Marijuana grow site found in Routt National Forest; two illegal immigrants arrested

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Summit Lake at Buffalo Pass in Routt National Forest. Photo credit: US Forest Service

DENVER — Two illegal immigrants from Mexico were arrested after law enforcement officers found a large marijuana grow site in the Routt National Forest, the Department of Justice said.

Alfonso Rodriguez-Vazquez and Nestor Fabian Sinaloa-Sinaloa made their first court appearance before a U.S. Magistrate judge in Denver on Monday afternoon.

The illegal marijuana grow site covered about three-fourths of an acre in the Buffalo Pass area northeast of Steamboat Springs. An eradication team collected about 1,000 plants and removed camping gear from the site.

A statement from the Department of Justice said a citizen reported suspicious activity to the U.S. Forest Service, leading officials to the grow site.

The defendants are charged with the manufacture of marijuana. They could spend five to 40 years in prison and be fined up to $5 million if convicted.

“Abusing the lands that belong to all citizens in order to make drug money is going to get you prosecuted,” U.S. Attorney John Walsh said.  “Special thanks to the Forest Service, Homeland Security Investigations and the Routt County Sheriff for putting an end to this abuse in the Routt Forest.”

“Under federal law, marijuana possession, use, or cultivation remains illegal on national forest lands,” U.S. Forest Service special agent in charge Laura Mark said. “The Forest Service remains committed to providing safety to forest visitors and employees and protecting the natural resources. This includes taking enforcement action for possession, use and cultivation of marijuana on national forest lands.”

According to the Forest Service, illegal marijuana cultivation poses a public safety risk and also directly harms the environment. The illegal use of pesticides can cause extensive long-term damage to natural resources.

For example, the supply of public drinking water for hundreds of miles may be impacted because of one marijuana growing site. Overall, the negative impact of marijuana sites on natural resources is severe the Forest Service said.

The suspects in this case will be back in court at 10 a.m. Thursday for a detention hearing and a preliminary hearing.