$1.7B worth of marijuana destroyed in Central Valley

FRESNO, Calif.

For three weeks law enforcement in Fresno, Tulare and Madera counties have been working together to take down some sophisticated drug rings.

Most, if not all of the suspects are Mexican Nationals who work long hours tending to these marijuana groves. In three weeks, more than 432,000 plants were found and destroyed.

Law enforcement says demand continues to fuel the ongoing problem in the foothills of the Central Valley.

The search for vibrant green patches begins in the air before law enforcement officers drop down into the foothills for dangerous and dirty work.

Every year new challenges await. This season, a noticeable difference, plants are sprouting up in higher elevations.

"You can see the remote areas that they are in now. Sometimes we have to crawl in on our hands and knees to get to the location. They've become more sophisticated and we've become more sophisticated in locating them," Tulare County Sheriff Bill Wittman said.

With each plant worth about $2,000 it's worth fighting for. Growers are often armed and ready for a confrontation.

Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims says the suspects don't just stay where they work; many make their way to the valley floor to re-stock on food and supplies.

"They're armed, organized criminals who come down into our communities. Shop in our stores, in our businesses and have connections to other criminals living in and amongst us," Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims said.

Thursday morning, the director of National Drug Control Policy came from Washington D.C. to see "Operation Trident" firsthand. He saw the same thing officers did- clear cutting, pollution and destruction of pristine forests by organized drug cartels.

"You see garbage. You see miles and miles of drip line, you see watershed areas that have been changed. You see the stumps of trees that of course will never grow back," Dir. Office of National Drug Policy Gil Kerlikowske said.

Chasing the green is an ongoing chore for law enforcement. Just when they get more high tech equipment and resources, drug traffickers overhaul their operations.

Drug pushers are aware of the same thing as law enforcement. Marijuana is the number one drug in demand and profitability.

"If you take the proceeds from marijuana, it exceeds all the other drug proceeds combined. That would be cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin. Marijuana exceeds all that," Tommy LaNier Dir. National Marijuana Initiative said.

After the plants are plucked from the ground and hauled away, the irrigation systems are also destroyed to prevent growers from returning to the same spot next season.

Unfortunately streams are also contaminated through fertilizers and pesticides, so it's hard to reverse some of the damage.

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