Desert Invasion - U.S.

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Pot farms in national forests a growing problem in Arizona

By Beth Defalco, Associated Press, SignsOnSandiego.com, August 18, 2005

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/nation/20050818-1427-wst-forests-potfarms.html

Arizona's national forests are quickly becoming prime real estate for pot farmers, with about 100,000 marijuana plants discovered this year alone, authorities said Thursday.

The discovery of a marijuana farm north of Strawberry on the southernmost part of Coconino National Forest marks the sixth farm found this year by members of the Gila County Narcotics Enforcement Task Force. In all, federal authorities estimated the street value of the drugs to be $150 million.

"We seem to be the marijuana growing capital of Arizona," said task force commander Steve Craig. Eleven people have been arrested this year in connection with the farms many of them caught while tending to the plants. All were illegal immigrants from Mexico. Each faces a sentence of 10 years to life in prison under federal sentencing guidelines....

Paul Charlton, the U.S. attorney for Arizona, said some gardeners were armed with assault weapons....

Authorities said Thursday the latest bust had as many as 20,000 marijuana stalks...

The other five farms discovered this year in nearby Tonto National Forest account for roughly 83,800 pot plants confiscated, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Jim Payne. One farm found south of the Mogollon Rim in late July had 67,000 plants....

"It's not just the cultivation," Poague said. "It really impacts the environment."

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