For the third year, the Jackson County Sheriff's Department will continue a cooperative effort with six other counties to eradicate illegal marijuana grow sites on public lands in Southern Oregon.

For the third year, the Jackson County Sheriff's Department will continue a cooperative effort with six other counties to eradicate illegal marijuana grow sites on public lands in Southern Oregon.

Southern Oregon Multi-Agency Marijuana Eradication and Reclamation, or SOMMER, has been operating since 2010. It unites the drug-trafficking eradication resources of Jackson, Josephine, Coos, Curry, Douglas, Klamath and Lake counties. The grouping was spurred by cuts to various Southern Oregon law enforcement agencies, such as a recent failed public safety levy in Josephine County.

"There's power in regionalization and everybody working together rather than having to have all their own independent teams," said Jackson County Sheriff Mike Winters. "Everybody contributes, whether it's manpower, equipment, spotters, investigators. We put it all in one big pool, and then we go where we have to go."

The enforcement operations are funded with federal dollars, as the public lands are on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management property. The Jackson County Board of Commissioners approved a letter of understanding for $204,850 in federal funding Wednesday at its weekly public meeting. "This program is making a big difference," Commissioner John Rachor said.

County Administrator Danny Jordan said if the federal aid wasn't available, the money for eradication efforts would have to come from the county's general fund.

Police say getting rid of grow sites is important to protect ranchers, hikers and other individuals living near or using public lands. During 2010's statewide marijuana grow site removal efforts, about 70 percent of the crop seized came from Southern Oregon counties. SOMMER officials made 23 arrests and seized about 135,000 plants from public lands throughout the seven counties during 2010.

"A big stronghold was in Josephine County," Winters said, "because they've had such a reduced amount of law enforcement for so long."

In 2011, the numbers dropped to seven arrests and 5,800 plants.

SOMMER has received nearly $1 million in federal funding the past two years, though not all of it has been used. Untapped funds are sent back, Winters said, and can be redistributed to other Oregon counties. This helps everybody involved, police said, because eradication in one region force traffickers to pack up and go elsewhere in the state.

"(They're) very coordinated," Winters said.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or email rpfeil@mailtribune.com.