RHINELANDER - Last week we saw one of the biggest drug busts in state history. Agents found millions of dollars in marijuana in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest near the border of Oconto and Langlade Counties.|
The Feds have given clearance for the media to trek out to the site. Newswatch 12's Lyndsey Stemm was there today to bring you an inside look.
We headed into the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest to take a look at some of the sites where law enforcement cleared more than 8,000 marijuana plants last week.
A mile deep into the forest, we toured a few of the grow sites law enforcement raided last week. It's the third bust in three years; all reported by citizens. A fisherman spotted this one.
"There were marijuana plants six to eight feet tall right here," says Jeff Seefeldt, a Ranger with the US Forest Service.
In the last two busts the sites were fewer, and much larger. They were easier to see from far away. This one had 22 smaller sites. It wouldn't have been as easily seen from the air, so it seems the growers are paying attention. Add that to 1.5 million acres of forest land--- and few rangers to cover it-- it makes for a tough fight.
"People are going here, and going there, but still I can't cover 350,000 acres," says Seefeldt.
When asked if he thinks it's possible that there are sites just like this somewhere else, he said, "Very possible. I believe that."
Since people working on these large-scale don't typically leave, they end up in makeshift shelters like the one we saw on our trip. All the garbage that accumulates over the months they're here just ends up in big piles.
So why grow here in the Northwoods, where the growing season is so short?
"One of the reasons we think they're here is the abundant water supply. As you've seen with these sites we're right along a river. We have a lot of lakes and rivers in the Northwoods. It's really remote, it's easy to get away from people and not be found in these parts," says Suzanne Flory, a Public Affairs Officer for the US Forest Service.
What rangers most want people to know is it's dangerous to stick around if you stumble upon a grow site.
"If you see something unusual, especially from spring through summer when the growers would be on site, make sure you just leave real quietly. These people have been found to be armed and dangerous," says Flory.
Authorities say you don't need an up close look to know if something is wrong out there. When you're out in a remote area, and a large patch of land is cleared with other plants in their place, leave immediately and contact your local forestry department.