Dangling on ropes suspended from a helicopter, sheriff's deputies were dropped into eight rough and remote Santa Clara County locations last week to dismantle clandestine marijuana operations and haul out environmentally unfriendly gear.
That included miles of black plastic irrigation tubing, propane tanks, car batteries, camping supplies and gardening equipment, along with food wrappers and other trash. Deputies found a Honda muffler on an isolated mountainside that they believe was used to cut down noise produced by a generator.
All told, the efforts by the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office Marijuana Eradication Team and several state Department of Fish and Game wardens cleared four tons of material from marijuana fields off Pacheco Pass Highway, Croy Road, Casa Loma Road, Gilroy Hot Springs Road and areas inside Henry W. Coe State Park.
No arrests were made, but officials hope it will deter future fields from springing up as well as prevent pollutants from entering creeks and tributaries.
"It's amazing just how much damage the unlawful marijuana cultivators cause to the environment, and the amount of trash they bring to these pristine locations in our county," stated Detective Jeff Puente, a full-time member of the sheriff's Marijuana Eradication Team, in a news release. "As an avid outdoorsman it saddens me to think of the amount of time it will take for these areas to fully recover."
The crews are taken to the sites -- which would likely be a four- or five-hour hike -- via "short hauling," or hanging from 100-foot lines dangling from a helicopter.
Sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Jose Cardoza said the operations are found in various ways -- sometimes from a tip, other times by authorities seeking them out, including from the air.
According to the release, it is "a common method used which allows for less time hiking into the site and easier removal of the garbage," which would otherwise take days to pull out.
In 2012, the Marijuana Eradication Team removed more than 91,000 plants and 500 pounds of marijuana at various grow operations, 22 of them outdoors and seven indoors. They made 21 arrests and confiscated nine guns.
The sheriff's office receives grant money from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to fund eradication and environmental cleanup operations.
Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.