SACRAMENTO -- Federal, state and local leaders at a Tuesday news conference announced results of a multi-agency effort called Operation Forest Watch, targeting illegal marijuana grows on National Forest land in California.
"There are 18 National Forests in the State of California," said U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott. "All 18 have been damaged environmentally, severely, by illegal marijuana grows."
More than 638,000 marijuana plants, 12.5 tons of processed pot and 20,000 pounds of fertilizer and pesticides were removed from 95 grow sites, according to Scott. Additionally, 118,000 pounds of trash and infrastructure were removed. Agents arrested and charged 77 people and seized 82 firearms in the effort that began several months ago.
"That's real money coming directly out of the pockets of the cartels," Scott said of the results. "But more importantly, we have reclaimed our land to a large extent."
"I certainly applaud the work that has been done by local law enforcement because they take the brunt of it," California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told FOX40. "Our sheriffs are crying out. They're trying to send a signal because too many of our communities are being affected."
"Our counties are being used as a hub of illicit drug trafficking to just about every state in the Union," said Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon Lopey. "And it endangers our neighborhoods, our communities and our kids."
Operation Forest Watch is part of an ongoing effort. After the pot grows are taken out, environmental clean-up crews work to restore the forest.
"The time has come to make this season's effort the beginning of an unwavering push to proactively conserve our federal lands and their natural resources for future generations to use and enjoy," said Dr. Mourad Gabriel, Director of the Integral Ecology Research Center.