Thousands of marijuana plants found on forest land in Pueblo County

PUEBLO COUNTY, Colo. — More than 7,400 marijuana plants were discovered in an illegal grow Friday in two separate fields on U.S. Forest Service land near Rye, the Pueblo County Sheriff’s Office said.

Narcotics detectives said it was the second-largest operation uncovered in Pueblo  County to date and the fifth found in fields on or near the San Isabel National Forest in the past five years.

The four previous grows are believed to be connected to a Mexican cartel. Detectives are investigating whether Friday’s grow is connected to previous grows.

The grow was discovered after a tip from a hiker who found the plants near Huckleberry Hills, northwest of Rye, and also reported seeing individuals in the area of the grow engaged in suspicious activity.

Detectives went to check the site and saw two people dressed in camouflage who are suspected of caring for the plants.

The suspects fled before additional resources could arrive to set up a perimeter around the grow site.

Detectives found 2,005 marijuana plants in an upper field of the San Isabel National Forest and 5,401 plants in a lower field.

The estimated street value is more than $7 million. Detectives also found evidence that people were staying on the property, including linens, cook stoves, food containers and blankets.

Samples of the plants were taken and all have been eradicated from the fields.

“These grows are not indigenous to Colorado and the water and fertilizers required for these grow operations represent a clear environmental hazard for our beautiful Colorado mountains,” Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk Taylor said in a statement.

In August 2012, the sheriff’s office found and dismantled two marijuana grows consisting of more than 9,400 plants in the San Isabel National Forest.

In October 2015, a grow of 2,400 plants was found near the Millset Trail in the San Isabel National Forest.

And in July 2016, 1,000 marijuana plants were found on private property near the Table Top Mountains area.