Utah media goes marijuana-grow busting

Utah media, forest service crew, SWAT and Washington County Sheriff's Detective head out to find the marijuana grow in Browse, Washington County, Utah, Aug. 24, 2012 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

WASHINGTON COUNTY – What happens when a multi-agency task force targets a marijuana grow under high cover and invites a media corps along for the bust? This is one embedded reporter’s telling for the reader’s vicarious experience.

Friday morning at dawn a force of 60-70 agents from multiple agencies (listed at the close of this report) set out on foot west of Interstate 15 at mile marker 30 into the Browse region of the Dixie National Forest. Their mission was to locate and secure a large marijuana grow that had been sighted through helicopter surveillance some days earlier.

An hour or so later, a second group followed, single file, a pace behind and keeping radio communication with the advance team to ensure the area ahead had been secured and was safe to enter. This group consisted of eight members of Utah’s press corps representing five Utah news services, a crew from the forest service, two SWAT team members flanking the group front and back, and one Washington County Sheriff’s detective charged with the perhaps inglorious task of escorting the media for a firsthand experience of “grow busting.”

SWAT escorts equipped, checking radio and gps devices before proceeding with media forward. Washington County Sheriff’s task force seizes marijuana grow in the Browse region of the Dixie National Forest, Washington County, Utah, Aug. 24, 2012 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

This was a sensitive operation culminating three years of investigation and implemented undercover resources and stealth expertise; media was admonished that the mission could not be published until permission was given, face photos and identification of agency personnel involved in the action were not to be released to the public; and acceptance of the invitation was an implied agreement with those terms.

The morning was almost cool and the trek started from a gravel road. Most of the media group expected the “field trip” to take four-five hours round trip at most. It took 12.

Despite admonitions to take plenty of water and food, most did not. Despite being forewarned that the terrain would be rugged and difficult, several opted to carry large camera bags and tripods. Despite the implied agreement to keep a lock on publication of the mission to insure its success and the safety of agents involved, at least one media person tweeted early on in the media’s hike that the action was in play. Foolish? Ambitious? Questionable character?

Rugged terrain en route to the grow. Browse, Utah, Aug. 24, 2012 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

Trails were scarce and evidence of any human presence in the area was virtually nonexistent. Our expedition took us in serpentine zigzags through deep ravines, steep climbs up and over ridges, crunching through manzanita, juniper and stiff brush and bush, slogging through waters as tan as the khaki apparel worn by our SWAT escorts.

As the morning bloomed, the weather grew increasingly humid due to recent rains and a Southern Utah monsoon effect more moist than usual. We slid and slipped, tromped and trudged, got scratched and bled, we sweated. There were laughter and low whispers, even an occasional expletive as deadwood branches snapped at us from trees scorched by fires of years past, protesting our brash incursion through their habitat.

Reporters aided one another, sharing loads, finding walking sticks, joining together as a team with those whom we compete against in our professional lives. It’s fair to say that media bonded for a day and saw a little bit of each other’s heart, spirit and character.

Communication with the primary task force gave our escorts reports that encouraged us onward. “They’ve found a huge grow, some plants 10 to 12 feet high,” they said at one point. Our SWAT agent said he hadn’t seen plants that tall in years. Eventually, we saw the Utah Highway Patrol helicopter servicing the mission flying overhead not far beyond us. We forged ahead.

UHP helicopter, Browse, Utah, Aug. 24, 2012 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

Our first sighting of “Mary Jane” was a lower grow across a canyon from the larger grow. We reached it around 12:15 p.m., four-and-a-half hours since our hike began. The lower grow is the one that was open enough to be spotted by helicopter surveillance, and it gave rise to the day’s action. “They got greedy and we got lucky,” one DEA agent said.

The lower grow had evidently not been tended for some time; except for a few large bright green plants remaining, most were browning and stripped of all but bud clusters.

Irrigation lines to marijuana plants, Washington County, Utah, Aug. 24, 2012 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

What revealed order and attention to detail was the intricately engineered irrigation system. There was a main PVC line running between plants, with offshoot tubing to each plant set within its own dirt well.

