By GARY CHITTIM / KING 5 News
NEAR MOSES LAKE, Wash. - Washington state's public lands are being invaded by marijuana growers, and police say they pose a serious risk to people who enjoy the outdoors.
Now agents are using extreme tactics to clean out the pot-squatters.
Agents recently loaded up with ammo and camo to raid a major marijuana grow operation in Grant County wilderness.
Assault teams, hoping to capture the growers, arrived dangling from helicopters. The plan was to be hanging so far down they could easily unclip and run in, using the element of surprise.
It's become the preferred tactic. Agents arrive fresh, and with a perimeter of agents on the ground, the growers have nowhere to run. Hiding won't work either. Canine agents also fly in. The dogs are trained to be comfortable in harnesses.
State Fish and Wildlife agents say they've had enough with drug growers trashing public lands.
"These folks who engage in this these activities, they pose a clear and present danger to public health and safety," said Mike Cenci, of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife's Enforcement Division. "They protect their grows."
And this grow was worth protecting. Roughly 10,000 plants were spread out under the protective canopy of a grove of Russian olive trees in Grant County. It took hours for agents to pull them all up.
And there's environmental damage because the growers bury elaborate networks of hoses and pipes to siphon off creeks and ponds, and sometime use entire waterbodies as cauldrons to mix their irrigation water.
"They'll dump their fertilizers and chemicals directly into the water source, so they're completely polluting the environment and they're killing every animal that comes in and drinks from that water source," said Captain Chris Anderson, of the Department of Fish and Game.
And the growers didn't just work at the grow location, they also lived there in heavily camouflaged tents. Their camp equipment and supplies - left behind - pose another threat to the natural ecology.
It's happening on public lands all over the state. Solid demand for high quality marijuana is encouraging growers to invest serious time and energy infesting lands set aside for wildlife and recreation.
In Grant County, the bad guys slipped out before the raid, but their marijuana was seized and they lost it all - all their time and effort, their high hopes, went flying off in the arms of agents.
The pot busting team consists of agents from the DEA, state Fish & Wildlife, and sheriff's deputies.
They're asking anyone who finds marijuana grows in the wild to quickly back away and give them a call.