By Scott Graves

Triplicate staff writer

More than a ton of marijuana plants and the profits that go with them has gone up in smoke in recent weeks as authorities eradicated more than a dozen pot gardens in Del Norte Countys backcountry.

Its shaping up to be one of the best harvests in years, said Sgt. John Fay, head of the Del Norte County Drug Task Force.

This time of year, we get used to the smell of marijuana, Fay said.

In the last two weeks, members of the task forces marijuana suppression program have pulled up approximately 6,875 plants weighing a total of 3,438 pounds, Fay said.

The street value of the plants, once processed, ranges from $10 to $17 million depending on the price per pound, he said.

Were really hitting them where it hurts their pockets, he said.

The most recent bust occurred last weekend with the arrest of two Arcata residents. Drug agents spent several days watching and waiting for the suspects to return to the pot garden, located in the eastern mountains of Del Norte County, Fay said.

Arrested on charges of cultivating marijuana were Donovan Elijah Black, 21, and Tyler Joseph Frasier, 22, of Arcata.

While Fay was being interviewed, Paul Weldon, a warden with the California Fish and Game Department, drove up with a truckload of freshly plucked pot plants.

Several people participating in an elk hunt on the Del Norte/Humboldt county line stumbled across a pot garden south of Klamath early Tuesday, Weldon said.

I usually leave all the dope stuff to the task force guys, but in this case we pulled the plants because people were coming into contact with them, Weldon said.

Stumbling across pot gardens can pose serious consequences to unsuspecting hikers, Fay said.

For example, several people who were visiting a remote swimming hole were recently confronted by two men, most likely growers, who told them to get out, he said.

The gardens are often booby-trapped, either to hurt those trying to steal their harvest, or to detect when someone, especially authorities, has entered the garden, Fay said.

One boobytrap, he recalled, included a tied down branch containing a dozen fish hooks at eye level.

That could have ripped someones face right off, Fay said.

He then added: When growing their garden, growers care less about public safety.

In the end, authorities expect to eradicate approximately 30 percent of the marijuana grown in Del Norte County this year.

The remaining 60 percent will end up on the streets, or exported out of the county, said drug task force Agent A.C. Field.

If I can stop one or two people from making $300,000 extra a year, then its worth it, Fields said.

The agents began searching by air and on the ground for outdoor gardens in April, when growers are preparing the land for planting.

The agents wrap up their surveillance by September or October, when most of the plants are ready for harvest and the growers are most likely to be caught.

The most popular growing spots in Del Norte County include remote drainage areas such as Diamond Creek, Sun Star and Red Mountain, Fay said.

Most of the gardens found so far this summer contained 10 to 20 plants and were spread out over a large area. A few gardens discovered this year had 200 or more plants, Fields said.

Fay had nothing but kudos for his agents, who often spend days camping out at gardens in hopes of catching the growers.

These guys bust their butts, Fay said. They spend long hours away from their families. Its pure dedication to their jobs.