Efforts to restore forest land shed light on illegal pot grow - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Efforts to restore forest land shed light on illegal pot grow in Ashland Co.

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CHEQUAMEGON-NICOLET NATIONAL FOREST (WAOW)--After hundreds of federal agents eradicated a major marijuana grow in Ashland County two weeks ago, crews are hard at work trying to restore forest land damaged in the large-scale operation.

Forest Officials said finding these sites is like finding a needle in a haystack. At one and a half million acres, the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest is one big haystack.

"These are public lands that we're all paying for to use and enjoy and to have them tainted for an illegal operation is upsetting to a lot of people," said the forest's Public Affairs Officer Suzanne Flory.

The grow covers about ten different sites throughout the woods. There were so many plants, crews used helicopters to remove them. "This grow site actually was found back in the fall by a bear hunter who was in the area," said Flory.

An estimated one million dollars worth of marijuana is now gone, but signs of the five men who were living in man-made shelters in the forest remain. When federal agents completed the bust on August 11th, they also found loaded weapons. A frightening reality that forest leaders said poses a threat anyone who uses the land. All of the suspects now face federal charges.

Growers dug holes and built an elaborate irrigation system to water the plants. Multiple generators were found buried in the ground to help with the operation. Fertilizer used to help the pot grow poses one of the biggest threats to the forest and wildlife. Forest Officials said a lot was used, and could contaminate nearby streams and rivers, immediately impacting wildlife.

Fire Zone Official Jennifer Rabuck said it's shocking to see the amount of damage done here for illegal purposes. "It's just really disappointing that this is everybody's property and a few people decided to degrade it so much."

Officials hope to have clean-up completed this week.

Online Reporter: Bonnie Shelton

 

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