How to identify a pot grove:
*If the plants - which can reach 12 feet high - have palms sprouting an odd number of serrated leaves.
*If one or more vehicles - possibly with out-of-state plates - show up regularly in the same isolated area.
*If camps, including tents and trailers, are set up where no hunting, hiking, biking or other recreational activities usually occur.
*If structures are located in remote areas with gardening supplies including bags of herbicides and pesticides.
*If signs of cultivation such as piping, soil disturbance, fenced areas, are seen.
Source: Federal law enforcement officers
CEDAR CITY - Forest Service officials are turning to the grass roots - hikers, hunters, passers-by - to help root out, well, grass.
You know, the illegal kind. Pot. Dope. Weed.
Yes, marijuana increasingly is springing up in remote areas throughout the West, including Utah, and federal officers are seeking public help in eliminating the illegal plants from public land.
"A large grow was reported by a citizen last year on the Pine Valley Ranger District [of the Dixie National Forest] just north of St. George," says Special Agent Charlie Vaughn, criminal investigator for the Dixie, Fishlake and Manti-La Sal national forests in southern and central Utah.
Vaughn says officers confiscated 1,700 plants and charged four people with cultivating the drug.
He says crews destroyed 680,000 marijuana plants found at more than 1,200 grow sites last year in forests nationwide. Evidence suggests that another 77,600 plants were harvested.
Vaughn warns that the marijuana operations often are associated with other crimes, including importation and possession of illegal weapons and the pollution of watersheds.
Tim Clark, Heber City-based patrol captain for Utah's national forests, advises people who come across pot groves to retrace their steps out of the area then contact the appropriate law enforcement agency.
"In case there are booby traps, it's best to immediately leave the way you came in," Clark says.
Vaughn echoes those concerns. "These are not places to linger."
Clark says there have been no confrontations in Utah between passers-by and growers, who usually live on the site and are armed.
Each year, about one or two operations are located in Utah, usually by hunters and usually in remote areas. The grow sites spread to Utah, Clark says, after other states such as California and some in the East created interagency task forces to spot and eradicate the marijuana groves.
"Pressure in other states has caused them to branch out to more remote areas like in Utah," he says.
The Forest Service - in conjunction with area law-enforcement agencies - occasionally conducts aerial flights looking for pot farms. Harvesting takes place from late August through October.