- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

ASPEN, Colo. (AP) - Federal officials removed thousands of marijuana plants growing illegally on national forest lands in the Aspen area for the second time this year.

About a dozen U.S. Forest Service workers with help from the Drug Enforcement Administration pulled out 2,630 plants near Ruedi Reservoir and discovered irrigation pipes Wednesday. Colorado has legalized sales of recreational marijuana, but the state regulates and licenses the industry.

“It was hunters who actually smelled it,” White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams told The Aspen Times for a story published Thursday (http://bit.ly/10mjGmm ).

The Forest Service estimated the plants were worth more than $6 million. No arrests were made in the raid.

“The demand is so high now that we expect there will be more” illegal grows, Fitzwilliams said. “The legal operators can’t keep up with demand.”

He said the site was under surveillance since a tip came in about the grow operation. He wouldn’t give its exact location because the agency’s law enforcement branch was investigating.

The Forest Service also removed a growing operation along Hayes Creek near Redstone last September. The 3,375 plants discovered in that raid were scattered over 2 to 3 acres. That garden was discovered and reported by a father and son out bow hunting. No arrests have been made.

The Forest Service is not patrolling for marijuana operations, relying on tips from the public, Fitzwilliams said.

The U.S. Department of Justice said last year that preventing use and possession of marijuana on federal lands is one of eight requirements for states to avoid federal intervention when state marijuana laws conflict with federal drug law.

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Information from: The Aspen Times, http://www.aspentimes.com/

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