The sheriff's department flies reconnaissance missions as marijuana plants start to mature in the late summer. In years past, they've discovered dozens of grow sites in our national forests in a single year. But the spot where we went Tuesday was one of only three this year, and vice teams think there's a good reason for the decline.
The most remote parts of /*Fresno County*/ are some of the most popular for marijuana growers. But vice investigators in helicopters say they found one hiding in the /*Sierra National Forest*/ and they raided it.
Investigators flew to the top of Indian Rock where they found a /*marijuana*/ farm where they say there were thousands of plants growing. They raided the place, chopped down a lot of that pot and we saw the result of that raid -- thousands of marijuana plants. Some have already been chopped down by the marijuana farmers. They're ready to go to the streets within a week.
Fresno County investigators used what's called the "Stabo" technique to access the site. Two officers rode up to the farm in a harness on the helicopter and came back with as much destroyed pot as possible. They say the actual growers scattered when the helicopters approached, but they know who's usually in charge of drug operations in this area.
"Most of our grows on national forest and national park lands in Fresno County are controlled and financed by /*Mexican drug trafficking operations*/ out of Mexico," said /*Lt. Rick Ko*/, who heads the vice operation for the Fresno County Sheriff's Office.
Investigators have taken photos of armed men and arrested several in grow sites. They worry about the possibility of innocent victims caught in the crossfire.
"You have Boy Scout troops going up there," said Lt. Ko. "You have people on vacation up there, people that are hikers, hunting and fishing and they have the potential to wander into one of these camps unknowingly and be confronted by armed criminals."
Investigators say they've disrupted the cartels by busting several of these sites in the last few years. And earlier this month, Action News was granted the rare chance to see the volunteer crews who remove the infrastructure -- making it less likely the growers will return.
In all, deputies believe they seized more than $50 million worth of marijuana during Tuesday's raid.