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Sheriff’s Department’s Eradication Effort Nets 35,000 Marijuana Plants

In a three-day period, officials seize $87 million worth of pot in three locations, all within the national forest.

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During its annual marijuana eradication, in which the sheriff’s department identifies marijuana fields in Santa Barbara County, officials have seized 34,996 mature marijuana plants with an estimated street value of $87.5 million. (Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department photo)

Earlier this week, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department began the task of annual marijuana eradication, in which the department identifies marijuana fields in Santa Barbara County throughout the year.

The majority of the grows are found in the national forest areas of the county. Working in conjunction with the Department of Justice CAMP (Campaign Against Marijuana Production) task force and the National Forest Service, about 35 law enforcement personnel participated in the eradication efforts.

In a three-day period, the operation cleared grows in three locations, all within the national forest. The locations included two large grows in the Juncal Dam area, which yielded 13,501 plants, three separate grows in a wilderness area west of Lake Cachuma, which yielded 18,555 plants, and four grows in Bear Canyon area, which yielded 2,940 plants.

In total, the sheriff’s department seized 34,996 mature marijuana plants. The estimated street value of the plants seized totals $87.5 million, according to a DEA valuation. 

No arrests were made during the operations. 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 increased presence in illegal marijuana cultivation in the United States.

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. The illegal operations threaten the safety of residents and visitors as well as harming the environment. The increasingly large and sophisticated marijuana plantations are very often the work of dangerous drug cartels. Forest visitors or residents who happen upon them may be harassed or assaulted. The growers are usually armed, sometimes with automatic weapons and high-power rifles, and they have been known to place “booby-traps” designed to seriously maim or kill intruders. 

Visitors to the National Forrest 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 lack of water flow in creeks should contact the sheriff’s department immediately.

Click here for more information on CAMP.

Alex Tipolt is a sergeant with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

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