Agents Warn Hunters To Be Wary Of Marijuana Growers


A series of eight raids executed since July 11 have destroyed almost 60,000 marijuana plants with a street value of more than $50 million.


View of marijuana field from the air.

The latest of the raids, a series of four, were carried out Aug. 16 to 20, in the Mazatzal Wilderness area southwest of Payson.

The largest pot garden found 8,439 plants, some of which were six to seven feet tall.

At the other three gardens, drug agents counted and eradicated 4,613, 3,462 and 1,146 plants.

"We found a couple (of plants) 10 to 12 feet tall," a Payson-based Gila County Narcotics Task Force Officer said.

Although no suspects were captured, agents found evidence of at least two persons tending each of the gardens.

The gardens were believed to be tended by Mexican nationals who built gravity-fed irrigation systems with plastic pipe, drawing water from nearby springs.

At all the camps, agents found food, small cooking stoves, bedrolls and often tents or lean-tos.

Recent raids have been the result of tips from hikers or concerned citizens.

Agents are concerned that with bear hunting season now open, hunters might encounter illegal growers in the Mazatzal area.

"It's a popular hunting spot and there could be more grows there," a GCNTF agent said.

In September 2005, a Queen Creek hunter accidentally came across a grower's camp and a marijuana field.

Not wanting a confrontation, the hunter retreated, but not before several shots rang out.

"We think there were three to five shots, one hit in front of him and sprayed dirt on him," the GCNTF agent said.

The hunter told agents he quickly scurried out of the canyon to search for his friends.

Once reunited, the four hunters decided on a show of force and fired 20 to 25 shots in the direction the suspect had been seen, the agent said.

"We don't want that to happen again," the GCNTF agent said. "Hunters need to exercise extreme caution."

If you discover a marijuana growing operation, leave the site immediately and report it to the GCNTF by calling (928) 474-0728.

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