Narcotics detectives spent nearly two days cutting and hauling more than 12,000 marijuana plants discovered at multiple grow sites along Hatchet Creek in Big Oak Valley, finishing up Wednesday afternoon.
The marijuana plants, which were mostly concealed under the canopy of oak trees, were spotted Friday during an aerial surveillance flight, said Nevada County Sheriff’s Sgt. Guy Selleck.
The grows were “very spread out” among four separate parcels, with the marijuana split into about 15 different sites stretching about three-quarters of a mile, Selleck said.
Monday, members of the Narcotics Task Force served a search warrant on the parcels; approximately 6,200 plants were eradicated that day, Selleck said.
At the one residence on the parcels, belonging to a man identified as Richard Goodwin, deputies located 214 marijuana plants in the back yard behind a barn. Goodwin had one medical marijuana recommendation, Selleck noted.
At the southern end of that parcel, deputies found about 2,100 plants, Selleck said, adding, “He said he didn’t know anything about those.”
Wednesday, the team returned to finish the job with the help of a helicopter pilot who transported team members into the grow sites and hauled the cut marijuana away in nets.
The loaded nets were flown to the landing zone where a county dump truck waited, making multiple trips to dump another 6,000-plus plants.
As the helicopter took a reconnaissance flight, the pilot pointed out the remaining plants staggered under trees dotting the rolling hillsides along Hatchet Creek. Many irrigation pipes could clearly be seen draining into the creek bed, although some were disguised with branches.
“We had every stage of growth you could think of, from seedlings to 8-foot-tall mature plants,” Selleck said. “Each year, they make these gardens bigger. In one section, we found 6-inch-tall seedlings that had just been planted to extend the grow. Based on what we could see of the irrigation lines, they had been there two or three years.”
The team found pesticides, as well as about 500 pounds of fertilizer still in the bag, Selleck said. They also found a dead raccoon lying under a marijuana plant that apparently had ingested poison, as well as a wild turkey that had been killed. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife was brought into the investigation, said Sheriff Keith Royal. The narcotics detectives found about seven encampments dotted along the hillsides with indicia indicating the growers were Hispanic, Royal said.
That, along with the diversion of water and the presence of poison and fertilizers, are marks of cartel or drug-trafficking operations, Royal noted, adding that it is rare to find a DTO grow on private property.
In all, the team disposed of 12,347 marijuana plants, Royal said. The grow remains under investigation.
To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4229.