Somewhere in an Iron County landfill, buried deep under mountains of malodorous refuse, a veritable forest of marijuana was beginning to rot on Friday.
In all, a multi-agency law enforcement task force led by the Iron County Sheriff's Office seized 15,692 plants during raids Thursday on two remote pot farms about 15 miles northeast of Cedar City.
The winners: up to 80 officers representing not only the office of Carbon County Sheriff Mark Gower, but also the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Bureau of Land Management; Beaver, Garfield and Kane counties; the Utah Department of Public Safety (DPS); and Cedar City.
The losers, according to Gower: Mexican drug cartels that set up such operations in southern Utah's sparsely populated high deserts.
Gower said the raids began about dawn Thursday on two "marijuana gardens" a half-mile apart, one on private land and the other on public property.
Officers worked all day harvesting the plants and loading them onto a DPS helicopter for transport to the unidentified landfill.
"The landowner of the private property was not involved in any way," Gower said. "This goes all the way to Mexico and the [drug] cartels."
The sheriff said the pot plots were "very sophisticated" operations that included irrigation systems.
No arrests were made, Gower said. Foot traffic in the areas indicated it had been several days since the sites were last visited by their illicit tenders.
The sites were spotted from the air by DEA aircraft early last week, the sheriff said.
The DEA continues to investigate possible leads and evidence gathered at the sites, Gower said.