Forest Service destroys illegal marijuana growing operation near Ruedi Reservoir
For the second time in a year, the U.S. Forest Service has eradicated a major illegal marijuana-growing operation on national forest lands in the Aspen area.
The agency was tipped off last week about a large garden near Ruedi Reservoir, according to White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams.
“It was hunters who actually smelled it,” he said.
About a dozen Forest Service workers assisted by the Drug Enforcement Administration yanked out 2,630 mature plants by hand Wednesday and packed them out, Fitzwilliams said. The plants, up to 6 feet tall, were loaded into the agency’s dump truck. Fitzwilliams said he believed the plants were hauled to the South Canyon Landfill, where they will be mixed with slurry, made unusable and buried.
The Forest Service estimated the plants were worth more than $6 million, based on an average value of $2,500 per pound.
“Each plant is estimated to yield 1 pound of processed material,” the agency said in a statement.
No arrests were made in the raid. Fitzwilliams said the site was under surveillance between the time of the tip and the eradication. He wouldn’t give a precise location because the agency’s law enforcement branch is still investigating the grow operation, plus irrigation pipe and other materials must be cleaned up. Also, the agency doesn’t want curious people trying to find the site.
“All the marijuana is gone, so people have no reason to go up there,” Fitzwilliams said.
The site was within easy access of Frying Pan Road, according to Fitzwilliams, and it is in Pitkin County. That suggests the site is in the Thomasville-Meredith area or higher in the valley because of county boundaries.
This was the second eradication of a pot operation in a year. The Forest Service eradicated a marijuana-growing operation along Hayes Creek near Redstone in September 2013. The gardens discovered in that raid were scattered over 2 to 3 acres and contained 3,375 mature plants. That garden was discovered and reported by a father and son who were bowhunting. No arrests were made in the case.
Fitzwilliams said Forest Service law enforcement officers suspect other illegal pot operations exist in the sprawling White River National Forest, which stretches from south of Aspen to north of Glenwood Springs and from Rifle in the west to Summit County in the east.
The legalization of medical and retail marijuana in Colorado apparently hasn’t stemmed illegal grow operations.
“The demand is so high now that we expect there will be more,” Fitzwilliams said. “The legal operators can’t keep up with demand.”
The Forest Service isn’t launching patrols to find pot gardens. It relies on the public to keep it informed, Fitzwilliams said.
The eradication operations eat into the national forest’s budget because the supervisor’s office has to come up with the funds to pay workers to remove the plants.
Fitzwilliams said his bigger concern is the potential danger to the public.
“I can’t predict how people are going to protect their crop,” he said.
Any forest visitor who comes across a pot-growing operation should leave the area and report it to the Forest Service, he said.
Anyone with information about the Ruedi-area operation is urged to call Forest Service Law Enforcement at (303) 275-5266.
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