Region’s rugged terrain draws pot farms


The Santa Monica Mountains and other rugged terrain across the region have become fertile ground for illegal marijuana growers, with authorities reporting a major uptick in the discovery and eradication of pot-growing farms.

In the last year, park rangers and Los Angeles and Ventura County sheriff’s deputies have confiscated about 42,000 marijuana plants -- worth $130 million -- in areas under the jurisdiction of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area or the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority, said Walt Young, chief operations officer for the authority.

The haul is a nearly threefold increase over last year, which marked the first year of an aggressive and sustained effort by park rangers, the U.S. Forest Service and the Sheriff’s Departments to eradicate the marijuana plantations, Young said.


“Our whole goal is to make this [pot farming] economically unviable,” he said.

Officials said the farms damage the environment and present a public-safety threat because of fires and possible harm to park visitors who unwittingly stumble on them. The installations can ruin soil and vegetation and disturb wildlife in remote areas that are home to animals such as bobcats and mountain lions, Young said.

The cost of cleanup, which can top $10,000 per plantation, takes money away from worthwhile scientific projects that protect the fragile ecosystems, officials said.

About 27,000 plants were seized and destroyed on land owned or managed by the mountains authority and 15,000 were confiscated on other public land. The street value of $130 million for those plants compares with $49 million worth of plants confiscated during the 2009 growing season, Young said.

In all, there have been 13 successful interdiction operations this year in Los Angeles County and eastern Ventura County, officials said. Seizures have taken place in Malibu Canyon, Tuna Canyon and Zuma-Trancas Canyon in the Santa Monicas, in La Tuna Canyon in the Verdugo Mountains, at Rocky Peak in the Santa Susana Mountains and in the Whittier hills.

Multiple marijuana plantations have been discovered in Malibu Creek State Park in the Santa Monicas. It was during one of the rangers’ backcountry patrols in August that they found the skeletal remains of Mitrice Richardson, the 25-year-old woman who vanished after being released from the Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station on Sept. 17, 2009.

Another notable incident occurred in April, when authorities arrested two men after locating nearly 1,000 pot plants and 3,000 seeds in a remote part of the park. Deputies and rangers found the operation near Malibu Canyon Road and Piuma Road while conducting a routine search for possible cultivation sites. The men fled but were tracked down.