SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Wildlife officers arrested nearly a dozen people, and seized three firearms as well as 15,000 marijuana plants in a bust last month.

They shut down a massive “black market” marijuana grow operation that was discovered deep in the woods of the Cosumnes River Preserve. The South Sacramento County Office of Fish and Wildlife wouldn’t say how the grow was discovered, but say they had been watching the operation for months before it was finally busted on July 11th.

Approximately 3,000 pounds of processed marijuana plants were also seized and 1,900 pounds of trash had to be removed from the site. Nate Arnold, Deputy Chief for Fish and Wildlife, said the investigation is ongoing and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

“It was definitely organized and definitely I would say more on the criminal syndicate side of things,” Arnold said.

The remote nature of the preserve made it ideal for a criminal enterprise. The area is patrolled, but mainly from the roads.

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“Unless you physically get on a hike, you’re not going run into it,” Arnold said.

The bust took place on two parcels of land. One owned by Fish and Wildlife the other by the Nature Conservancy, a Virginia-based charity. Arnold said these illegal operations hurt other farmers.

“This is straight-up black market marijuana that’s being grown and really hurting the farmers that are trying to do it the right way,” Arnold said.

Fish and Wildlife said the criminals had been in the preserve for several months, poaching deer, diverting water for plants, and even de-watering streams to feed marijuana plants.

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“We saw all sort of things, illegal pesticides, fertilizer, combustible materials, gasoline, it just causes an environmental impact,” Arnold said.

The illegal operation threatened many endangered bird species and some nature lovers shared concerns as well. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife said they bust three to five illegal operations a day. They say illegal grow operations hurt marijuana farmers doing it the legal way through the permitting process.

To report illegal cannabis grows environmental crimes and poaching people are urged to call the Cal Tip hotline at 888-334-2258 or text information to TIP411 (847411).

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