Three Bureau of Land Management biologists were held at gunpoint by members of a Mexican drug cartel after stumbling upon a marijuana garden in a remote area of Northern Nevada on Tuesday.
The biologists were surveying the north fork of the Little Humboldt River, near the Nevada-Oregon border, when they suddenly found themselves in a marijuana garden about 4 p.m., BLM spokeswoman JoLynn Worley said. Three Spanish-speaking people confronted the biologists and held them up at gunpoint for about 10 minutes.
One of the gunmen spoke English, and the biologists told him they worked for the BLM and were checking the number of fish in the river and the number of cattle nearby, Worley said.
After the discussions, the gunmen told them they could leave, but they had to head north, in the direction they had come from. The biologists hid out until darkness before heading to a town about 15 miles away. They didn’t return to their vehicles for fear that the gunmen might be there, Worley said. A BLM search party found them.
The biologists were not harmed but were shaken up from the experience, Worley said.
“They didn’t know if they were going to be shot or if they were going to be let go,” she said.
The next morning, law enforcement from the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, the Nevada Department of Public Safety, the BLM and the Winnemucca Police Department returned to the area, but it had been abandoned.
Officials believe five or six people from a Mexican drug cartel had been harvesting the site. None have been arrested, Worley said. Nearly 800 marijuana plants and 150 pounds of processed buds were found and will be destroyed.
The operation was far smaller than two other sites found in Esmerelda County this year.
In August, a hiker found a crop of about 3,000 plants, and that led authorities to discover a 12,700-plant operation nearby about a month later.
Worley said BLM scientists who conduct field operations have stumbled across methamphetamine labs in remote areas and are trained to leave the area and report the find.
Marijuana discoveries have been on the rise in the Sierra Nevada, officials believe.
“It’s something that’s going on everywhere,” Worley said.