Huge Pot Bust in Northern California National Forest

Law enforcement officials said Friday they struck a major blow against illegal marijuana cultivation on public lands in the heart of Northern California pot country.

The two-week operation to purge the Mendocino National Forest of illicit pot gardens uprooted 460,000 pot plants and led to more than 100 arrests, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said.

About 1,500 pounds of processed marijuana, 27 guns and 11 vehicles were also seized.

The 900,000-acre forest — larger than Rhode Island — spans six counties in a region of mountains and forests known as the Emerald Triangle for its high concentration of pot farms. Agents raided more than 50 gardens teeming with trash, irrigation pipes and chemicals that damage forestland and waterways, authorities said.

"The Mendocino National Forest is under attack by drug traffickers," Haag said.

The operation was part of an annual summer effort to eradicate marijuana from public lands across the state. Six sheriff's departments, the state anti-narcotics bureau and at least a half-dozen federal agencies took part in the effort in the forest.

Spearheading the raids was Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman, who in his years on the job has had to balance county medical marijuana ordinances with state law and the complete federal ban on the drug. Allman said none of the gardens busted showed any sign of being used to grow medical marijuana.

Each summer for the past several years, authorities report seizing millions of pot plants from local, state and national parks, forests and other wilderness areas. Public lands are often favored by clandestine growers for their remote locations and rugged terrain.

In previous years, officials have blamed Mexican drug cartels for some of the state's largest growing operations. Haag declined Friday to comment on where those arrested in the current operation were from but said 25 are already facing federal charges.

The decision to focus on Mendocino National Forest this year stemmed from citizen complaints a year ago about an increasing number of confrontations with armed guards protecting pot grows, Allman said.

Forest Service officials and county leaders have also long complained about the environmental consequences of illegal marijuana farms on forest ecology.

California National Guard troops, Forest Service workers and volunteers have removed 46,000 pounds of trash, 120 propane tanks, 116,000 feet of pipe, 13 manmade dams, 57 pounds of pesticide and tons of fertilizer from raided grow sites in the forest, Haag said.