DEA reports dramatic drop in Utah marijuana farms

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IRON COUNTY -- Deep in Utah's backcountry, the landscape is unnaturally barren.

Tree branches have been sawed off. Plastic piping is strewn about. Gloves, disposable razors and onions are scattered around. The land is torn up and environmentally damaged.

"This is the aftermath of a grow," said Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Frank Smith, walking around the area. "If you look around, you'll see where they cut all the limbs. They deforested the entire area. About every three feet there were marijuana plants as far as you can see."

The 4,000 plant marijuana growing operation was eradicated by police in July, one of the few illegal pot farms to be busted by authorities this year. Police say an aggressive crackdown on the marijuana grows has led to a dramatic drop in the operations here in Utah.

In 2010, more than 106,000 plants were seized from 17 illegal pot farms in Utah. This year, that number only reached 13,000 -- and three farms. What once seemed like an overwhelming public safety problem is now being brought under control.

"The Forest Service has about nine million acres in Utah, 193 million acres nationwide," said Mike McKinney with the U.S. Forest Service. "That is a vast amount of land to patrol."

Authorities credit an aggressive crackdown in recent years by federal, state and local police. They also said the drought contributed to a lighter grow season.

"The real strength behind what we're doing is the sheriffs," Smith said.

In perhaps the most telling sign that this law enforcement crackdown is showing signs of success -- intelligence the DEA says it's getting from Mexican drug cartel traffickers behind the grows. Smith said they're being told Utah is no longer a good place for marijuana grows.

"I focus more on it from a public safety aspect," Washington County Sheriff Corey Pulsipher told FOX 13 on Thursday. "I don't want this in my community."