MODESTO -- (KTVU) -- Chemicals being used to boost the growth of illegal marijuana plants on California state park land could also pose a threat to animals, water supplies -- and possibly threaten humans, officials say.
The recent El Nino rains has resulted in an earlier growing season, which has also helped boost an illegal cartel that is cultivating a marijuana growing operation hidden from view.
The effort to fight the pot plants may have unintended dire consequences for plant and wildlife that also occupy the same land.
In a remote section of Stanislaus County, a walk in the woods turned into a race to arrest suspects accused of running an illegal cartel-style marijuana growing operation. The law enforcement officers are part of an elite task force that is often hot on the heels of suspects involved in the operation.
In a recent operation that netted the arrest of seven suspects, two police canines named Smoke and Phebe helped law enforcement officers make arrests.
"This is an illegal trespass grow site," said Lt. John Nores of the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, referring to a 10-plot stretch of land that housed two separate illegal grow encampments in Crows Landing. The sites siphoned off millions of gallons of water for growing strength from the nearby San Joaquin River.
Law enforcement officers also seized 20,000 marijuana plants that had a street value of at least $20 million, two handguns and a 12-gauge shotgun.
The bust also yielded more insight about how toxic poisons are being used to help boost the growth of the marijuana plants. The cartels are using Furadan and Metaphos, which are spread on the marijuana plant leaves and on the ground. Regulators in the U.S. banned the chemicals for domestic use several years ago because of its high toxicity levels.
"It kills rodents, small game and big game like bears, deer, mountain lions," Nores said. "Pretty much anything that ingests it or even breathes it can die."
The chemical can even leach into water supplies and kill animals that drink the tainted water. The chemicals are also hazardous for fish and marine life that inhabit the tainted waterways.
Following the arrests in Stanislaus County, the law enforcement task force checked and cleared the encampment of toxic marijuana and garbage. A helicopter is used to lift the tainted weed and deposit it into trucks, where it will be pulverized and buried.
"If we leave all those camp by-products, water lines and pollutants out in the wild, all of those poisons will wash into the San Joaquin River where it will kill more fish and poison more water," Nores said. "So if we don't take it out, our wildlife resources in California" will suffer.
Investigators will search for the next several months to root out the illegal marijuana growth camps.
by KTVU reporter Jesse Gary.