It was not immediately known whether anyone was arrested in the bust. Officers began eradicating the marijuana Wednesday from a remote area on Mount Charleston in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest about an hour northwest of Las Vegas, according to Kent Bitsko, director of the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program in Nevada.
Officials estimate the farms total three to four acres, said Christie Kalkowski, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.
The pot was spotted several months ago when officials were airlifting an injured hiker out of the recreational area, Bitsko said. Law enforcement officials began monitoring the farms from the air and plotting how to remove the marijuana from the difficult terrain.
"It's rugged country," Bitsko said. "It's hard to sneak up on (the farms) and it's easy for them to disappear."
The farms were likely hidden by trees and brush from the recreation area's many hikers. Unlike most of arid southern Nevada, Mount Charleston features running water and lush foliage. The area is often blanketed with snow in the winter months and the melting water in the spring and summer months can result in roaring waterfalls throughout the forest.
"They are going to have to have water," Bitsko said of the pot growers. "That's all they need."
Removing the marijuana and airlifting the plants from the forest is a tiresome process that could stretch into Thursday, Bitsko said.
Officials from the Nevada Department of Wildlife, Las Vegas police department and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration were helping remove the pot, Kalkowski said. Police officers were also blocking the area off to recreationists, she said.
Illegal marijuana farms on public land are common in California and some other states, but outdoor growth was largely unheard of in Nevada's desert landscapes until recently, Bitsko said. At least 20 officers from local police agencies have received training in recent months on how to spot outdoor marijuana farms and officials in Sacramento have helped lead the training, he said. Law enforcement officials suspect crackdowns in California are pushing the growers into nearby Nevada.
"We have never experienced outdoor grows to any great extent," said Bitsko, who formerly worked for the Las Vegas police department.
Nevada's law enforcement agencies have made headlines in recent weeks for several unusual drug busts. State officials seized 452 pounds of cocaine from a Canadian truck driver during a routine traffic stop near the California border earlier this month. In July, police seized more than 208 pounds of methamphetamine and four pounds of heroin allegedly being sold by a Mexican drug ring throughout Las Vegas.
In all, investigators expect to complete 200 busts on indoor marijuana farms statewide this year, Bitsko said. That's up from at least 150 indoor busts last year.
The outdoor farms represent a new challenge, Bitsko said. The growers are often armed and could threaten hikers in Nevada's many remote recreation areas. Illegal pesticides used during the growth process can also threaten native plants.
"They just destroy the environment," Bitsko said. "And they are also endangering the lives of people who try to recreate in this area."
He said hikers who come across marijuana growers should walk away.
"Don't confront them," he said. "Stay away from them and report it."