A secret farm of 2,900 baby pot plants being cultivated on Stanford University's Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve was raided and destroyed Wednesday morning by members of the San Mateo County Narcotics Task Force and California Highway Patrol.
The marijuana plants, if mature, would have a street value of about $1.5 million, authorities said. The 1,189-acre Jasper Ridge preserve, near the borders of Woodside and Portola Valley, belongs to Stanford and is only open to the public by way of guided tours.
On Wednesday morning, a team of six to eight task force members armed with a search warrant yanked about 2,900 young plants -- most 3 or 4 inches high, according to task force commander Lt. Mark Wyss. The plants were loaded into a cargo net to be hauled off by a CHP helicopter and disposed of.
The helicopter also carried off five loads of materials, including camping gear and rations for three or four people, plastic irrigation pipes, plastic sheeting, fertilizer and rat poison, Lt. Wyss said. To provide on-site water, the growers dug two deep holes in the ground and lined them with plastic.
The incident began Thursday, June 12, when some Jasper Ridge employees came across the planting area and notified the county Sheriff's Office, Lt. Wyss said. The employees said three men who were at the site immediately ran away, according to a Sheriff's Office report.
Deputies found no weapons, but a confrontation with armed guards is a concern with an outdoors operation such as this, Lt. Wyss said.
The task force did recover some evidence that could be valuable in the investigation, he said. There are no suspects yet, he said.
The county narcotics task force each year encounters six to 12 outdoor marijuana plots of anywhere from 500 to 5,000 plants, Lt. Wyss said.
In this case, the plants were young and there were no buds, and pulling them up was relatively easy. Mature plants can reach 14 feet by August and eradication would have been a major effort, Lt. Wyss said.
Given that it is a biological preserve, the task force team cleaned the site of all foreign materials right away, he said.
"We were very concerned about restoring the garden as quickly as we could," he said. "We felt it was the right thing to do." Jasper Ridge management did not ask for special treatment in cleaning up the site, he said.
(Dave Boyce is a staff writer for The Almanac, a sister paper of the Weekly that covers south San Mateo County communities. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.)