Forest Service: some growers fled during raid of Redstone-area pot patch

Federal officials found pot plants hung out to dry when they raided an illegal marijuana grow operation near Redstone on Thursday.
U.S. Forest Service/courtesy photo |

A man detained during the raid of an illegal marijuana growing operation near Redstone on Thursday is in the custody of immigration officials while a decision is made on what charges will be filed, if any, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Colorado.

No information could be released Friday about the man, including where he is being held, because it’s not known yet if he will be charged, spokesman Jeff Dorschner said.

The U.S. Forest Service’s regional office said few details about the operation could be released because it is an ongoing investigation.

“What we can share is that based on the evidence we collected, we believe there were more subjects involved,” Lawrence Lujan, regional press officer for the Forest Service, said in an email.

The agency announced Thursday that an estimated 2,700 pot plants were eradicated at a 5-acre site described as just south of Redstone on the east side of the Crystal Valley. The pot plants were destroyed at the site, according to a representative of the White River National Forest.

A source familiar with the operation said that three men fled the site and escaped when federal officials conducted the raid Thursday morning. The source didn’t want to be named for lack of authorization to speak on the matter.

The site is in rugged terrain where there is at least one official trail in the White River National Forest network nearby as well as hunters’ camps and feint trails.

“There are no restrictions in place near the growth site at this time,” Lujan said. “Law enforcement officers continue to monitor the area.”

Thursday’s raid was the third eradication of a grow operation in the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District in five years. One prior raid resulted in the destruction of 3,375 pot plants in the Crystal Valley in September 2013. The other resulted in the destruction of 2,630 pot plants in the Fryingpan Valley, east and at a higher elevation than Ruedi Reservoir, in September 2014.

Even though Colorado has legalized marijuana, illegal grow operations are still extensive in the national forests, according to the Forest Service.

“Colorado is third among states in the amount of marijuana plants seized and eradicated in 2016, behind California and Kentucky,” according to a statement by the agency. “Since 2009, 51 illegal marijuana grow sites and more than 160,000 marijuana plants have been eradicated from Colorado national forests.”

The Forest Service advises forest visitors to take precautions if they come across a suspected illegal growing operation anywhere in a national forest: Leave the area as it was found and retrace your steps out. Make observations to report to officials. Report the findings to the Forest Service or local law enforcement. Don’t linger at the site, call attention to yourself or touch anything that looks out of the ordinary.