106 Marijuana Plants Found In Wilderness Area

Mature plants valued at between $100,000 and $300,000 say police

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Law enforcement officers have raided a marijuana growing operation in the pristine Mazatzal Wilderness area south of Payson, near the Gila-Yavapai county boundaries.

At the pot garden, agents found and destroyed 106 mature marijuana plants, 4 to 6 feet in height.

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Gila County Narcotics Task Force members raided a rugged area in the Mazatzal Wilderness and found 106 mature marijuana plants. A tent and other items were found at the site.

Gila County Narcotics Task Force officers, who asked not to be identified, valued the plants from "$100,000 to $300,000, depending on where the pot is bought and sold."

The raid, which was carried out Aug. 8, was conducted by 10 officers who were ferried into the rugged wilderness area to within a half-mile of the garden.

About 15 other officers manned a nearby command post.

It was National Forest Service and Yavapai law enforcement officers aboard a helicopter who discovered the garden, days before the raid took place.

At the garden, agents discovered evidence at least one person had been tending the growing operation.

"We found a one-man tent, a bedroll and an air mattress," an agent said.

The agents suspect Mexican nationals were not tending this garden. Mexican nationals have been at all the other growing sites GCNTF agents have raided during the past three years.

"There were some things different about it than we have seen at other gardens," the agent said.

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A tent and other items were found at the site.

Officers refused to say what those differences were, because the information could hinder their investigation.

The raid was the second GCNTF agents have conducted this summer. On July 16, near Preacher Canyon, east of Payson, narcotics agents found and destroyed 1,656 plants.

Officers believe that garden was being tended by Mexican nationals.

Agents have long suspected that those Mexican nationals growing the pot are worker bees only and the plants are possibly being grown to benefit a drug cartel.

Because the growers represent a threat to public safety, agents have issued a warning to hikers and others who might accidentally discover a garden.

Their best advice is to plot the location, using a GPS if possible, and to leave the area as soon as possible.

The marijuana garden should then be reported to the task force by calling (928) 474-0728.

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