In the wooded ravines of western Iowa, marijuana growers may be quietly camping out, staying close by to tend their crops.
And with fall bringing harvest and hunting season, Iowa drug enforcement officials are warning farmers and hunters that they could stumble upon a marijuana growing operation.
Their advice: Leave it alone and call police.
“Our recommendation is that they get out of there,” said Sheriff Lyle Palmer of Page County, Iowa. “They could have booby traps and anything else. ... Please do not put yourself in harm's way.”
In recent weeks, Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement agents and local law enforcement officers have eradicated two large, outdoor marijuana operations in southern Iowa and one across the border in Missouri.
But there could be other undiscovered sites in wooded areas of south-central and southwest Iowa, on public lands and also on private property owned by people unaware of the illegal activity.
Recent marijuana operations found by authorities are:
» An abandoned 3,850-plant operation in a timbered area southeast of Bedford, Iowa, in Taylor County, eradicated by officials on Sept. 14
» A 571-plant operation in rural Decatur County, eradicated Sept. 25.
» A 1,124-plant operation in Worth County, Mo., which is just south of the Iowa border. It is believed to be connected to the Decatur County operation and was raided the same day.
The plants have ranged in size from 4 feet to 10 feet tall, said Kevin Winker, assistant director of the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement.
What makes the operations unique, Winker said, is that people are actually staying on site, basically setting up camp to care for the crop. This summer's drought may be a factor.
“If you are able to control the amount of water the plant is getting, the amount of fertilizer, you are going to get a better product,” he said.
Four people have been arrested in connection with the Decatur and Worth County operations.
Court documents in the case tell the story.
The Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement began investigating outdoor growing operations in the region in June.
The Decatur County operation was discovered in a remote timbered area. In addition to the 571 live plants, state agents seized dried plants, a large amount of plastic tubing, containers of Miracle-Gro, pesticides, a solar battery charging system, cellular telephone charging cords, several black plastic trash bags and camouflage clothing.
In Worth County, Mo., agents found a larger and similarly-elaborate operation “approximately the size of a football field,” court documents state.
The four arrested in the case are residents of Mount Ayr, Iowa, in nearby Ringgold County, Winker said.
Other states in the Midwest have dealt with camped out marijuana growers in recent years, Winker said.
“It now appears that these people are moving into Iowa to conduct similar grow operations,” he said. “There could be other plots out there we are not aware of and they might not just be in southern Iowa.”
Nebraska State Patrol spokeswoman Deb Collins said the agency was unaware of any cases of someone camping on site to tend to an illicit crop, but in years past people have planted marijuana in remote areas, returning intermittently to tend to and harvest it.
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