DES MOINES - State narcotics enforcement authorities in Iowa are asking farmers and hunters to keep an eye out for large marijuana plots hidden in dense timber areas after recent busts uncovered cases of illicit cultivation.
Law enforcement authorities fear confrontations could develop between unsuspecting landowners or hunters and the squatters who have set up growing operations illegally.
The Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement said Friday it discovered and destroyed large outdoor marijuana growing operations last month in southern Iowa and northern Missouri.
Rural land owners, farm workers, and hunters who may be walking through remote and seldom-visited areas in the coming month should be aware of the recent trend of growers taking over plots carved out of timberland on private property.
In the operations discovered recently, the growers locate land where the owner either lives out of state or not near the property.
They cut down trees and set up the growing operation in the middle of the timber out of site.
They often move in to tend to the plants daily.
"They're actually creating an encampment with the plot so they're spending a lot of time at the plot which increases the risk of confrontation with property owners," said Kevin Winker, Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement assistant director.
"... If you find yourself in the middle of a marijuana grow you should back out and get to a safe place and contact local law enforcement to let them know what you've seen," he said.
These new illicit growing operations are popping up in the rural Midwest because it reduces the risk to the drug makers.
They don't have to risk getting caught bringing illegal pot across the Southwest border into the United States, they don't have to transport it long distances across highways, and the remote rural areas enable them to carefully control the growing process.
The primary motivation is money.
In a September bust in Taylor County authorities found 3,850 plants. In this type of careful cultivation and growing operation the growers can get a pound of finished marijuana from each plant, Winker said.
With each pound valued at around $2,000, it translates into an illicit crop valued at $7.7 million.
Another operation discovered on Sept. 25 in Decatur County had 571 plants and a bust in Worth County, Mo., on the same day discovered 1,124 plants.
The plants in all three operations were destroyed.
In these recent cases authorities have found the operations run by people who are not U.S. citizens, Winker said.
Four individuals from Mexico have been arrested in connection with the Decatur County, Iowa and Worth County, Mo., plots.
Ringgold County Sheriff Mike Sobotka said the arrests were the result of a traffic stop on Sept. 24 near Mount Ayr and a search warrant served on a Mount Ayr home the next day.
The four are charged with conspiracy to manufacture and possession of marijuana. They have been appointed attorneys and interpreters and have initial court appearances scheduled for Oct. 8.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement placed immigration detainers on the four, which allows the federal agency to take custody of the subjects if they're released from the county jail.
It's typically a step used to allow immigration authorities to consider whether the subjects held should be deported.