Sheriff: Thousands of pot plants found in forest

WESTFIR, Ore. -- Deputies busted a marijuana grow operation over the weekend involving more than 3,000 marijuana plants worth an estimated $30 million, the Lane County Sheriff's Office said.

Officers didn't finish the job of tearing the plants out on Sunday, and the total haul could top 5,000 plants and $40 million, according to early estimates at the scene.

Law enforcement took 16 people into custody Friday as a part of a multi-agency raid on a marijuana grow operation. They were lodged at the Lane County Jail on a federal hold.

The grow-op was found in the Willamette National Forest north of Westfir, Sgt. Steve French said.

"This is not the first year that they've been in there," Sgt. French said. "You could tell by the way that they had built the beds for the plants, and also their irrigation system. They had been in there for quite some time."

Officers armed with assualt rifles and tactical gear hiked a mile down a steep slope, losing 2,000 feet of elevation to reach the remote site.

"They want to be able to grow without being seen by other individuals," French said. "If they're seen, then their operation is compromised and they lose their money."

The investigation started when the sheriff's office received a tip about some suspicious vehicles in the area.

Teams started removing marijuana plants and grow equipment from the three separate "cuts" on Saturday. Officials said each had multiple grows and thousands of plants.

The sheriff's office estimates that 3,000 marijuana plants were removed from the grow-op on Sunday alone. They valued Sunday's haul at around $30 million.

Officials at the scene told our reporters they expect as many as 5,000 plants were growing at the different sites.

Sgt. French said that federal law enforcement, Department of Justice, U.S. Forest Service and Oregon State Police all aided Lane County Sheriff's Office with this multi-agency effort.