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68,000 Pot Plants Found in Los Padres Forest

July 17, 2008

By Adam Foxman, Ventura County Star, Calif.

Jul. 17–Authorities seized more than 68,000 marijuana plants with an estimated street value of $306 million during two eradication operations this week in the Los Padres National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service announced Wednesday.

The marijuana farms were discovered during aerial reconnaissance missions by the Ventura and Kern County sheriff’s departments, said Kathy Good, a Forest Service spokeswoman. The discoveries were not connected to recent fires in the Los Padres forest.

An operation with more than 14,000 plants was dismantled in Ventura County on Tuesday, following the seizure of an estimated 54,000 plants in Kern County on Monday.

During the past decade, an average of 30,000 to 40,000 pot plants have been found in the national forest each year, Good said. “This was a pretty big haul.”

About 40 officers from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department, U.S. Forest Service and state Department of Parks and Recreation removed plants Tuesday from plots in the remote Gold Hill area near Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area, according to the Forest Service.

Two men from Los Angeles County were arrested Friday during a food drop, in which food and other essentials were taken to people working in the gardens, authorities said.

Detectives arrested Alejandro Anguiano, 35, of Alhambra, and Jorge Lucatero, 28, of Pico Rivera, on suspicion of conspiracy to cultivate marijuana. Both men were held Wednesday at Todd Road Jail in Santa Paula. Anguiano was ineligible for bail because of an immigration hold listing him in an alleged illegal entry. Lucatero’s bail was set at $100,000.

The camp was abandoned when authorities arrived Tuesday. Officers found camp sites, irrigation systems and ammunition in the area. The ammunition included rounds for AK-47 assault rifles, shotguns and .357-caliber handguns, but authorities did not find any weapons, sheriff’s Sgt. Pat MacAuley said.

The marijuana plants were loaded onto helicopters and probably will be burned in Camarillo, authorities said.

On Monday, authorities removed an estimated 54,000 marijuana plants from plots along Santiago Creek near Cerro Noroeste Road in Kern County. Combined with the Ventura County plants, the pot had a potential street value of $306 million, according to authorities.

About 40 officers from the Forest Service, Kern County Sheriff’s Department, Federal High Intensity Drug Area Task Force, state Department of Fish and Game and the California Department of Justice’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting participated in Monday’s operation.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department participated in roughly 20 marijuana seizures last year but none this large, MacAuley said. Most marijuana plots are well camouflaged, but this one was easy to spot from the air, he said.

“It wasn’t camouflaged well at all,” said MacAuley, leading him to believe the growers were “either very bold or very stupid.”

In fact, deputies raided the same site last year, he said. Marijuana growers routinely return to the same spots in the national forest because they need south- or west-facing areas near water sources, but they usually wait two to four years, MacAuley said.

In Kern County, officers found camp sites, irrigation systems, fertilizer, trash and propane tanks in the area, the Forest Service reported. Large areas of native shrubs and trees had been destroyed to make room for the plants.

Environmental damage is a hallmark of marijuana farms. Growers typically surround their plots with rat poison, use streams as toilets and dump trash in barrancas, MacAuley said.

“What they do to the environment is totally amazing,” he said.

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Copyright (c) 2008, Ventura County Star, Calif.

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