SKAGIT VALLEY, WASHINGTON
As they pushed through branches of Douglas fir and cedar, Skagit County sheriff's Deputy Marty Steiner and Sgt. Paul Arroyos heard a radioed warning from the helicopter overhead.
"We got a bogey," Deputy John Hamlin's voice emerged from Steiner's radio.
Arroyos and Steiner and six other men were hiking to a clearing where marijuana plants had been camouflaged in eastern Skagit County, on a mountainside west of Baker Lake Road about 18 miles east of Sedro-Woolley.
From their vantage point in a Washington National Guard helicopter Hamlin and the pilot had seen a quad runner — a four-wheel drive, all-terrain vehicle — traveling the logging roads near the deputies' location.
The warning was a reminder of the slim chance that the deputies could run afoul of the illegal drug's illicit cultivators.
After a few minutes, Hamlin spoke again, giving Arroyos and his team a better description of the people riding the quad runner.
"Those guys on the quad are kids," Hamlin said via the radio.
Last week, sheriff's deputies, state Washington Division of Fish and Wildlife officers and U.S. Forest Service law enforcement pulled 945 marijuana plants from the ground at 16 sites, most of them in eastern Skagit County, sheriff's Chief Deputy Will Reichardt said.
The plants, which ranged from 6 inches to 6 feet tall, will be destroyed by burning.
A marijuana plant with "buds," the part harvested for smoking, has a street value of $1,000 in Skagit County. If all the confiscated plants had reached harvest, the crop would have been worth close to $1 million.