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47,000 Marijuana Plants Destroyed During Eradication Season in Santa Barbara County

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department is releasing the results of the 2014 marijuana eradication season.

For the past several months, the Sheriff’s Department with the assistance of the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), the U.S. Forest Service and the California National Guard have been working together to locate and eradicate illegal marijuana grows in Santa Barbara County.

This year, most of the illegal grows were discovered on national forest land by Santa Barbara County Air Support with the assistance of the Sheriff’s Special Operations Bureau. In all, 10 marijuana eradication operations were conducted resulting in the destruction and removal of 47,000 plants in 18 separate illegal marijuana gardens. The destroyed plants are worth an estimated street value of $131 million.

An additional estimated 18,000 marijuana plants were either harvested prior to eradication or found dead/dying due to the drought. During the marijuana eradication operations, functional high-powered rifles were located in the empty camps used by the marijuana growers.

Large-scale marijuana cultivation is a serious and increasingly widespread problem on public lands in California, including the Los Padres National Forest. These illegal operations threaten the safety of the residents and visitors to the forest, as well as harming the environment. The illegal growers may camp for extended periods of time, leading to large piles of garbage, human waste and the dumping of unregulated pesticides, much of which finds its way into the water table.

Many of these camps are also host to campfires and open flame stoves that are banned in the high-fire danger areas of the forest. The 2009 La Brea Fire, which burned more than 90,000 acres in North Santa Barbara County, is blamed on a cooking fire at a camp within an illegal marijuana grow.

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-powered rifles, and they have been known to place booby-traps designed to seriously maim or kill intruders.

Over the years, evidence recovered at locations where illegal marijuana grows has been located, indicate that Mexican nationals were living in the gardens and tending to them. Mexican nationals have had an increased presence in illegal marijuana cultivation in the Los Padres Forest, where they grow marijuana and transport it to the Southern and Eastern United States for resale.

The public can assist law enforcement by immediately reporting suspicious activity on forest land such as individuals carrying irrigation tubing, gardening supplies or large amounts of packaged food. If you see someone who seems out of place and may be involved in illegal marijuana grows, do not make contact with them as they may be violent.

Anyone with information is asked to call 805.681.4175 or send a fax to 805.681.4316. You can also send an email to [email protected]. To leave an anonymous tip, call 805.681.4171. Please provide as much detail pertaining to dates, times, locations (GPS if possible) and subject/vehicle descriptions.

— Kelly Hoover is a public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department.


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