Water source is key to a marijuana grow – and agents said that it can be an aid in locating them. Find the water source and sometimes you find a grow. In this case, they found the grow and they had yet to find the water source on Friday. That search would continue through the weekend.

The negative impact on water sources, whether by diversion, depletion or contamination, is one problem the grows create. And the fertilizer. Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher said that loads of fertilizer brought in for the grow also contaminate the environment.

Those tending the grow – usually two people except during harvest time a DEA agent said – had abandoned the area, apparently within a couple weeks of the day’s action. It was unusual to not have a “chase” to detain the “gardeners,” one SWAT agent said, and chases could include gunfire. Our escorts were well armed.

Various people speculated that the growers had been spooked, possibly by the seizure of a large grow in Iron County in the past month or by overhead air activity during recent wildfire fighting. It was actually a helicopter surveillance that fortuitously spotted the lower grow.

Final climb inward bound media trek to the marijuana grow, Washington County, Utah, Aug. 24, 2012 | Photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

As our media expedition crossed the last canyon to the primary grow site, dehydration and hunger were taking their toll. But at the top of our last inbound climb, we arrived to multiple huge piles of the plants and irrigation tubing all bundled to be air-slinged out. It invigorates you somehow, when you find the prize you’ve been seeking.

The UHP Helicopter flew in and out for hours collecting sling after sling of the loot while we and 60-some agents ate sack lunches and quenched our thirsts with repast airlifted in for us.

The plants had been thriving in and amidst all sorts of growth, much like what we had been bushwhacking. They were not neatly planted like a fruit tree grove. One agent said that planting in and under other growth is one way the growers camouflage their sites. But it did not seem to impede the speed with which the task force could uproot and collect the plants. They had finished amassing 3,600 plants by the time the media team arrived, with only a couple hours lead.

A sling load of irrigation equipment and odd paraphernalia is prepped for a lift. Washington County Sheriff’s task force seizes marijuana grow in the Browse region of the Dixie National Forest, Washington County, Utah, Aug. 24, 2012 | Photo by Dallas Hyland, St. George News

The growers’ campsite and kitchen were dismantled, pop-up tents, sleeping bags, propane tanks, camp stove, screens for drying the product, wires and strings stretching here and there between trees like clothes line. There were considerable amounts of accumulated garbage. All of this was bagged for extraction, some for further examination.

But, the most telling and unusual conversation pieces found at this particular grow were a leg cast in the shape of the bend of a knee, and crutches. Both showed a fading paint of green, apparently for camouflage. The cast had pictures of what appears to be a machine gun and a marijuana leaf, and words marked on it, “Corazon,” “Michoaca” and “F.M.” One DEA Agent said that Michoaca is a town in South America and the other references “La Familia,” a known drug cartel. She said that these items were quite a find because they show what lengths these growers will go to, what dedication they have. The sheriff said it is known that this grow is connected with an organization, and the investigation is ongoing.

The man in charge, Washington County Sheriff Cory Pulsipher takes a load off, pleased with a job well done. Washington County Sheriff’s task force seizes marijuana grow in the Browse region of the Dixie National Forest, Washington County, Utah, Aug. 24, 2012 | Photo by Dallas Hyland, St. George News

As the scene was being cleaned up and the contraband removed, teams of SWAT and the media safari, minus one transported by helicopter due to an orthopedic stress, headed out on foot for the return trek.  Some headed for a peak, intending to follow the ridgeline back to a road. Another group split off and opted for an “as the crow flies” approach, up and over and down and up peak after peak. Anyone familiar with the classic traveling song, “The Bear Went over the Mountain,” knows the moral of that story – there is always another mountain.

