Authorities dismantle illegal marijuana grow site on Buffalo Pass; 2 Mexican nationals arrested | CraigDailyPress.com

Authorities dismantle illegal marijuana grow site on Buffalo Pass; 2 Mexican nationals arrested

Scott Franz

Authorities seized and destroyed more than 1,000 marijuana plants from this illegal grow site in the Buffalo Pass area northeast of Steamboat Springs. Two Mexican nationals were arrested at the grow site.

— Dressed in full tactical gear, a squad of Routt County Sheriff’s Office deputies quietly headed into the Routt National Forest before sunrise Friday morning to secure and dismantle an illegal pot-growing site authorities had learned about on Buffalo Pass.

The squad of six was joined on the mission by a dozen federal officers.

Carrying 40 to 60 pounds of gear on their backs, they all walked three miles over rugged terrain with the help of a nearly full moon.

“I’ve been here a long time, and this is the first time I’ve had to participate in a mission like this,” Routt County Undersheriff Ray Birch said.

The 18 federal officers and the deputies split into squads and were prepared to encounter potential dangers ranging from booby traps to armed men at the grow site.

A local helicopter service and search and rescue teams were on standby.

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At a camp site next to a garden of more than 1,000 marijuana plants, the authorities found and arrested without incident two Mexican nationals who were in the country illegally.

The plants were seized from the .75-acre grow site and then destroyed.

The grow site was found near Forest Service Road 301, not far up the pass from Steamboat Springs.

Birch said he and his deputies could see city lights down below during the mission.

In a news release about the drug bust, federal officials called the grow site “extensive.”

“This now-dismantled extensive marijuana grow operation on federal lands in Colorado shows all the signs of a sophisticated drug trafficking organization,” said David A. Thompson, a special agent in charge of the Homeland Security Investigations in Denver. “HSI is working together with our other law enforcement partners to investigate this case to identify all those associated with this operation.”

Suspects Alfonso Rodriguez-Vazquez and Nestor Fabian Sinaloa-Sinaloa made an initial court appearance before a U.S. magistrate judge in Denver this afternoon. Both are due back in court Thursday.

The grow site was found last week after citizens reported some suspicious activity to the U.S. Forest Service.

Birch said authorities felt there was a very small window to go in and dismantle the grow operation because of the start of hunting season in the area.

The Sheriff’s Office carried out the operation with the help of the Forest Service and Homeland Security Investigations.

Forest Service officials say illegal marijuana cultivation poses a public safety risk and harms the environment because of the use of pesticides that can affect public drinking water.

Officials also point out that each marijuana plant is estimated to require a gallon of water a day, and water diversions can negatively impact the water supply for native vegetation, wildlife and the public.

This isn’t the first time illegal marijuana-growing operations have been discovered in the National Forest in Colorado.

In 2013, authorities found and eradicated 3,375 marijuana plants near Redstone.

And on Aug. 19, a grow site with more than 3,900 plants was discovered in the Pike National Forest near Green Mountain.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

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