Just after day break Tuesday morning in the hills above Springville, a team of Tulare County Sheriff's deputies are dressed in camouflage and equipped with necessary tools like pruning shears. They begin a hike into the forest where they know they'll find thousands of marijuana plants.
“From the air, these plants stick out like sore thumbs, so our over flights is where we found it,” said Lt. Tom Sigley of the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department.
The hike is straight downhill. The steep terrain is difficult even for experienced deputies. After a half hour of walking, they smell the marijuana before they see it. Some plants are as big as a six-foot tall deputy. They would have been harvested within weeks.
About 4,000 plants are cut down. So far this summer, Tulare County deputies have eradicated eight grows on public land grows, destroying over 100,000 plants. The numbers are actually less than years past, when law enforcement teamed up for large operations.
“They were all done back to back year after year and I think it chased the growers out of the hills and back onto the valley floor,” said Sigley.
No suspects were caught on this day, but evidence shows at least five people were growing and processing here. Deputies say they used water from the Bear Creek River. As a result, water levels are down. Finding, chopping and hauling all the plants is labor intensive but deputies say it's worth it.
“All this processed marijuana that they would have gotten out of the grow would have been down on the street,” said Sigley.