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Massive pot plantation eradicated in Ventura County

June 4, 2012 |  5:50 pm

Clandestine marijuana plantation in the Los Padres National Forest
A Ventura CountysSheriff’s narcotics squad has eradicated a 13-acre marijuana plantation in Los Padres National Forest near Ojai that officials said had the capacity to produce some 11 tons of pot, with a potential street value of $88 million had it grown to harvest.

A sheriff's helicopter discovered the plantation during a flyover. Two plots had been cleared of their natural vegetation to make way for more than 22,000 marijuana plants about 2 feet high. There were also several campsites, said Sgt. Mike Horne, the squad's supervisor.

The plantation used thousands of feet of irrigation tubes, drawing water from reservoirs that the growers created by blocking mountain streams.

In addition, detectives reported finding a kitchen with cooking surfaces made from what appeared to be dismantled picnic benches. The kitchen had a large propane stove, cabinets with several shelves and hundreds of pounds of food, said Horne.

It took nine narcotics detectives five hours to eradicate the plantation. Deputies said they found the plantation abandoned and no one has been arrested in the case, though an investigation is continuing, Horne said.

In the last decade, national forests and public lands in California have been the sites of clandestine marijuana plantations of increasing size and sophistication, mostly run by groups of Mexican growers, often from the state of Michoacan, according to state narcotics officers The Times has interviewed.

Ventura County narcotics squads eradicated 157,000 plants last year, up from 120,000 in 2010, Horne said.

Horne said the site showed pervasive destruction of the forest that included the use of commercial fertilizers and gopher and rabbit poison.

"How long's it going to take that to recover?" Horne said. "I fly over sites from the early 1990s and they're still trashed."


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Photo: Clandestine marijuana plantation, Los Padres National Forest; Credit: Ventura County Sheriff's Office