam.”
   The report describes how the scammers, or phishers, send an email posing as a company you may deal with asking you to update, validate, or confirm your personal account information. Some phishing emails threaten dire consequences if you don’t respond. You may be directed to a website that looks and sounds official, but do not succumb to these tricks. The phishers are trying to steal your identity and run up bills or commit crimes in your name.
   Here are some tips to keep you from getting scammed:
   1. Do not reply to messages or pop-ups that ask for personal or financial information;
   2. Do not click on the links to other websites;
   3. Do not email personal or financial information;
   4. Use anti-virus software and a firewall and keep them up-to-date;
   5. Review your credit card and bank statements to be sure charges shown are legitimate.
   Look to your banks and credit card companies to help you stay secure. Also, find out what they’re doing to keep their customers safe.
   Another example of when “phishing” opportunities can occur is when your mortgage company sells your loan to another mortgage company. This is a common occurrence, but to the uninitiated, it could seem suspicious. What is supposed to happen is that your current lender notifies you that your loan has been sold to another company, and they state the name of the new company. At the same time, the new lender notifies you they have taken over your loan from the current lender. Every aspect of your loan remains the same. This scenario is meant to be only informative and should not require you to answer any questions.
   No matter what, vigilance is the key to moving through cyberspace. You must take as many precautions as you possibly can to keep your identity your own.
   Anthony Moreno and his wife, Pat, own 3 Rivers Cyber Café, which specializes in high-speed Internet connections, Wi-Fi, and computer sales and repair.

HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS

Tigers struggle against Kingsburg

   When the special teams in a football game fail to make plays, it can set up an opponent with great field position or, even worse, demoralizes a defense by sending them right back out on the field without time to even catch their collective breath. Last Friday, that lack of execution on special teams was the biggest factor in the visiting Woodlake Tigers’ (0-2) loss at Kingsburg (2-0), 48-12.
   Kingsburg’s Dominic Harris returned two punts for second- quarter touchdowns and after an interception for another TD, the Vikings led at halftime, 27-6. Ryan Baker’s 56-yard completion to John Gomez accounted for a second-quarter score for Woodlake’s lone highlight in what was otherwise a difficult first-half.
   In the third quarter, senior runningback Aaron Payne scampered for an eight-yard TD. But two-point conversion failed and that was the extent of Woodlake’s offense on that fateful night.
   Woodlake plays their home-opener against Strathmore tonight (Sept. 23) at Robinson Field.
   The Tiger JVs were whitewashed last Friday, 58-0, dropping to a 1-1 record.

Cross-country girls win

Firebaugh Invitational

   Just getting to Firebaugh on the Valley’s west side takes quite an effort, but for Tiger cross-country runners they had plenty of energy left after they arrived last Tuesday afternoon (Sept. 20). The girls’ team, led by Becky Griswold, a senior from Three Rivers, placed first in a field of 15 teams.
   The boys placed second, and they were led by senior Javier Ceballos (17:29), who finished seventh overall. Ashley Contreras and Damais Mendoza finished seventh and eighth, respectively, in the girls’ race.
   Griswold finished fifth overall and completed the three-mile course in 22:46.

  “It was our first race of the season on a three-mile course,” said Becky.
   Griswold said the win was “sweet,” and she knows the Woodlake girls and boys teams have really improved and the times will get even better.
   The team travels to Hanford for a meet today (Sept. 23).


 
THE KAWEAH COMMONWEALTH is published every Friday in Three Rivers, California.
EDITORS/PUBLISHERS: John Elliott and Sarah Barton Elliott
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