The annual marijuana harvest was a bust, and local law enforcement officials couldn't be more pleased.
"If we don't find and destroy fields, that means they're either hidden fairly well and we didn't discover them--or they aren't there," said Ventura County Sheriff's Lt. Paul Anderson of the narcotics division. "We'd like to think there weren't that many there."
More than 700 plants worth about $2.4 million were found this year in Ventura County during the growing period, which lasts from June to late October, Anderson said. No growers were apprehended.
The booty was considerably less than last year, when officers found about 3,000 plants in three separate cultivated areas, Anderson said.
Crops probably were smaller this year because of drought conditions.
The 300,000-acre Los Padres National Forest, where most marijuana in Ventura County is discovered, did not offer sufficient water near the areas that provide routes needed to haul out a marijuana harvest, Anderson said.
Growers prefer to use public land rather than private so they can remain anonymous and not risk seizure of their personal assets if the crop is discovered, said Don Turner, a law enforcement officer with the U. S. Forest Service.
Marijuana planters found the necessary water supplies in adjacent Santa Barbara County, where three cultivated areas produced 32,178 plants--estimated to be worth almost $40 million.
The find occurred in August in the remote Cuyama Valley. Five people were arrested.
Santa Barbara County attributes its success to frequent helicopter patrols and the help of the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, a state-run multiagency marijuana enforcement and eradication task force.
The task force contributed 70 hours of National Guard time to run helicopter search flights over the forest, Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Detective Stan Mathiasen said.
Ventura County does not employ the task force's services, Anderson said.
Ventura County may also produce less marijuana than Santa Barbara County because helicopters owned by the Sheriff's Department make regular weekly flights to search for plants in addition to special trips to check out tips. Steady attention to the problem deters most growers, Turner said.
Santa Barbara County does not own helicopters, although it rents or borrows the craft when needed, said county Sheriff's Sgt. Sam Gross.