The U.S. Attorney announced Tuesday the success of a multi-state and multi-agency operation that has so far seized more than $1.1 billion in marijuana found growing throughout the country.
Investigations are ongoing in San Diego for Operation Mountain Sweep, which has located nearly 100 illegal marijuana farms in California, San Diego's U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said in a statement Tuesday.
Before Operation Mountain Sweep began in July, San Diego agents found more than 500 marijuana drug farms in the last five years. The farms are typically hidden in dense avocado forests in the North County, or in rural spaces near the Cleveland National Forest.
One farm located near Warner Springs in July was found with $41 million in marijuana growing.
But Duffy's office and the agencies working with it say the increased effort isn't just about eradicating a source of the local drug trade. Their focuses have also turned toward the after-effects of the farms on the surrounding ecosystems.
“Despite individual convictions about marijuana use, as a community we need to consider the damage that mass cultivation inflicts on our precious natural resources,” Duffy said.
After discovering the marijuana farms, agents typically find hazardous materials left behind, such as car engines, rat poisoning and fertilizers.
“Most people likely have no idea how much marijuana is grown on public lands or that these grows are being operated at the expense of our pristine forests and parks,” she said.
Many of the sites located by agents are found completely trashed, Duffy said. A statewide team was assembled to remove trash and hazardous materials. The team has cleaned two former marijuana farms, including one near Cal State San Marcos.
The poison left behind has been found in owls, foxes and other wildlife.
The High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew is one of the groups that have helped state workers clean up grow sites at national parks. The group's director Shane Krogen said he was astounded to see old oak trees knocked down to make room for one farm.
“I’m internally crying at the damage I’ve seen,” he said. “If the people of California saw what was going on out here they would be up in arms. It’s about the environment, not about whether pot should be legal. It doesn’t matter if it’s tomatoes."