Beaver • It was still dark Thursday morning as about six dozen law enforcement officers gathered at the Beaver County Sheriff's Office to plan a raid on a field of marijuana growing high in the mountains of the Fishlake National Forest.
By sunrise, authorities had discussed nearly every possible scenario from encountering armed pot farmers to falling from a cliff while traversing the steep terrain. Authorities also mentioned several bear sightings in the area of the pot farm.
At about 9:30 a.m., several teams dressed in camouflage gear had surrounded the marijuana operation, hoping to catch at least two growers believed to be on-site.
But when they finally moved in, police found the camp abandoned. They also discovered the kitchen area had been ransacked by bears sometime during the past two days.
It wasn't known if the growers had a run-in with the bears, but the growers left behind an estimated 8,147 marijuana plants, Beaver County Sheriff Cameron Noel said.
Noel said the site was hard to spot and may have been used by the growers for several years. He said narcotics intelligence work led authorities to this latest rural grow site, located about 10 miles east of Beaver.
Noel said authorities believe growers are being trained in Mexico and shipped to Utah. Drug cartel operators then bring in supplies so the growers don't have to leave the mountains, he said.
He said he's hoping to arrange for flyovers to see if any additional sites can be found.
Thursday's pot farm was way off the beaten path there were no paths in an area rarely frequented by outdoor enthusiasts. Authorities had to hike more than a half-mile through extremely rough terrain to access the site.
Some plants had already reached heights of more than five feet. The growers had chopped limbs off trees to allow the most light possible to reach their crop. They also had spread hundreds of yards of irrigation pipeline across the area. The growers appear to have been living in lean-to huts. Trash, including 13 propane tanks and numerous empty food cans, littered the grow site.
Noel said whether people agree with marijuana usage or not, he wants people to know the damage the illegal grows leave behind.
"Those guys that were up there make a tremendous mess to our national forest area," he said. "They left garbage, cans, chemicals and battery acid right in one of our water ways that go right into Beaver city."
Members of the more than 10 agencies that participated in the raid quickly went to work cleaning up trash, removing piping and hacking down the marijuana plants so helicopters could fly the remnants away. Helicopters also circled the mountains most of the morning searching for anyone who might have fled the grow site.
Many of the same law officers involved in the Beaver raid were involved in a Wednesday raid in Kane County where 10,110 plants were seized, the Drug Enforcement Administration reported. Nine growers there fled on foot, officials said. One man reportedly took off without any shoes and another jumped off a 200- to 300-foot cliff to avoid capture.
"He rolled down to the bottom and kept on running," Noel said he was told.
Other agencies on Wednesday seized about 7,000 pot plants during a bust in Morgan County.
Sheriff Noel said he believes the people running the Beaver-area pot farm have ties to other marijuana grow sites in the region.
"Basically the Mexican cartels have discovered it's cheaper to grow it here than to smuggle it across the border," said Paul Wolden, the Beaver County dispatch supervisor.