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Operation Mountain Sweep Targets Illegal Marijuiana Grows on Public Lands

The enforcement operation spanned 7 states,  eradicating Marijuana worth more than $1.45 Billion from Public Lands.  U.S. Attorneys in several states announced the final results in Operation Mountain Sweep, an eight-week, multi-agency and multistate marijuana operation targeting large-scale, illegal marijuana grows on public lands in seven states. The operation, previously announced on August 21, lasted from July 1 through August 31, and involved law enforcement activity on public lands in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington. In the course of Operation Mountain Sweep, federal, state and local law enforcement officers in the seven states eradicated more than 726,000 marijuana plants from public lands. The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates the value of this marijuana to be over $1.45 billion.

In California, Operation Mountain Sweep involved law enforcement operations on public lands in dozens of counties. Law enforcement officers in California eradicated more than 130 marijuana grow sites on public lands, seizing at least 540,000 marijuana plants. The marijuana plants seized on public lands represent 65 percent of all marijuana plants seized in California since July 1. Huge amounts of trash, miles of irrigation line, and many pounds of fertilizer and pesticides were removed from grow sites on public lands.

In the Eastern District of California, 26 defendants were indicted as part of Operation Mountain Sweep. All of the defendants were arrested during operations at marijuana grow sites on public lands in July and August. Fourteen firearms were seized in the course of those arrests.

Public land suffers the effects of the illegal marijuana grows long after the crop is harvested. Marijuana growers remove natural vegetation to make room for the marijuana, they cut down trees to allow sunlight into the site, and they divert streams from their natural path to irrigate the land. They introduce chemicals and poisons to fertilize the crops and use rodenticides and insecticides indiscriminately, harming the land and waterways. Trash and equipment litter abandoned sites for years to come. Some of the most pristine public land in the West is being scarred in this way and cannot recover without costly human intervention.

U.S. Attorney Wagner said: “Those who cultivate marijuana on public lands pose a safety threat to the public and an environmental threat to the land and to wildlife. Our efforts to protect those public lands are working – after years of increasing, the number of plants located on public lands in California is decreasing – but the problem is still severe, and we cannot declare victory. Operation Mountain Sweep is over, but the 2012 marijuana harvest season is still underway, and so are our enforcement efforts.”

Operation Mountain Sweep was supported by the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, which provided operational coordination, funding and intelligence management. Ten HIDTAs in the seven states participated in the operation.

In California, Operation Mountain Sweep was carried out by federal agents from the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and by state and local law enforcement officers. In California, those included officers from the California Department of Justice and sheriff’s deputies from numerous counties. The California National Guard provided critical operations support, planning and logistics, including the use of helicopters throughout the operation.

The following data, which may not include all results during Operation Mountain Sweep, is based on DEA data and California Cannabis Eradication and Reclamation Team data, July 1 – August 31, 2012:

Participating State

Overall Total Marijuana Plant Seizures

Public Land Marijuana Plant Seizures

Percentage of Plants Seized on Public Lands

Arizona

25,666

25,000

97.41%

California

837,586

540,049

64.48%

Idaho

61,878

53,454

86.39%

Nevada

44,738

30,861

68.98%

Oregon

9,206

8,788

95.46%

Utah

9,574

4,211

43.98%

Washington

93,313

64,506

69.13%

TOTALS

1,081,961

726,869

66.69%

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