In the last 3 months, the Inyo Sheriff’s Office has conducted a series of raids in the foothills of the Sierra on what may be one of the biggest marijuana cultivation operations in the Western United States. This according to Inyo Sheriff Bill Lutze. And, today, the Sheriff confirmed that two bodies were found up in the Oak Creek area of the Sierra. It is unknown if this discovery is related to the major cultivation activity.
This week, some 65 members of all local law enforcement agencies plus federal and state drug agents organized a sharply choreographed raid on a cultivation area west of Independence in the Shepherd’s Creek Canyon. Officers from Mammoth and Bishop Police, Inyo and Mono Sheriff’s, CHP, USFS, BLM. Sheriff Lutze took local reporters into his confidence so we could see this major operation first hand.
The tactical teams of officers gathered at the command post set up at the old Manzanar Airstrip south of Independence. Four helicopters from San Bernardino Sheriff’s office and the California Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement lined up on the airstrip to fly teams of men up to the grow site. They expected to find suspects.
Sheriff Lutze estimated that more than 50,000 marijuana plants were growing in various sites in the Sierra. The Sheriff said that hikers had stumbled onto the huge pot farm at Shepherd’s Creek and reported it to Inyo Sheriff’s deputies.
Aerial photos revealed the expanse of rows of plants, which were apparently irrigated by creek water. The operation to raid this cultivation area and others in the Sierra was headed by INET Commander Jeff Hollowell. The operation was called SUMMIT, Sierra Unified Major Marijuana Investigation Team.
Holowell instructed officers that they would be flown in as three groups at different elevations around the grow site. Officers did catch two suspects, described as Hispanic. They did not resist arrest and were flown out of the mountains in a metal litter suspended from the choppers.
Then agents began to cut plants and haul them out with choppers. The plants were tossed into a county dump truck and chipper. The debris was then buried deeply in the Independence Dump.
This incident revealed that the Sierra has become host to major marijuana cultivation. Sheriff Lutze said that in earlier weeks, the BLM and ICSO had raided another grow site in the Little Lake area at the base of the Sierra. Some 7,000 plants were recovered and three were arrested.
While the Shepherd’s Creek grow site appears to be the major operation, Sheriff Lutze said that another grow site was detected in what’s called the Hogback area of the Sierra south of Independence.
Officers had installed cameras on roads leading into the Sierra. A total of 5 grow sites – two in the Little Lake area and three further north along the Sierra, including Hogback and Shepherd’s Creek. Are there more?
Tuesday morning, Sheriff Lutze reported that some Hispanic people reported to his office that they found members of their family burned to death up in the Inyo Complex fire area. Sheriff Lutze said that Search and Rescue and deputies began the search and did find two bodies. Lutze said the two were found next to another marijuana grow site of some 15,000 plants. It appears the two were victims of the Inyo Complex fire.