Several Pot Grows Found In Okanogan Hunt Areas

For weeks now, my story on how marijuana growers have invaded the forests and fields where  Northwest hunters chase their quarry has been among the top draws to our Web site.

The number of plants seized outdoors, largely on public lands, has zoomed from 6,500 in 2001 to 589,000 last year in Washington alone.

As an example of the danger to sportsmen, just two weeks ago five deer hunters stumbled upon irrigation works on BLM land in California, were threatened by three armed growers and told to stay out of the area by a fourth in a vehicle.

Mexican drug cartels are believed to be behind the largest operations; the seizure of 228,000 plants last year in Oregon represented nearly a half a billion dollar loss in potential profits to the gangs, The Oregonian reported this spring.

When I wrote that article, we were coming out of a mild winter, were enjoying spring rains and it looked like Washington law enforcement agencies might pull even more plants. But cool, wet weather through early summer appears to have hindered growth, though it’s ripening now.

In recent weeks, officials have found several large grows, including 4,562 in Southeast Washington’s Columbia County, 1,300 in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest and 2,550 from near the Nason Creek rest stop in Chelan County’s Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

The rest-stop bust included a bear that had been killed and whose meat had been hung up to dry, says WDFW Capt. Chris Anderson out of Ephrata.

And now comes word of several more busts. WDFW officers along with the Washington State Patrol helped take out a cluster of pot grows near Loomis on Aug. 18.

“The Okanogan County North Central Washington Narcotics Task Force had received information this spring in a delayed report from a hunter from last fall’s modern firearm deer season,” WDFW Enforcement Division Deputy Chief Cenci says. “The hunter had stumbled upon a harvested marijuana grow. This information was followed up by detectives who discovered the re-used grow based upon odor of marijuana. Subsequent pre flights were conducted of the grow and located. Several investigative methods were deployed and the connection to the suppliers was made. Through investigation it was determined that these suppliers were providing resources to several complex marijuana gardens. Mexican nationals were determined to be entering the marijuana gardens armed.”

When WDFW officers and others raided part of the garden, known as Mill Creek 2 and less than 2 miles from the agency’s Sinlahekin Wildlife Area HQ, they encountered two live-in growers, but weren’t able to detain them, according to Cenci.

He says the sites had large cisterns to irrigate the crop, chemicals for growing the plants as well as garbage pits.

A total of 7,000 plants were eradicated at two sites, Cenci says.

Then, this Tuesday, Anderson says that a “pretty good-sized grow, pretty elaborate,” was busted north of Winthrop off the East Chewack Road on Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest land.

The Methow Valley News says it occurred near Boulder Creek; two Hispanic males were arrested.

Anderson says the Loomis and Winthrop busts were “connected” by “a drug cartel that’s running grows all over Eastern Washington.”

The gardens are often tended by live-in growers, usually illegal immigrants.

The newspaper also reports another bust up Black Canyon Creek, near Methow, that included 8,000 to 10,000 plants, and says that over the past two weeks 30,000 to 50,000 plants have been pulled in the county.

Anderson adds there will likely be more busts ahead, in the Columbia Basin.

Responding to the report of the California hunters being threatened, Anderson says, “We haven’t had anything like that, but hunters are responsible for locating almost all the grows we know about.”

He says deer hunters typically find those in more mountainous areas, upland bird and waterfowl hunters those in the lowlands.

“The information we get from them is  invaluable,” he says.

That said, with a late pot harvest and the opening of statewide grouse, mourning dove and archery deer and elk seasons in the days ahead, a word of warning to hunters may be appropriate.

“We advise people don’t talk to growers, don’t walk around the grow, punch in a GPS waypoint and walk out,” Steve Brown of the North-central Washington Narcotics Task Force told me for my original article.

There’s a reward of up to $5,000, too, for information on grows. Funded by grants from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the State Patrol operates a special tip line to report grows. The key to collecting is to call (800) 388-GROW rather than local police departments (the line is a clearinghouse; info will be forwarded to sheriffs and regional task forces). You can also report anonymously, but must stay on the line and talk to a person to be eligible for the money. Information on how to report after-hours tips can be found at


One Response to “Several Pot Grows Found In Okanogan Hunt Areas”

  1. Erik Holm Says:

    Hi I just returned from my annual deer hunt in the Sinlahekin Wildlife Area where we stumbled upon the Mill Creek 2 site while hunting.
    I have no doubt that grows like these are hurting our Public Lands but what I have a problem with most is the lack of concern to clean the site up by the agencies involved.
    In 30 some years of hunting I have never come across anything like this.
    They left everything behind except the Marijuana. All of the garbage is still there while our Government Agencies are contesting who gets (should) clean it up.
    The site is littered with scissors, propane bottles ,tents, sleeping bags, irrigation hose and a lot more.
    But I guess the wildlife gets to suffer while the agencies involved figure out who gets to pay for the clean up.
    Who pays these angencies budgets anyway ? We do !

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