WELLS, Nev. - Nabbing the bad guys was only part of the challenge facing federal officials who shut down an illegal marijuana garden growing on U.S. rangeland in remote wilderness in northeast Nevada's Snake Mountains.
The drug traffickers left behind a makeshift campground filled with garbage and caused an estimated $60,000 worth of damage to an aspen grove about 50 miles west of the Utah line, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials said.
Last week, the trash was removed and the area restored thanks to four volunteers from BLM who gathered up more than 700 pounds of debris.
Hunters stumbled onto the elaborate operation in October with cooking supplies, water catchments and irrigation systems stretching over roughly six acres, said Blaine Potts, outdoor recreation planner in the BLM's office in Wells.
The volunteers from the federal agency's district office spent 12 hours rounding up the garbage along with the black irrigation tubing, overhead wires strung between aspen trees and other equipment. On Thursday, a BLM helicopter crew airlifted the refuse out of the area in the Taylor Creek drainage near Stormy Peak.
"We're cleaning up the site to prevent future use for illegal activities, restore ecological habitat and return it to a more natural state so wildlife can use this great grove for its intended purpose," said Blaine Potts, the agency's outdoor recreation planner based in Wells.
"We also want to remind people that if they happen upon a grow site, please don't approach it. These guys are very dangerous. Retreat from the area and contact your local BLM office, sheriff's office or any law enforcement agency," he said.
Potts said signs to be aware of are cut trees surrounding the perimeter of the camp, wires overhead, large water catchments, irrigation systems with tubing and, of course, marijuana plants. He said recreationists who happen upon suspected illegal activity should note the location, GPS if possible, and report it immediately to local law enforcement.
Nationally, agents seized 12,355 pounds of processed marijuana and 195,417 marijuana plants from BLM lands in fiscal year 2013. The U.S. Forest Service also has seen an increase in pot-growing operations in national forests in recent years, especially in California
Last month in Ventura County, sheriff's deputies discovered 50,000 pot plants in the Los Padres National Forest at an operation they valued at $200 million. Last summer in Northern California, law enforcement officers eradicated nearly 15,000 marijuana plants on two grow sites in the Sierra National Forest.