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With Legal Weed, Forest Official Expects More Illegal Grow Sites

Oct 3, 2014

A large marijuana grow site was discovered by hunters in September in the White River National Forest. Forest Service workers dismantled the site, and now they're looking for who's responsible.

The Forest Supervisor for the White River National Forest says he expects to see more marijuana grow sites on national forest land now that pot is legal in Colorado.

Forest Service officials on Wednesday dismantled a large cultivation site near Ruedi Reservoir. It’s illegal to grow marijuana on federal land and there are strict penalties.

Hunters discovered the latest site that contained more than 2600 mature marijuana plants. That’s $6 million to $8 million worth of pot. Scott Fitzwilliams is Forest Supervisor.

"Unfortunately we have a lot of experience with gardens on national forests throughout the agency," he says. "We were able to observe it for awhile and tried to find who was responsible but couldn’t, so decided to have it removed."

Crews pulled up plants, dismantled an irrigation system and removed items left in a makeshift camp used by the grower. No arrests have been made and the case remains under investigation.

Fitzwilliams says cultivation sites can damage natural resources and endanger visitors who stumble upon such high-value gardens. In the future, he’s afraid more grows will pop up.

"We have created such a demand - a tourist economy around these recreational marijuana shops, that the demand exceeds what can be legally grown. And, we expect that we’ll see more illegal grows on national forests or remote private lands than we have in the past," he says.

Since 2009, Forest Service officials have removed 34 illegal marijuana grow sites and more than $65,000 marijuana plants from National Forests in Colorado. Last summer, officials in the White River National Forest removed between 3000 and 4000 plants from a grow site near the Crystal River.