MONTEREY PARK, Calif. -- Authorities seized 360,000 marijuana plants -- which could yield 140 tons of pot -- found on public lands in Los Angeles County this year, Sheriff Lee Baca announced Monday.
An additional 550 pounds of processed marijuana also was found at forest sites.
The total haul represents a "major increase" over similar seizures last year, according to the sheriff's department, which did not supply figures for 2007.
The pot farms are believed to be the work of criminals involved with Mexican drug cartels, according to authorities, who say such cultivation poses a "genuine threat" to hikers, mountain bikers and hunters if they should stumble onto one of these areas.
Baca said that 15 firearms were also seized during eradication operations as well as tons of camp trash and chemicals.
The pot farms, said Baca, pose significant threats to the environments. Growers haul gallons of herbicides, gasoline and other chemicals into remote areas where they clear space to grow the marijuana.
The result is that much native vegetation has been stripped away. Also, the fertilizers and insecticides make their way into streams, ponds and lakes. The pot farmers also leave mounds of human waste and trash behind.
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In one single grow site discovered in the Angeles National Forest this year, 116,000 mature plants were found.
The Marijuana Eradication Team, which was founded in 1991, focuses on the rural grows in order to reduce the supply of the drug.
The work of team members requires much strenuous physical activity because they have to hike into steep mountainous terrain, then cut and bundle the seized contraband.
The task force involves sheriff's deputies and personnel from the United States Forest Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, National Parks Service, California State Parks Service and the California Department of Justice.