25,102 marijuana plants, recently discovered on U.S. Forest Service land, were eradicated on Friday, July 24, by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department and Los Padres National Forest law enforcement officials. The grow-with an estimated street value of $75 million, determined by their projected harvest yield regardless of their current size- was found during a routine surveillance sweep. “This time of year is when a lot of the crops are growing, so we keep an eye on it,” said Drew Sugars, a Sheriff’s Department spokesperson, adding that the plantings are usually spotted by aerial surveillance, or, less commonly, when hikers stumble upon them.
Some 30 law enforcement personnel, and several helicopters, were used in Friday’s operation - located north of East Camino Cielo Road in Blue Canyon - but no suspects were encountered. Sugars said that the Sheriff’s Department finds grows throughout the year, and that similarities are often noted between different grows and their accompanying encampments. However, because those who tend the impromptu farms tend to be mobile, officials often don’t arrive until after they’ve left. When a pot field was busted by deputies earlier this year, its tenders escaped in the nick of time. “Literally, there were still tortillas cooking,” said Sugars. Furthermore, some of the few who have been apprehended were not in the possession of identification documents, and were believed to be Mexican nationals. “It’s been pretty difficult to track people down.”
With the grow tucked into some pretty tricky terrain, one of the Sheriff’s deputies was injured and had to be airlifted out by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, but the injury turned out not to be serious. Sugars encouraged hikers who encounter evidence of illegal marijuana grows to leave the area immediately and report the location to law enforcement. He also said that any kind of confrontation with the proprietors of these botanical anomalies should be avoided. Earlier this year, two campers were chased by alleged marijuana farmers near New Cuyama, although charges against the two men detained by Sheriff’s deputies were later dropped by the District Attorney due to insufficient evidence against them.