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Wardens with the California Department of Fish and Game prepare under a full moon for a raid on an illegal marijuana growing operation in the Sierra Nevada foothills near Kernville on Aug. 2. The raid targeted an operation that is growing large quantities of pot on public land administered by the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A California Department of Fish and Game warden wades through a marijuana patch during an early morning raid on an illegal growing operation in the Sierra Nevada foothills on Aug. 2. Set in a deep ravine fed by a small stream, 431 pot plants were nearing maturation and harvest as a group of about a dozen wardens swept in.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A warden with the California Department of Fish and Game hacks down marijuana plants found growing in a deep ravine in the Sierra Nevada foothills near Kernville. A raid that included a dozen armed wardens netted 431 pot plants that officials believed was being grown by foreign nationals for foreign drug cartels. Marijuana cultivation on public lands has exploded in California and every year law enforcement seizes millions of plants grown illegally in the wilderness.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Votive candles and religious icons form a makeshift shrine erected in an encampment occupied by marijuana growers near Kernville, just one of many such plantations sprinkled throughout public lands across the state.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Buckets containing fertilizer, pesticides and rat poison sit in an encampment used by marijuana growers in an illegal operation in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Marijuana cultivation is a major industry in California and chemicals used to cultivate marijuana on public lands have caused widespread environmental damage as the compounds leach into nearby streams that are used for irrigation.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A warden with the California Department of Fish and Game hacks down marijuana plants near an encampment used by growers to illegally cultivate the drug on public land in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Agents with the Bureau of Land Management search two men who were taken into custody during a raid on an illegal marijuana growing operation in the Sierra Nevada foothills on Aug. 2. The two men were apprehended near a patch of more than 400 marijuana plants growing in the wilderness near Lake Isabella. Officials believe that foreign suppliers have moved north of the U.S.-Mexico border to grow marijuana in an effort to avoid border checks and gain closer proximity to U.S. drug markets.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Wardens with the California Department of Fish and Game detain two men during a raid on an illegal marijuana growing operation in the Sierra Nevada foothills on Aug. 2.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Game wardens stack marijuana plants in a clearing in the forest so they can be airlifted away as part of a law enforcement sting operation on illegal growers in the Sierra Nevada.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Dozens of marijuana plants and hundreds of feet of irrigation lines are piled up for removal from an illegal marijuana growing operation in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Extensive irrigation for marijuana plants, with each consuming four to five gallons of water daily, impedes water flows in the wild, damaging sensitive riparian zones that are critical habitat for native wildlife and vegetation.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

California game wardens roll up hundreds of feet of irrigation line used to deliver water to an illegal marijuana growing operation in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Extensive irrigation for marijuana plants, with each consuming four to five gallons of water daily, impedes water flows in the wild, damaging sensitive riparian zones that are critical habitat for native wildlife and vegetation.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

A helicopter airlfits dozens of marijuana plants out of a wooded ravine in the Sierra Nevada where they were being grown illegally.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

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Raiding a marijuana grow in the Southern Sierras

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Raiding a marijuana grow in the Southern Sierras

A few minutes after 4 a.m., agents in camouflage cluster in a dusty field in Kern County. “Movement needs to be slow, deliberate and quiet,” the team leader whispers. “Lock and load now.”

They check their ammunition and assault rifles, not exactly sure who they might meet in the dark: heavily armed Mexican drug traffickers, or just poorly-paid fieldworkers camping miserably in the brush.

Twenty minutes later, after a lights-off drive for a mile, the agents climb out of two pickup trucks and sift into the high desert brush.

The granite faces of the Southern Sierra are washed in the light of a full moon. Two spotters with night-vision scopes take positions on the ridge to monitor the marijuana grow, tucked deep in a cleft of the canyon.

The rest of the agents hunker down in some sumac waiting for the call to move in. The action has to be precisely timed with raids in Bakersfield, where they hope to capture the leaders of the organization.

They have no idea how many people are up here. Thermal imaging aircraft circling high above was not detecting anyone on the ground. And trail cameras hadn’t captured images of men delivering supplies for over a week. Maybe the growers have already harvested and cleared out.

Such raids have become commonplace in California, part of a costly, frustrating campaign to eradicate ever-bigger, more destructive marijuana farms and dismantle the shadowy groups that are creating them.

