For millions, getting out and enjoying national-forest land blends beauty with preservation. But Chris Strebig with the US Forest Service Office in Golden, some public lands have also become fertile ground for massive marijuana farms.
"It can range from local folks to drug-trafficking organizations," Strebig said.
In recent years, these illegal farms have spread to 20 states and 67 national forests nationwide including those in Colorado.
"Since 2009, we have seen 16 sites in Colorado ranging from small to large," Strebig said.
In 2011, an estimated $9 million-worth of marijuana was pulled from an illegal-grow operation in the Pike National Forest near Deckers. In 2012, 7,000 marijuana plants were found near the San Isabel National Forest in what has become the largest pot bust in the history of Pueblo County.
The farms can often do damage to the local environment from tree cutting to negative impacts on the wildlife.
"The people who bring them out use pesticides and herbicides, and those can poison waterways and kill animals," Strebig said.
While rare to find, illegal-pot farms can be dangerous sometimes guarded by drug traffickers from Mexico, so if you happen to see one, officials advise to back away and notify the local authorities.
With the passage of Amendment 64 in Colorado, some worry illegal growers might think Colorado is a safe place to work. With more pot popping up on public lands and at Forest Service Visitor Centers around Colorado, questions about using pot on federal land have been growing as well.
"I think we have heard a few questions at our front desk and other visitor information sits about that, and I don't have an exact number once again it gets back to marijuana is illegal under federal law," Strebig said.
So law-enforcement agencies are cracking down saying their goal, preserve this landscape and the lives of those who want to play in it.
"Make sure that people have a great time when they come out to visit outdoors," Strebig said.
(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)