CBS 5 Investigates pot farms run by cartel
They are some of the most beautiful parts of Arizona's national forests. But hidden beneath the green canopy of trees and deep inside those picturesque canyons is a cash crop. And that crop of marijuana could spell serious danger for anyone unlucky enough to stumble onto it.
"A lot of times they will be protected by armed guards or booby traps to keep people away from them," said Agent Doug Coleman with the Arizona Drug Enforcement Administration.
Our CBS 5 Investigates team headed out into the wilderness to find some of these clandestine drug fields and see first-hand how these pot farmers destroy the forest.
The canyon they hiked into south of Flagstaff has had three documented pot farms just in the past few years. And it's about as remote and rugged as possible.
The investigative crew slid and stumbled their way down the side of the canyon, quickly realizing how remote the area is.
"Up here they're pretty isolated," said Coleman "And they can grow quite a bit without getting caught."
Arizona DEA agents raid about 40 of these pot farms every year. That is a small number compared to the marijuana smuggled across the border. But these pot farms are in our own back yard, and the growers often work for Mexican drug gangs.
"People hiking in the woods certainly can stumble on these things," Coleman said.
A key to these clandestine pot farms is a good source of water. And as the CBS 5 investigative crew hiked along the stream at the bottom of the canyon, they found plastic piping - likely used by a pot grower to irrigate their crops.
The farmers also use poisons, which affect the animals and vegetation. And that's what alerted the CBS crew that they were in the right area. The trees were all dead and appeared to have died all at about the same time. We're told by DEA that the pot farmers used herbicides to clear out the shrubs - and in turn killed the trees in the area.
The farmers are known to come back to their spot repeatedly. Through the years it's likely these fields were used over and over. But where the people are now is anybody's guess.
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