The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office Marijuana Eradication team, which was accompanied by its SWAT team and state Fish and Wildlife wardens, found 10,000 marijuana plants (TV news valued them at $40 million) in a remote canyon in the southeastern part (Google Map) of Henry Coe State Park near Gilroy, California. Officers also recovered two .22-caliber pellet rifles with high-powered scopes from the garden, which was likely operated by a Mexican cartel, according to Sheriff Laurie Smith. The Santa Cruz Sentinel states:
“These are hugely dangerous operations,” said Smith, who monitored the eradication effort from a command post within the park. “It’s one of the most dangerous things that we do. We haven’t found a grow ever that didn’t have evidence of firearms.”
The SWAT team was sent in today because the sheriff’s office believed that the marijuana garden was guarded by armed men. The garden was located in early June, at the same site as a growing operation last summer. Later in the month, someone found irrigation piping running down the mountain from a rancher’s pond. The person reported rifle fire as he was looking at the canyon through binoculars.
Mark Michilizzi, a warden with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the average marijuana plant consumes about five gallons of water per day, and often times the growers dump fertilizers and pesticides straight into the water source. Illegal growers also pollute and dam creeks and streams to water the marijuana plants.
“A lot of people don’t realize the extent of the environmental damage that occurs as a result of these marijuana grows, everything from illegal pesticides to fertilizers to large amounts of garbage,” Michilizzi said. “It’s a very serious problem.”
So far this year, the sheriff’s office has made 19 arrests, and the state Department of Fish and Game has eradicated about 150,000 marijuana plants. In the past two years, eradication teams cut down over 261,000 marijuana plants, arrested 51 people on a variety of environmental, drug, and weapons charges, and seized about two dozen weapons, including so-called “assault rifles” (whatever THEY are).
The California Highway Patrol assisted in today’s operation by sending in one of its helicopters to tote the 400-800-pound bundles of marijuana plants out of the park.
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