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Spotters find marijuana plot

Deputies pull illegal garden in swampy area

Law enforcement officials flying with the National Guard this week discovered a marijuana-growing operation north of Prospect and seized 14 large plants.

Spotters found the illegal garden in a swampy area on public land, said Dewey Patten, commander of the Jackson County Narcotics Enforcement Team.

Because the property was so remote, deputies didn't set up a surveillance operation to wait around for the grower. They simply went in Tuesday and removed the plants, Patten said. The plants, which filled the back of a pickup truck, were taken to the Jackson County Sheriff's Department.

Tuesday's fly-over was a team effort between JACNET and the Oregon National Guard. National Guard pilots were scheduled to fly a helicopter carrying a JACNET spotter three days this week.

— To us, it's a surveillance run, Patten said. To them it's a training mission.

Oregon National Guard spokeswoman Kay Fristad said the Guard regularly participates in anti-drug surveillance flights around the state. The flights provide a training opportunity for pilots and give them a chance to help police.

Support of civilian authorities is part of our mission, she said.

In addition to the Oregon National Guard, Army Reserve and Marine Reserve pilots from units in California participate in surveillance flights, Patten said. When the military isn't on hand to conduct the flights, officers rely on local aviation companies that have contracts with the narcotics-enforcement team.

JACNET gets about &

36;100,000 a year for marijuana surveillance and eradication, Patten said. Oregon State Police distribute funds from the federal Department of Justice to local drug-fighting efforts for aerial surveillance and overtime for officers. The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management provide funds earmarked for the eradication of marijuana on their lands, he said.

Surveillance flights, which focus on public forest lands and those owned by large timber companies, usually start in early August, Patten said. then, most grass and other ground cover has dried to a golden brown, so illegal, irrigated crops stand out, he explained.

Flights typically are conducted two to four days a week, until officers think they have had a look at the entire county or funding runs out, Patten said.

With help from the Oregon Army National Guard, Jackson County authorities this week seized 14 large marijuana plants near Prospect. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell