At least nine marijuana fields have been discovered in a five-county East Texas area since August.
The finds included at least two fields each in Smith, Anderson, Henderson and Upshur counties and at least one in Van Zandt County.
While some law enforcement officials have been hesitant to share information citing the ongoing nature of the investigations, those who have shared say the size and number of the fields is rare.
Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor said they have found fields there before, but never any as big as the two found last month.
Henderson County Sheriff Botie Hillhouse said he couldn't remember the last time they found two fields in the county.
Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith declined to be interviewed at this time citing, the ongoing nature of the investigation.
Though the size and number of these finds locally does seem out of the ordinary, law enforcement officials offered few theories about the apparent uptick in fields.
Part of the problem is, with the exception of one field in Smith County, no one has been arrested.
"It's very difficult to find the people that are responsible for marijuana fields a lot of the time," Special Agent Elaine Cesare with the Drug Enforcement Administration said. "So when we're able to, it's really a great thing, because we have a lot of cases where we just simply have no leads on where we go to."
The word crime doesn't bring to mind the image of a man or woman cultivating plants in rural East Texas. But that is one aspect of this drug operation.
"Marijuana needs attention to grow properly," Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor said, adding that it grows well in East Texas because the summer is hot.
Typically, growers will cultivate from March to fall. Taylor said he's not sure if they start from a seed or a cutting.
Most of the recent cases involved people trespassing onto private land and cultivating the plants unbeknownst to the landowners.
In some cases, the landowners didn't live on the land and seldom visited it. In at least one case, they lived onsite, but with thousands of acres and wooded areas, they never came across the fields.
In several cases, law enforcement officials have attributed the finds to a "tip," nothing more, nothing less.
In Henderson County, officials were alerted to two fields after the Drug Enforcement Administration flew over the area and notified them.
Taylor, the Anderson County sheriff, said the law enforcement agencies share intelligence information with each other and work well together, coordinating raids. He said the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Drug Enforcement Administration have much greater resources in the form of airplanes, helicopters and manpower, which can aid the local agencies in their work.
Ms. Cesare said the DEA has taskforce officers assigned to its Tyler office. The counties and local police departments essentially loan a person from their agency to the DEA to become a deputized agent that helps the DEA with cases. That person reports to the DEA and their local agency.
"We rely on them to help us with our cases," Ms. Cesare said, adding that the local agencies need the DEA if they want a case to get prosecuted federally.
Taylor, the Anderson County sheriff, said the primary reason law enforcement is so vigilant about this is because the manufacture, possession and distribution of marijuana (unless registered with or exempt from registration with the DEA) is illegal in Texas.
Second, he said, when the Mexican drug cartels are involved, which he suspects they are, the distribution of this drug helps fund a lot of their criminal enterprises, Taylor said.
Drug cartels are involved in selling drugs, human trafficking, sex trafficking and gun running, he said.
"Marijuana is part of their funding source, and when we can take a bite out of their funding source, we're glad to do it," he said.
That "bite" has been quite large this season, with at least 39,000 marijuana plants found and destroyed in five East Texas counties since mid-August.
The smallest find was 2,500 plants in Upshur County, and the largest was 9,010 plants in Henderson County. The latter was found in two fields, but it was on one property.
The street value of these plants seems to be about $1,000 per plant based on the values law enforcement provided for the finds.
Henderson County Sheriff Botie Hillhouse said the 9,000-plus plants in Henderson County totaled more than $9 million in estimated street value.
Taylor in Anderson County said even with the destruction of these found fields, people would continue to try to cultivate more because it's easy to do. That means law enforcement has to continue to find them.
Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith said their investigation continued, which is why he couldn't talk, and Ms. Cesare with the DEA said the efforts to eradicate marijuana in East Texas are ongoing.
Staff Writer Cory McCoy, the Longview News-Journal and KYTX CBS 19 contributed to this report.
Recent Marijuana Field Finds
Aug. 18 – 2,500 plants in a field in Upshur County
Aug. 31 – 4,125 plants in Smith County off of U.S. Highway 271 near Upshur County line
Sept. 1– 4,000 plants in Anderson County off of County Road 156 between Palestine and Elkhart
Sept. 12 – 4,000 plants found in eastern Smith County near intersection of County Road 26 and County Road 244
Sept. 13 – 5,200 in Anderson County off of County Road 336 between Palestine and Frankston
Sept. 14 – 3,500 plants found in Van Zandt County north of U.S. Route 80 and east of Texas Highway 19 near Fruitvale
Sept. 15 – 9,010 plants found in two fields in Henderson County
Sept. 23 – 7,000 plants found in Upshur County off of Texas Highway 155 about eight miles north of Gilmer
Sources: Law enforcement officials, Longview News-Journal, KYTX CBS 19