During a three-day sting targeting illegal outdoor marijuana gardens last week, authorities with the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office removed miles of irrigation tubes, cleaned up four tons of trash and destroyed the infrastructure of numerous cultivation sites in South County, police said.
The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Marijuana Eradication Team focused on eight different sites along Pacheco Pass Highway, Gilroy Hot Springs Road, Croy Road in Morgan Hill, Casa Loma Road and areas within Henry Coe State Park, according to Sheriff’s Sgt. Jose Cardoza.
Game wardens from the California Department of Fish and Game participated in the raids as well, Cardoza said.
Authorities used helicopters to “short haul” into the illegal marijuana growing sites by hanging on the end of a 100-foot line from the aircraft, which placed officers directly into the remote areas hidden amid the wilderness, Cardoza said.
This method of transporting officers is common in such operations, as it allows personnel to enter the illegal sites more efficiently, Cardoza said. Without the helicopters, it would have taken several days to reach some of the sites and remove the heavy quantities of garbage.
The helicopters also helped to haul out thousands of pounds of trash, which included propane tanks, fertilizers, car batteries, food wrappers, pesticides, camping supplies and gardening equipment, authorities said.
“They even removed a Honda muffler on the mountainside a mile west of the Gilroy Hot Springs Bridge that was most likely being used to muffle the sounds of a generator,” Cardoza said.
Cracking down on such remote, illegal marijuana gardens not only helps to prevent such crimes in the future; it also removes harmful chemicals and other pollutants that suspects often leave behind when harvest time is over, police said.
“It’s amazing just how much damage the unlawful marijuana cultivators cause to the environment, and the amount of trash they bring to these pristine locations in our county,” said Detective Puente of the Sheriff’s MET. “As an avid outdoorsman it saddens me to think of the amount of time it will take for these areas to fully recover.”
On Friday at one of the sites – in the Coon Creek area of Henry Coe State Park – authorities used the Dowdy Ranch ranger station as a helicopter landing area to haul officers into an illegal marijuana garden, Cardoza said.
“They short hauled over the North Fork of Pacheco Creek in mid-30-degree temperatures to get to the garden three miles away, which would otherwise take four to five hours to hike to,” Cardoza said.
The sheriff’s office uses grant money from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program to fund these types of operations, as well as eradication missions during the summer growing season, police said.
In 2012, the sheriff’s MET has eradicated 91,403 marijuana plants, confiscated 500 pounds of processed marijuana, busted 22 outdoor and seven indoor marijuana grows, made 21 arrests and seized nine firearms, Cardoza said.