The mettle of the media has to be commended. The SWAT and sheriff’s detective escorts said that this was the most arduous hike in-and-out that they had encountered in pursuing a grow. But they are physically trained and tuned for this kind of a trek. Media? Not necessarily, although some do a fair amount of hiking Utah’s wild lands. Our group suffered some bouts of dehydration with accompanying chills, lactic acid locking up quads and calves, light-headedness and heat exhaustion, but everyone pressed on relatively cheerfully with resolve – and none got hurt.

It was a kind of “stress test” for the media corps and some wondered tongue-in-cheek if it was revenge by design that we had been invited on this mission.

In the end, that UHP helicopter airlifted out almost as many groups of people as it had swags of contraband. The agent taking headcount said only two of the entire 60-70 involved made it all the way out on foot.

What the “walk-along” experience gave media, that no press release ever could, was a sense of the magnitude and complexity of these operations. The manpower involved and the coordination among them was fine-tuned, enthusiastic and able. Their patience in approach to insure a successful and safe seizure was stealth and timed. Their attention to cleaning up the site was appreciable.

The evident devotion of the criminal growers was also eye-opening; if it took the media expedition five hours to cross about four miles of terrain to reach the grow, we had to wonder what determination it took for “the gardeners” to do so and to live there for years – one of them perhaps with a broken leg, unless he was attended to at the site. The living set-up was messy, rudimentary and scant, among not-a-few ants. There were no creature comforts. Yet, agents said that intelligence suggests the grow has been operational in this remote area for years. St. George News reporter Dallas Hyland said what many were thinking to some degree or another: “I almost respect the ‘sonofabitch’ that would live such an existence, not to mention cross the terrain in a cast and on crutches.”

But there could be no respect for the destruction and misuse of land that had invaded the region, or for the organizations that perpetuate this kind of activity. The machine gun etched on the cast gives warning; these growers will not welcome unwitting visitors. The sheriff said he will not stop his pursuit of them, the growers and their organizers, “we don’t want them here,” he said. And there was no question he meant it.

Note: Represented among the task force were the Washington County Sheriff ‘s Department, Utah Highway Patrol, Metro Narcotics Salt Lake City Drug Enforcement Agency, police from the cities of St. George, Ivins, Washington and Hurricane, the U.S. Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management.

See also St. George News Aug. 24 story on the raid.

Click on photo to enlarge it, then use your left-right arrow keys to cycle through the gallery. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @JoyceKuzmanic

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2012, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!


  • sam August 26, 2012 at 6:56 am

    I would love to know how much this 3 year investigation to destroy plants cost as well as the hike with reporters?

  • ron August 26, 2012 at 7:18 am

    Wonderful example of the absurdity of our nation’s drug laws. Like “sam,” I’d be interested in knowing how many of our tax dollars were spent on this. Will anyone be safer as a result? (Well, maybe somebody who might have stumbled into the camp, but other than that?) Will drug use suddenly plummet? Will other growers shut down their operation in fear?

  • johnny 1 August 26, 2012 at 8:44 am

    “This was a sensitive operation culminating three years of investigation and implemented undercover resources and stealth expertise; ”

    No arrests !
    3 years of investigating = no suspects

    “Those tending the grow – usually two people except during harvest time a DEA agent said – had abandoned the area, apparently within a couple weeks of the day’s action. It was unusual to not have a “chase” to detain the “gardeners,” one Swat agent said, and chases could include gunfire. Our escorts were well armed.”

    How our government spends your tax dollars , you have been “served”

  • BCA August 26, 2012 at 9:11 am

    Seems like a waste of government resources and obvious pandering to the media who are pretty lame to begin with

  • Hunger Games August 26, 2012 at 9:42 am

    Thank you for displaying how a public relations campaign orchestrated by the true beneficiaries of the failed war on drugs — those who are employed by and provide support material for it — can compromise the independence of local journalists.

    What is the prize for the most positive news coverage of the drug warriors exploits? A cushy position flacking for the government? Perhaps former KSL reporter turned FBI spokesperson Debbie Dujanovic can offer some insight.

    Allowing cannabis to be legally cultivated on privately-owned land would eliminate the incentive to squat on government-seized land — land that the federal government clearly has too much of to effectively steward — and grow a product only available on the black market.


