PLUMAS NATIONAL FOREST, CA - In a raid lasting nearly 15 hours, officers with the U.S. Forest Service and Butte County Sheriff's Department arrested one man and tore out 1,271 marijuana plants Tuesday morning.
The raid, organized by the Forest Service, began after a Butte County helicopter pilot spotted the grow site near the top of the forest.
Officers had to hike up extremely rugged terrain to reach the grow sites, which combined were the size of several football fields.
"I've seen two-hour hikes, three-hour hikes, that's about an average distance," said Darryl Rush, special agent for the Forest Service.
Once at the top, Rush said, "Each plant, from what I'm seeing here, could produce a half to a pound per plant."
Totaled, the plants were worth $1.9 million.
Rush was part of an eradication team that waited for an initial entry team to secure the grow site. That team started hiking at 4 a.m. and because it was so dark, they couldn't see the person next to them.
"With this terrain, it's really steep. If you step wrong, you could miss something and you're going down the hill," said sheriff's Sgt. Steve Collins.
Collins said the goal is always to get in quietly and surprise whoever is living at the grow site.
"And then, when he's close enough, we grab him," he said. "Otherwise, they run off and we don't find them. If they're 10, 20 feet away from you -- good luck trying to catch them."
Tuesday, the grower, Manuel Perez-Arroele, was caught before the sun came up. His campsite was sophisticated. Two tents, a kitchen and drip lines ran through, which stole water from a nearby creek to irrigate the marijuana.
"The streams that feed into the lakes and reservoirs for our consumption is actually being diverted to grow this stuff," said Rush.
The eradication team used a helicopter to lift the marijuana out of the forest. It was extra effort each officer said was well worth it.
"Otherwise, our forests and private land that's owned by the timber companies or somebody's own personal property would just be overrun with these marijuana grows," said Collins.
By Nick Monacelli, firstname.lastname@example.org