By AMY LINDBLOM
More than 2,100 marijuana plants growing in two separate groves found in remote, rugged terrain near Groveland were pulled and destroyed earlier this week.
Tuolumne Narcotics Team deputies said that, had the 3-foot-tall plants reached maturity and been harvested, they could have been worth some $8.5 million. One mature marijuana plant is worth about $4,000, said TNT Sgt. Joe Romeo.
The first garden was destroyed Monday by deputies and agents from the Stanislaus National Forest and CAMP (Campaign Against Marijuana Planting). There were 2,006 plants in the garden. Romeo said his deputies are looking for the suspected growers.
The second garden had just 131 plants, but no suspects have yet been identified. Both gardens were watered with plastic irrigation piping from nearby perennial streams, Romeo said.
The marijuana plants destroyed Wednesday were growing in the same area TNT deputies raided last year, when they found about 8,000 marijuana plants.
"We were a bit surprised we didn't find more plants there considering how many we found last year in this same spot," Romeo said.
To date, TNT has found and destroyed six marijuana plantations in Tuolumne County, including the largest one ever found on the Stanislaus National Forest. On Aug. 5, TNT deputies led CAMP agents to more than 22,000 plants growing near Beardsley Reservoir. No arrests have been made in that case, Romeo said.
Marijuana growing season lasts until late September or early October, Romeo said.
"The gardens we found this week really were not all that valuable to the growers because the plants were not mature," said Romeo. "We did find one shotgun at the first garden on Monday. But it was probably only used to protect the growers from animals, and not to protect the grove."