Lillooet RCMP are still looking for suspects after discovering 23,000 marijuana plants growing on Crown land last week, one of the biggest grow operations uncovered in British Columbia.
The plants were first discovered July 31 on the north shore of secluded Carpenter Lake, about an hour's drive north of Lillooet. No one was at the scene when the plants were discovered.
At first, only 10,000 plants were found. Further patrols on the south shore of the lake uncovered another growing site with approximately 6,000 plants. Police also discovered a complex watering system that included miles of hose, water pumps and a generator. By following the hose, they discovered two more growing sites.
Sgt. Fran Bethell of the Lillooet RCMP detachment said that based on the complexity of the watering system, the land had been used for several years by the time police had discovered it. She said that the multi-million dollar operation was about one week away from cropping.
While outdoor grow-ops are common in that area, Bethell said the officers were surprised by the size of the crop.
"We certainly never expected to find anything of that size," she said. "We certainly are surprised because that number of plants is an unusual find."
Bethell said it will likely be a challenge to find the people responsible because the operation was on Crown land. With indoor operations, the suspects will leave some kind of paper trail, but when the government owns the land that's being used, the police aren't afforded that lead.
She also said the area police discovered the plants in a common area for outdoor operations. The rural landscape provides access to water, sun and heat, plus a huge amount of space to hide.
Given the vastness of the undeveloped land, Bethell said it's impossible for authorities to find all growing locations but much of their resources are spent fighting the illegal drug trade.
"Every summer, we certainly find several locations with outdoor grows," Bethell said.