In June 2019, the Office of National Drug Control Policy sent guidance to the Department of Agriculture on addressing the President’s strategy on confronting today’s drug control challenges. There were three overarching priorities that the department’s activities could contribute to the top objectives: prevention, treatment and recovery, and reducing the availability of illicit drugs in the United States.
From that guidance U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officers have been asked to continue their work in strengthening the capacity of state, local and tribal communities to identify and prevent substance misuse. Woven into that is an expectation to support and reinforce the positive resources that family, friends and the community can bring to bear on this crisis at both the prevention as well as the treatment and recovery levels.
D.A.R.E. TO RESIST DRUGS
That is where the D.A.R.E., Drug Abuse Resistance Education, program comes in. D.A.R.E. was founded in 1983 and has proven so successful that it has been implemented in thousands of schools throughout the United States and 50+ other countries. D.A.R.E. is a police officer-led series of classroom lessons that teaches children from kindergarten through 12th grade how to resist peer pressure and live productive drug and violence-free lives.
Don Hoang, Special Agent in Charge for the Pacific Southwest Region, looked towards this time-tested program as a way to address the priority of prevention. His intent is for his natural resource protection officers to become D.A.R.E. trained and, “work and coordinate with our partners to provide community based education and awareness in accordance with D.A.R.E. program mission and vision.”
“We will collaborate with our partners and participate in community events and school outreach programs,” said Hoang. “The D.A.R.E. program will represent a positive and enriching environment for the Forest Service, our law enforcement and investigation team, and the communities we serve.”
FOREST SERVICE OFFICERS IN THE COMMUNITIES
Yvette Orellana, one of a dozen Forest Service law enforcement officers (LEO) selected to attend the training, participated in a free, 80-hour class hosted by Napa County Sheriff’s Department side-by-side with 23 officers and deputies from Napa and Lake county sheriffs, City of Mountain View, American Canyon, Irvine and Saint Helena police departments, Pueblo County Sheriff’s in Colorado, and the United States Air Force, Army and Marine Corps.
“We learned how to teach and facilitate discussions about elementary, middle and high school curricula, as well as its enhancement lessons on subjects that include bullying, Internet safety and over-the-counter prescription drug and opiates abuse,” said Orellana, a former Department of Defense police officer.
“I am excited about the Forest Service being a part of the D.A.R.E. initiative,” said Orellana, who has previous experience as a D.A.R.E. officer. “[Forest Service officers] are often only seen as enforcing the law. This program allows us to show a different side. We are able to communicate with our local communities about education and awareness on combating drugs.”
Orellana, who has been a LEO since 2012, is assigned to the Angeles National Forest and has already added two schools to the five she previously taught with more visits scheduled as the Forest Service look to connect more with the local neighborhoods that surround their forests.
“It is so important [the Forest Service] stays connected to their surrounding communities. The children really take to this program and become more confident,” said Orellana. “We also give them the tools to deal with tricky situations. Our involvement, our visibility at the schools and community events, will bring us closer to those we serve and protect and that in return will help the public feel more comfortable with [LEOs] when they interact with us out in the forest.”
THE FIGHT TO PROTECT PUBLIC LANDS CONTINUES
The third priority is one well-known to LEO in the Pacific Southwest Region of the Forest Service. Reducing the availability of illicit drugs in the United States by disrupting and dismantling the illicit drug production infrastructure has been on-going for many years in California’s national forests.
Historically, approximately 64 percent of all drug trafficking organization activity occurred in California. Since fiscal year 2000, more than 25,700,000 marijuana plants have been eradicated nationally and over 22,000,000 have been eradicated in California alone.
Illegal marijuana cultivation on public lands, and within National Forest System lands in particular, is a significant issue. ONDCP and the Department of Agriculture strongly support continued firm action against the exploitation of public lands through increased detection, disruption, reclamation, and prosecutions.
According to Kevin Mayer, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Forest Service Pacific Southwest Region, from October 2017 to November 2019 more than 350 illegal marijuana grow sites, yielding over 1 million plants, were discovered, raided and eradicated on state, private and federal lands with over an additional 100 investigations conducted into other operations. Law enforcement and counterdrug personnel, ecology research specialists, volunteers and invested partners helped reclaim 261 sites that have scarred the land from previous years. Some timely raids during those grow seasons garnered close to 120 suspects arrested with over 50 weapons seized.
IT TAKES A TASK FORCE
Leveraging the full capabilities of multi-jurisdictional task force programs shows strong support for counterdrug enforcement and enhances information sharing at all levels to ensure that national data systems receive input from state, local, and tribal agencies, and that these agencies, in turn, have access to data compiled by Federal agencies that can prove vital to their own investigations.
These strategies on confronting today’s drug control challenges are being dealt with by officers like Orellana and Mayer who understand the critical education of the younger generation while having situational awareness of the threat posed to the land, the water, the wildlife and to the public by those intent on destroying it for their own needs.
From USDA Forest Service
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Copyright © 2021 D.A.R.E. America.
All Rights Reserved.