<p><em><strong>Photo: Ventury County Sheriff

The Ventura County (Calif.) Sheriff's Office recorded the largest single seizure of marijuana plants when investigators located nearly 68,500 plants in Los Padres National Forest in the past week.

The plants, which are valued at $205.46 million, were seized from an outdoor grow operation in the Pine Mountain area of the forest, north of Ojai. Several large plots were found east of Highway 33 and south of Lockwood Valley Road.

Sheriff's investigators believe the operation is being financed and run by a Mexican drug cartel, Sgt. Mike Horne told POLICE Magazine on Tuesday.

Working with the Ventura County Fire Department, district attorney's office, and United States Forest Service (USFS), sheriff's units destroyed the plants on July 13.

Investigators also discovered several campsites with several hundred pounds of equipment including tents, propane stoves, sleeping bags, fertilizers, pesticides, and an enormous amount of trash. Detectives located a 9mm handgun, a .22-caliber rifle, and ammunition for a variety of other handguns and rifles, according to a sheriff's press release.

The remains of deer and other small animals were located near the camps, providing evidence of poaching.

Several water reservoirs lined with plastic tarps were found dug into the terrain. These reservoirs were supplied by diverted water. Gravity fed irrigation lines led to the cultivation locations. Several thousand feet of irrigation hose was spread throughout the hillside to provide water to the plants.

Wide swaths of land had been terraced and the underbrush removed, leaving only a thin canopy to hide the growing marijuana. Bags of fertilizer, pesticides, and poisons were found within each of the cultivation areas.

By Paul Clinton