  • BJ August 26, 2012 at 10:08 am

    I am extremely excited to read this story ,and see pictures documenting the sucess of the Washington County Drug Task Force in taking down this grow. It doesn’t mater the cost of this operation. We the citizens of Washington County and America can sleep easier tonight knowing there is one less grow in our area. I for one, am requesting these officers to search and remove any and all grows and fight all drug activity, so that my children and grandchildren will not become slaves of this EVIL or become a victim of someone else using Marijuana and other drugs and commiting a crime while under its influence. Once again my hats off to the WCSO/DEA for exceptional work. Thank you.

    • ron August 26, 2012 at 12:24 pm

      Obviously, you’ve been taken in by the propaganda equating marijuana with hard drugs like meth and heroin. Crimes committed under the influence of marijuana?? Maybe jaywalking.

    • Lauren August 26, 2012 at 8:53 pm

      Yeah I am astonished at the level of stupidity reguarding a harmless substance. If I drink all night I will most likely end up in jail or dead if I smoke weed all night I will spend $30 at jack in the box and will fall asleep. There is just no reason to be so nieve about such a harmless plant.

    • hal mason August 27, 2012 at 4:54 am

      you must be REALLY OLD or REALLY DUMB to believe anything you said was tru ! I H* patriots who do not know HISTORY ! Let me school you ..OUR FOREFATHERS BROUGHT HEMP HERE MANDATED THE GROWING OF HEMP ,, hemp was number 3 in the nation ,behind cotton and tobacco.Abraham Loncoln said ” one of his favorite things to do was to smoke sweet hemp in his pipe on the porch and play his harmonica. I am sure your kids and your grandkids will be able to enjoy all the bud they want because of Medical marijuana and because several states are legalizing completely !

  • Randy Quast August 26, 2012 at 10:49 am

    What a waste of time & money! Comical, if it weren’t so sad.

  • Bill Lewis August 26, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Billions have been spent “fighting” this (War?) for over 50 years and it just gets easier to buy. Time to Legalize and license to grow license to process and tax to buy. The result millions for Utah to spend improving and maintaining roads and campgrounds along with better schools and other services that are straining under budget shortfalls.

  • Wayne August 26, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    I love this *&^!! Utah, where poligamy is OK, and smoking a joint is not. Who is brewing beer in their basement?? How many pot heads kill people versus DUI’s????

  • Tyler August 26, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Oh my god, this is so ridiculous! We’d might as well see more of those $300,000 carousels go up in neighborhoods all over the area blowing this kind of money! This makes me wanna get so stoned right now to tune all of this BS out.

  • Freedom, Liberty and Justice to ALL August 26, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    STGnews.com, that would be a great investigation for your news team to report on: just how much money has been spent (blown in the eyes of many) on this failed war on drugs in the local area for the past 3 years or so. When oh when is this stuff going to be legal? One of the biggest mistakes aside from just plain legalization of mary jane, is how this country allows only some states to decide if they want to legalize and not requiring all to do so. Afterall, if we’re so prided on being the Land of the Free from sea to shining sea, why not just end this ridiculous, failed drug war and legalize nationwide.

    How contradicting that we once sold “spice”, a man-made artificial pot (with harmful chemicals and side affects), in smoke shops everywhere. We the public were shown right then just how easily marijuana could be measured out and sold in little containers just like spice was.
    Somebody, somewhere is making HUGE $$$ on these busts all the time, therefore preventing legalization. Brainwash by the government for power, greed, control and evil will never cease as long as we exist.

  • Joey August 26, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    I love the smell of burnt tax dollars in the mourning…..

  • Christina August 26, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Money wasted. Time wasted. Breath wasted. Words wasted. if all the things that went into the creation of this situation had been used on something other than this poorly written and obviously stilted journalistic piece, what would we have? Maybe another carousel, considering the people running this town. Almost everyone I’ve ever met has smoked weed at least once in their life, and most of the people i know, whether mothers, students, professionals or artists use marijuana at least every once in a while. It has a purpose, and this sensationalism is not it.

