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