The California National Guard on Monday joined more than a dozen other agencies to help the Yurok tribe combat rampant marijuana grows that have threatened the reservation's water supply, harmed its salmon and interfered with cultural ceremonies.
The Humboldt County Sheriff's Drug Enforcement Unit coordinated the raid and was joined by, among others, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Bureau of Land Management, California Department of Justice' North State Marijuana Investigation Team, and Yurok police.
California's largest tribe has sought help combating marijuana grows in the past but until now never received such a vigorous response. Then the drought hit.
The strains on dual water systems that serve 200 households and rely entirely on surface water became apparent last summer, when residents began complaining of plummeting pressure.
When tribal staff surveyed the land from a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter, they were startled at the number of grows. By this summer they had tripled, Masten estimated. And when the marijuana crop was planted in late spring, community water gauges once again swung low.
This time, creeks ran dry.
"Streams I've seen in prior years with more severe droughts where water ran, there's no water now," said O'Rourke.
To strengthen its enforcement abilities, the tribal council last fall approved a new controlled substance ordinance that allow for civil forfeiture in circumstances where cultivation has harmed the environment.
The breakthrough came in April when governor's office staff was discussing the drought with tribal officials. Gov. Jerry Brown, tribal officials were told, had pressed for California National Guard assistance with marijuana eradication and specifically urged the Office of the Adjutant General to assist in the Yurok operation, said Captain Pat Bagley, operations officer in charge at the scene.
He was expecting to haul out two miles of irrigation hose at one grow alone.
For the Yurok, the damage is broad. Sediment and chemical runoff have suffocated juvenile fish, and warmer, shallower water has triggered an increase in the parasite Ceratomyxa shasta, which targets salmon.
"We are coming close to being prisoners in our own land," O'Rourke said. "Everything we stand for, everything we do is impacted."
On Saturday night, as the raid loomed, he and Masten were participating in a Brush Dance -- a dance for the health and vibrancy of a child. At a village site near the mouth of the river, tribal members entered the dance pit in groups throughout the night as a medicine woman and two helpers tended to a young mother and her infant boy.
The Brush Dance is hosted by family groups and the frequency of the ceremonies has increased in recent years as the tribe reconnects with its culture, and more youth participate.