  • Fight For Y(OUR) Right August 26, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    We all need to put a STOP to this outrageous act by our government officials! What happenend to “we the people”?! If we continue to sit our lazy American asses on our sofas, and at most, complain via online media, these annual grows go on getting busted year after year, further blowing our tax dollars.

  • urbanboy August 26, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    While all you brainwashed workers with the county task force and DEA are up there believing you’re doing good and helping the community by taking down these persisitent grows, we have citizens driving drunk, killing people and underage drinking going on everywhere with its easy access. We have citizens doped up on heroin, Jonny and half of his block are building meth labs, meanwhile little Suzy is sniffing her hourly line of coke and good ol’ Mayor McCarthur with his rainbow, disco colored perspective on the community is a whistlin Dixie at some silly ribbon cutting. People, wake up and get some contact!

  • Female Backpacker August 26, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    I LOVED this article! Very well written. Very dramatic description of lactic acid locking up in quads and calves! I LOVED the part about tongue-in-cheek revenge by design. You would only know if you have tried to hike this mountain. I am glad to know our wilderness in my backyard is safer. Thank you!!!

  • Earl August 26, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    There is nothing I’d rather see tax dollars going to than eradicating weed and cock roaches from my country. Keep up the good work guys, you have far more fans in the community than are reflected in the above comments. The only thing that’s ever going to end this Bull*&^ are UAV’S and electronic currency, It’s comming and I cant wait!

    • Tonka Tanaka August 26, 2012 at 8:10 pm

      Weed and cockroaches eh, Earl? I’m wondering what those two things have ever done to you to make you such a prejudice propagandist airhead. By the way, no “cockroaches” were even caught. All this article shows is that the DEA and WCSO wasted a bunch of money and manpower chopping down some trees that were already harvested and deserted weeks ago. You all think cultivators of weed are going to process and chop down the weed like the DEA shmucks do when they’re finished with it? Obviously they’re not going to camp around waiting to get arrested. Just like the carousels of st george, this is going to be a dance going around and around with are money going in the crapper.

  • urbanboy August 26, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    Earl, if there’s “far more fans in the community than are reflected in the above comments”…where are their 2 cents? This is a free forum right? Does that make you feel better, making up some bull*&^ that really you have no clue about? Go pull up your panties and put some big boy boots on and join the “heroes” in tearing down these grows with your tax dollars.

  • Barb August 26, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    Wow, since when can we openly use profanity on article comments? For once in St. George I feel like an adult!

  • Barb August 26, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    Oh, woops, did I like ruin being able to use profanity? Aww sorry. Does anybody wanna match a bowl with me? I’m bored, let’s get lit tonight 🙂

  • Brett August 26, 2012 at 11:20 pm

    Wow, the “legalizers” really come out on these articles. I suppose they were concerned the local price might go a bit higher. Sorry guys!

    It’s only a matter of time until some innocent wanders into a grow and pays the ultimate price. Hey, what an awesome idea! Since the price is going up for you poor individuals, maybe you can go on a hike and score a free bud or two! 🙂

  • Jade August 26, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    I don’t even smoke, infact I don’t like cannibas, you don’t have to be a smoker at all to realize how stupid and corrupt the government is over this senseless, endless war on drugs. So, Brett, tell me or all of us, busting these grows and chopping them down is going to stop or prevent this “problem”? Greed is the only drive here. Public safety and heroism by the DEA and other officials being the cover.
    Good points in these comments, especially the contradiction of alcohol being legal over weed.

  • Dust in the Wind August 26, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    Hey, has anybody thought that maybe, just maybe, the DEA and Washington County Drug Task Force are planting these secretly, then when mature enough, they go “bust” their workings, become the media spotlight and ultimately rake in the dough? This may seem like a crazy idea to some. But after the conspiracy of 9/11, nothing should surprise us anymore.

  • Eric August 27, 2012 at 12:52 am

    Wow.. That might have been one of the cheesiest articles ive ever read..

