NEVADA COUNTY (CBS13) — Hikers discovered marijuana left along a trail by Nevada County Sheriff’s deputies.

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They were walking along the Harmony Trail north of Nevada City when they smelled something that wasn’t just the pine trees.

Bending down, they saw marijuana plants. Those buds didn’t come from a grower; they came from the Nevada County Sheriff’s Department.

“What they did is go up to where the forest service told them they could dispose of it, and put it on the ground thinking that it should be useless,” said Sheriff Keith Royal.

The pile was quite a surprise for Melissa Miller, who works at a deli near the trail.

“They ended up coming from the trails and said there was a big pile of marijuana,” Miller said.

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Deputies typically bury confiscated plants, since the marijuana goes bad once it’s in the ground. But this time they shredded it in a wood chipper with bamboo and branches, and left it on the side of the trails.

“Because of all the product that went through there and how the machinery breaks it down, it would be useless to the general public who may wander by,” Royal said.

Even so, Melissa says the deputies put kids and animals in danger.

“We have a lot of kids that come through here and a lot of people on the trail,” she said.

Royal says taking the plants to a disposal site is too expensive and says they will continue to partner with the Tahoe National Forest, because it’s cost-effective.

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“We’ve taken steps to ensure we are going to follow the same protocol and they will bury it in the future,” he said.