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$1 billion in pot uprooted from public lands in California, West

August 21, 2012 |  6:42 pm

Idaho pot
More than 550,000 marijuana plants with an estimated street value of $1 billion have been seized during an eight-week crackdown targeting illegal marijuana growing operations on public lands across seven Western states, federal authorities announced on Tuesday.

Operation Mountain Sweep, which started July 1, netted 96 illegal marijuana grows in California and resulted in the indictments of 28 suspects. Pot farms were discovered in several national parks, including Death Valley, and in Sequoia and Mendocino National Forests, authorities said.

Rugged terrain on federal lands have become favored areas for pot growers who often live for weeks in the remote areas. Authorities discovered huge amounts of trash, miles of irrigation line, fertilizer and pesticides at the various grow sites.

“Marijuana trafficking organizations seek to turn our nation’s parks and public lands into their own drug havens,” said DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart. “Operation Mountain Sweep is a concerted effort to reclaim these wild and beautiful areas and protect them from further destruction and exploitation.”

The operation in California also resulted in the seizure of eight firearms. About 100,000 marijuana plants were eradicated in Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

The multi-agency operation was carried out by the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The California National Guard also provided the use of helicopters throughout the operation, authorities said.

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-- Richard Marosi, in San Diego

Photo: A helicopter hoists marijuana plants from federal land in southeastern Idaho this month. Credit: Doug Lindley/Idaho State Journal

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