Sheriff's Office Conducts Back Country Marijuana Eradication
Los Padres National Forest- August 17th, 2012
Last week, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office with the assistance of other law enforcement agencies completed several days of Marijuana Eradication. The Sheriff’s Office identifies marijuana fields in Santa Barbara County throughout the year. The majority of these grows are found in the National Forest areas within Santa Barbara County. Approximately 25 law enforcement personnel participated in the eradication efforts working in conjunction with the CA Department of Justice CAMP (Campaign Against Marijuana Production) Task Force and the National Forest Service and the Santa Barbara County Search & Rescue Team.
Over a period of several days, the operation cleared grows in numerous locations, all within the National Forest. Two notable locations included a multiple grow in the Sierra Madre Road area generally south west of Cuyama, an area which yielded approximately 10,500 marijuana plants in various stages of growth ranging from a few inches high to over five feet tall. Another area off of East Camino Cielo yielded over 1,300 plants in various stages of growth. A loaded 9mm handgun was found in the growers’ camp at this location. In total, the operation seized approximately 11,857 mature marijuana plants. The estimated street value of the plants seized totals $29,642,500.00 according to a DEA valuation. Also located was approximately 38 pounds of processed marijuana with an estimated street value of $95,000.
As part of this eradication, trash, tents, tarps and various chemicals to include rat poison was removed from the illegal gardens. The amount of trash removed exceeded 2,300 pounds. During the eradication of outdoor marijuana grows, we have seen the negative impact of these illegal gardens on the environment. The illegal dumping of trash, pesticides and poisons pollutes the water supply and the damming and rerouting of natural streams and creeks prohibit the natural vegetation from a flourishing. In 2009, the cause and origin of the 90,000 acre La Brea Fire was determined to be a faulty propane tank in an illegal marijuana garden. There were a total of eight propane tanks taken out of the illegal marijuana gardens during this eradication operation.
Also noticed during this operation was evidence of illegal poaching with in the National Forest near the illegal grows. Animal parts to include antlers and skins were found within the camps associated with the illegal marijuana gardens.
No arrests were made during the operations although the camps associated with the marijuana grows were inhabited until just prior to law enforcements’ arrival at the locations. Evidence recovered at several locations indicate that Mexican Nationals were living in grows and tending to them. Over the years, Mexican Nationals have had an increase presence in illegal marijuana cultivation in the United States.
The CAMP eradication figures illustrate the trend toward Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations increasingly growing cannabis in California as an additional way to introduce an illicit source of marijuana into the US. According to CAMP authorities, in the late 1990s large grows typically contained 3,000 to 5,000 plants; in 2003 large grows typically contained 5,000 to 10,000 plants, with several having 30,000 to 40,000 plants. It would not be unusual for Santa Barbara County to find grows of this size in this county. Correspondingly, marijuana seizures within 150 miles of the California portion of the U.S.-Mexico border have decreased during this time (US Dept. of Justice Drug Intelligence Center).
Large-scale marijuana cultivation is a serious and increasingly widespread problem on public lands in California, including the Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara County. These illegal operations threaten the safety of our residents and visitors to the National Forest as well as severely damaging the environment. The increasingly large and sophisticated marijuana plantations are very often the work of dangerous drug cartels, and forest visitors or residents who happen upon them may be harassed or assaulted. The growers are usually armed, sometimes with automatic weapons, high-power rifles and have been known to place booby-traps designed to seriously maim or kill intruders.
Visitors to the National Forest who observe individuals carrying irrigation tubing, packing in large amounts of food, the same vehicle parked in the same area multiple times per week/month, new trails or increased use to areas where there would appear to be no attraction, or unusual loss of flow of water in creeks should contact the Sheriff’s Office Immediately.
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