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Sheriff’s Department’s Eradication Effort Nets Nearly 60,000 Marijuana Plants

For the year, multiagency operations identified and targeted 17 illegal grows and recovered pot with a street value of $120 million

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department has wrapped up its marijuana eradication season for 2011, which netted tens of thousands of illicit plants this year.

Throughout the year, the Sheriff’s Department identifies marijuana fields in Santa Barbara County, of which the majority are found in the Los Padres National Forest. The department worked in conjunction with the Department of Justice CAMP (Campaign Against Marijuana Planting) task force, the U.S. Forest Service and other law enforcement agencies during several operations that began in late July and continued into October.

For the year, the agencies worked together to identify and eradicate 17 grows in Santa Barbara County. The combined operations resulted in the destruction of nearly 60,000 plants with a street value of $120 million. No arrests were made during any of the eradication efforts.

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 residents and visitors to the forest, as well as harming the environment. The illegal growers may camp for weeks at a time, leading to large piles of garbage, human waste and the dumping of unregulated pesticides, much of which finds its way into the watershed. Many of these camps are also host to campfires and open flame stoves that are banned in the high fire danger area.

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.

The Sheriff’s Department has begun posting signs along hiking trails warning both growers and outdoor enthusiasts of the dangers of illegal marijuana grows.

Visitors to the forest are urged to contact the Sheriff’s Department if they observe any of the following: individuals carrying irrigation tubing, or 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.

Anyone with any information can anonymously call 805.681.4175, fax 805.681.4316 or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Please provide as much detail pertaining to dates, times, locations (GPS if possible) and subject/vehicle descriptions. Residents should not take action on their own, as it is not uncommon for growers to use violence in order to protect their marijuana.

— Drew Sugars is a public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

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