Read Joe Mozingo’s article: Roots of pot cultivation in national forests are hard to trace

9 Comments

  1. December 25, 2012, 8:06 pm

    When are we going to de-fund these evil drug warrior scumbags?

  2. December 26, 2012, 1:05 am

    Is there anyone still interested in this Reefer Madness? – It is only the counter-productive fraud of marijuana prohibition that causes ALL the problems now swirling around the remarkably beneficial plant.

    No one will be growing it in the woods after we end the monstrously destructive prohibition. The plant itself is very good for the environment and the soil.

    By: jon_tomas
  3. December 26, 2012, 12:31 pm

    Yes, jon_tomas, you're right that marijuana prohibition is stupid and marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol…and has positive medical properties. But the problem here, stemming from, as you said, pot prohibition, is not that people are growing it, but that it is in a place that destroys the environment… it's not native to CA. And also, its tabooed state leaves this easy to get plant as a gateway drug to bad drugs like cocaina and amphetamines, to name a few. Finally, it helps pay Mexican cartels that are killing many innocent and good people. I do believe, like you do, that legalization will lower these problems tremendously, especially over the long term. They may remain in a smaller form, but now there will be a legal way to grow, like in Wash. and Colo., minus the drug cartels

    By: coollukie@gmail.com
  4. December 27, 2012, 12:32 pm

    Your answer is correct, in that all these problems are due to its "tabooed state." No action, other than re-legalization, will relieve these problems. In fact, "enforcement" actions only make the problem worse, causing more crime, violence, corruption, death, loss of freedom, and making the growers move around – contaminating MORE public land.

    The sooner we enact the ONLY solution, the better. Here's hoping we don't have to wait until 2014 to do so!

    By: jon_tomas
  5. December 28, 2012, 4:29 pm

    Makes me laugh! Here we gooooooooo:
    Deaths each year USA,
    Tobacco. 500,000
    Alcohol. 250,000
    Prescription drugs. 150,000 (just watch tv & see if you can avoid a lawsuit commercial)
    ALL illegal drugs. 15,000. (Uh, that's ALL illegal drugs combined!)
    ——————————————-
    TOTAL. 915,000 , Dead Each Year In USA!

    TOTAL deaths from Marijuana, since the beginning of recorded history, ZERO, Zip, none, nada, 0.00!

    By: Weeedyone@gmail.com
  6. January 24, 2013, 3:44 pm

    This nation's leaders and legislators need to acknowledge that legal alcoholic beverages are linked to some 75,000 deaths each year, but illegal marijuana is not. Alcohol can lead to drunk driving and behavioral violence. Marijuana use does not.

    It appears the primary motive for continuing to keep marijuana illegal is the profit motive on the part of privatized prisons, and the paper, clothing and pharmaceutical industries. These industries may undergo an economic impact when marijuana is finally legalized, so they lobby against legalization.

    To date, their interests have prevailed over the public interest. This will end, eventually. Meanwhile there are unnecessary enforcement actions and imprisonments because of current laws.

    By: zekwean
  7. February 18, 2013, 7:46 pm

    Weed made me inactive and unproductive and messed with my long term memory. What happens to someone who goes to a public park where people are doing weed, and they breathe it in enough that it can show up in a blood test? If you were working as a shuttle driver, etc., or surgeon, or pilot, or ran mechanical gear in a company that regularly checked your blood, also like a professional sports person, and this showed up in a test….what is a good answer to this?

    By: Thedre@value.net
  8. February 27, 2013, 5:55 pm

    If it weren't for the idiotic pot laws, HALF of the so called "justice system" in America would be laid off and without work.

    THAT is why government keeps pot illegal.

    So they don't lose their cozy little government gigs.

    By: Justagjy@aol.com
  9. February 27, 2013, 5:58 pm

    The hypocrit government slugs allow tobacco to be sold because they get their "tax revenue" from it despite that FACT that tobacco causes lung cancer.

    What do you call government types that allow that?

    Prostitutes. Anything to keep the money in their own pockets.

    Notice, they are willing to allow pot but only if it gets taxed?

    By: Alcoholorpot@aol.com

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