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Major Marijuana Grow Operation Found in SNRA
8/27/2012 1:07:24 PM
Holly Carter

Press Release

Incident Date:  August 23, 2012

Revised:  August 27, 2012

Sheriff Gene D. Ramsey announced that early on the morning of Thursday August, 23, 2012 a multi-jurisdictional task force comprised of federal, state, county and local law enforcement initiated an eradication operation in the Sawtooth National Forest in Blaine County, Idaho. Over 60 law enforcement officers took down a major marijuana growing operation and removed an estimated 11,169 plants spread across 6 separate growing plots on three sites totaling approximately five acres on public land.

The grow was located in the King Creek drainage area south of Galena in Blaine County. It was first spotted by an elk hunter who was scouting the area with his son for the upcoming hunting season on August 1, 2012. The hunter came upon a lengthy section of black poly pipe which lead into an area that appeared to be used as a campsite and several items that indicated the presence of people. The hunter left the area with no contact and reported the location to the U.S. Forest Service; The Forest Service Law Enforcement then contacted the Blaine County Sheriff”s Office.

On 08/12/2012 aircraft surveillance was able to immediately locate three large plots of plants with characteristics of being a Marijuana grow with an estimated ten thousand plus plants. On 08/22/2012 a hiker stumbled upon the site and heard gunshots being fired behind him as he walked away. A team of over 20 officers convened that night and began a covert walk-in to the area to attempt to locate the individuals maintaining this grow operation. Additional teams convened early the morning on 08/23/2012 to provide incident command and logistical support, transportation and eradication.

The eradication process included the removal, documentation and destruction of the 11,169 marijuana plants which would have had an estimated mature plant street value of $27,750,000 dollars. Officers also removed the grow site debris including irrigation system tubing, chemicals, kitchen and camping materials and other trash. Packaging from rat poison, round up and other chemical fertilizers were found. Evidence of drying areas, buried irrigation pipes and older fields indicates that this grow had been operating for several seasons. A National Guard Blackhawk helicopter was used to airlift the evidence off the site. During one of its final lifts the helicopter crew located an additional marijuana grow area which was then eradicated and increased the originally reported number of marijuana plants found by 69. 

”The SNRA is one of the largest and most magnificent national recreation areas in the United States. Growing marijuana in our backyard is simply not acceptable. No arrests have been made at this time but law enforcement officials from multiple jurisdictions are vigorously working together with unprecedented cooperation to arrest and apprehend the individuals involved in this abuse of public lands,” said Ramsey. “We will protect our citizens and the recreational visitors who come here to appreciate our unique environment.”

This summer almost 48,000 marijuana plants have been previously eradicated in Idaho, primarily on public land, as part of Operation Mountain Sweep, an eight-week, multi-agency and multi-state marijuana operation. U.S. Attorney Wendy J. Olsen stated that, “Criminals who conduct illegal marijuana grows endanger the public in three ways:  first, by endangering citizens using public lands; second, by endangering our natural resources; and third, by growing marijuana which they then intend to richly profit from by selling illegal drugs to our citizens.”

Sheriff Ramsey lauded the outstanding inter-agency collaboration in all phases of this operation. Officers from Blaine, Gooding and Camas County Sheriff’s Offices, Sun Valley and Ketchum Police Departments, Idaho National Guard, U.S. Forest Service, Idaho Fish and Game, Bureau of Land Management and Drug Enforcement Administration took part in the raid. Medic Support was provided by Ketchum Fire Department and the U.S. Forest Service. Hailey Police Department Officers were also on stand-by to provide additional back-up assistance if needed. The Blaine County Sheriff’s Office would like to formally recognize the outstanding assistance of all agencies involved in this partnership, without which it would not have been possible.

Additional information will be made available as our investigation progresses.

Agency Contact:      Sheriff Gene Ramsey         Phone: (208) 788-5555