Sheriff, Forest Service raid two marijuana operationsDan McDonald
The Plumas County Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Forest Service joined forces to shut down two major marijuana-growing operations last week.
According to Sheriff Greg Hagwood, the operations were run by Mexican drug cartels.
Both of the grow sites were located in the Feather River Canyon. The exact locations were withheld because the investigation and search for more, possibly related, sites is ongoing.
Officers descended on the first site Tuesday, July 29. The second raid took place Wednesday, July 30.
About 25 officers took part in the raids that removed more than 6,000 mature marijuana plants with an estimated street value of $9 million.
“These are two of several drug cartel operations currently operating inside Plumas County,” Hagwood said. “Evidence indicates these suspects are from Mexico and have been encamped at the grow sites for several months.”
One of the suspects — Alejandro Soto-Silva, 21, of Santa Rosa — was arrested Wednesday after attempting to flee. The sheriff said Soto-Silva “suffered significant injuries as a result of being bitten by a law enforcement dog.”
The sheriff said four other Hispanic males escaped. He said no arrests were made during the Tuesday raid.
The injured Soto-Silva was transported to Plumas District Hospital before being moved to the Plumas County jail.
Hagwood said officers from his staff and the Forest Service have been actively investigating several growing operations for the past three months.
According to Investigations Sgt. Steve Peay, both of the marijuana gardens were located in rugged terrain.
The July 29 raid uncovered about 2,700 plants spread out over 500 yards. The second garden produced more than 3,000 plants flanking a trail that extended about a half-mile.
The plants were eradicated and flown out in bundles by helicopter.
Peay said several camps were located in the grow area. There was evidence that at least six people were camping and tending to the garden.
He said the characteristics of both gardens were consistent with the crops of large drug-trafficking organizations operated by a Mexican drug cartel.
The sheriff’s office warns people to be on guard when they venture to remote parts of the forest.
Pay said illegal marijuana growers will go to just about any extent to protect their crops. He said they will set booby traps or even shoot at unsuspecting people who get too close.
“Hikers and outdoor enthusiasts are urged to remain observant of any suspicious activities they encounter as these operations are ongoing throughout the county,” Hagwood said.
“Of course — as usual — there is significant resource damage and pollution associated with these drug cartel operations, in addition to the diversion of huge amounts of water from springs and streams,” the sheriff said.
He added the trash left by the gardeners usually includes large amounts of fertilizer and pesticides, which can leach into the watershed.
Signs of a marijuana farm often include the presence of a drip line, remote campsites, gardening tools, bags of fertilizer or pesticides, trash piles and encounters with unusual individuals on national or private lands.
The Forest Service is planning to conduct a cleanup of the two sites in the coming weeks.
“I want to thank the U.S. Forest Service and commend the great effort of my staff in eradicating these criminal enterprises that have and continue to represent a threat to public safety and our natural resources,” Hagwood said.
In addition to sheriff’s department and Forest Service personnel, the raids were conducted with the assistance of PJ’s Helicopter, A&P Helicopter Service and the Quincy Fire Department.