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Pot Growers Spread To Arid Nevada

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Pot Growers Spread To Arid Nevada

Pot Growers Spread To Arid Nevada

LAS VEGAS -- Marijuana growers are beginning to expand into arid Southern Nevada public lands with the help of new irrigation techniques.

Last week, a group of federal and local agencies announced they found and destroyed more than 1,000 marijuana plants at a clandestine pot garden near Mount Charleston, outside of Las Vegas.

It’s the second pot farm agents have destroyed at the recreation site in under a month. The eradication team included personnel from several agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Drug Enforcement Agency.

California's public lands have long been exploited by marijuana growers. But law enforcement and forest rangers never expected to face that problem in Southern Nevada.

"So for quite a while I thought ‘Oh, you know, we are immune from having the marijuana gardens because it is so hot and dry here,’" said Stephanie Phillips, Deputy Forest Supervisor for the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

That changed last month when law enforcement discovered the first marijuana farm on Mount Charleston: A plantation of more than 4,000 cannabis plants. Authorities estimate the street value of the plantation at more than $23 million.

“What has been going on in California for many, many years is now moving east into Southern Nevada, most definitely,” Phillips said.

Law enforcement did not discover a single outdoor marijuana farm in Clark County in 2010, according to Kent Bitsko, director of Nevada’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area ( HIDTA) task force.

“This is a new problem for us,” Bitsko said in an interview on Nevada Public Radio.

Authorities said the growers used sophisticate techniques to tap into the springs around Mount Charleston to pipe the water to the marijuana plants, and also dug pits to store the water.

“They are extremely resourceful and know how to use a little bit of water to accomplish a lot,” Bitsko said.

No one has been arrested.

Mount Charleston, Nevada

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Map of Mount Charleston, Nevada, where two clandestine marijuana farms were recently been found and destroyed.

Jude Joffe-Block was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2010 to 2017.