  • Skip Holton August 27, 2012 at 1:32 am

    ***Breaking *** In other news today, the price of cannabis in the Utah region increased by $5 per ounce. The Mexican cartels are now reporting increased quarterly profits in the Utah region as a result of the price increase.

  • hal mason August 27, 2012 at 4:01 am

    LOOKS like alot of FAT HYPOCRITES out there wasting TAX dollars barking up the wrong tree! Cures Obesity heh chubby! Cures cancer hey dying! food clothes composites medicine gods gift to the earth! Jesus annointed in HEMP OIL ! Founding Fathers BROUGHT HEMP- Mandated growing hemp! NOW THIS BULL*&^ 12,000 years of use and FAT UGLY SELF CENTERD AMERICAN PIGS think they have any right ! TIMES ARE CHANGING ! YOUR time has come you will be GONE ! GOOD RIDANCE!

  • Brian August 27, 2012 at 5:11 am

    A drug bust in Utah and no civilians were killed? Huh, we don’t see that every day.

  • Murat August 27, 2012 at 7:10 am

    Cory Pulsipher in his natural state, sitting on his fat rump in the shade, watching his minions do his bidding. At least he set his watermelon aside for the photo. I’m beginning to understand why it took him 3 years to figure out the location of this one operation out of dozens.

  • Jim August 27, 2012 at 9:46 am

    This is beyond ridiculous. Its just as fortunate as it is unfortunate that the police are so very incompetent. If anyone believes that this is a good operation and practice, they need to get their heads out of their a*&^les and seek truth, for only then will we be able to help + save ourselves from a government that teaches us (brainwashes) what’s wrong is right, and what’s right is wrong!

  • Alvin August 27, 2012 at 1:02 pm

    Arresting a few growers does not accomplish anything in the long run. An ongoing investigation of the growers which could lead to more important people involved is always the goal of law enforcement. If these guys are affiliated to a gang that is into heavy crime and decapitating people (Mexico gangs-cartels) then that’s who they want. A 3 year investigation is not that big of a deal or out of the question.

  • MTB Girl August 27, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Not enough can be done to eradicate these dangerous operations. They pose a huge threat to the unlucky outdoor enthusiast that happens upon them unknowingly. A large operation in my area was recently busted that was located right on a route I ride my mountain bike on weekly. Along with the 900 plants they discovered two dead bodies in shallow graves! Last year I happened to be riding in an different local area and came across lots of mysterious footprints where one would not expect to see any. The very next day I discover that there had been a bust of 1200 plants and the grower/guards escaped on foot down the path I had been riding on. Public awareness is important and unfortunately extreme caution is needed when exploring outdoors.

  • Dexter Vandango August 28, 2012 at 2:06 am

    An interesting article. One point worth remembering – separate the substance from the dealer. Criminals and yes, sometimes killers deal pot and other drugs. But if the Federal government outlawed chocolate tomorrow you can bet there would be a chocolate mafia supplying your needs the day after tomorrow. And millions would buy. Would that make chocolate evil? Pork is outlawed in Saudi Arabia, clean-shaven chins in Taliban country. To turn pot over to the heroin and meth dealers is an insane mistake.

  • John fisk February 1, 2013 at 12:20 am

    Give me one story where marijuana caused a man to commit suicide or cause a mental disorder that led to his death or many others. I am sure you can find marijuana laced with this, this and this to prove that but not marijuana itself. In the mean time I will pull up how many UHP, St George police officers, and Hurricane Police officers have killed numerous individuals for apparently no good given reason whether with a gun, tazer or their neat little night stick. Marijuana isn’t corrupt the government and state agencies are corrupt. Glad to know my disability pay is going towards this seemingly stupid operation. If Utah didn’t have their head up the churches bum weed would probably be legal for medical use here and I would be able to get treatment for my severe bilateral migraines. But instead I will just take numerous addictive and potentially life altering and threatening medicines because those are ok but a natural plant substance isn’t.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.