Cagey Mexican drug cartel farmers appear to be back at work growing marijuana in thickly forested areas in North Texas, law enforcement officials say.
It's still early in the growing season, but the Ellis County Sheriff's Department has already unearthed nearly 30,000 high-grade marijuana plants on two plots of private property discovered about 40 miles south of Dallas, Lt. James Saulter said.
Last year, Texas law enforcement officials destroyed a record 62,000 pot plants, with most grown in sophisticated operations in Ellis and Navarro counties.
No arrests were made in connection with the 2009 pot patches, but state and local officials said they were believed to be linked to Mexican drug cartels that are increasingly moving marijuana operations to the United States in response to a crackdown on border smuggling.
Texas investigators also theorized that the close proximity of Ellis and Navarro counties to Dallas and Fort Worth gave the cartels ready access to large urban markets and interstate transportation corridors.
Like last year, the marijuana fields found this season featured elaborate irrigation systems and hand-manicured plants tended by workers who camped on-site.
A 2,400-plant "grow" was discovered Monday about five miles south of Ennis when an elderly landowner searching for his cows came face to face with a suspicious man who took off into the woods, Saulter said.
Deputies who responded to the man's call were searching the property when they spotted an irrigation system connected to a stock pond. They followed the irrigation hoses for about a half mile through a dense thicket and found two marijuana patches.
"The landowner was shocked by what we found on his property," Saulter said. "He is not a suspect; he had no idea what was going on. Now he's scared."
In late May, Ellis County deputies and Texas Department of Public Safety personnel conducting aerial surveillance got a glimpse of another marijuana operation through the canopy of a thickly wooded area about four miles from the grow found this week.
When they searched the area on the ground, they found more than 27,000 plants spread across four plots.
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