Just as word was spreading Wednesday morning of a major drug bust in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, local law enforcement officers were preparing to practice for just such a scenario.
Nine local law enforcement officers took part in a training mission to develop key skills needed to bust marijuana growing operations.
While illegal marijuana growing operations are not common in the Northwoods, instances of the illegal activity have increased in the past few years. According to Oneida County Sheriff’s Department Patrol Supervisor Lloyd Gauthier, the perpetrators are often highly armed illegal immigrants that are in this area for a specific purpose-to grow and harvest marijuana as a cash crop. According to Gauthier, these perpetrators will not let anything get in the way of their goal.
“We’re talking about people that will not hesitate to eliminate anything they determine is a threat to their operation,” said Gauthier. “Part of the instruction for our officers is to treat any operation in which they are involved in a very serious manner.”
“This is real life stuff that is happening more and more in a lot of county forests and state forest lands,” said Oneida County Sheriff’s Deputy Brad Fogerty, who served as the point man for Wednesday’s training. “We continue to find growers that are growing illegal substances and arming themselves.”
For the exercise, officers from Eau Claire were split in to two teams, which were flown by helicopter to Oneida County and dropped off in the wooded area. The tactical teams’ job was to locate the simulated drug operation and arrest the parties involved.
“We practice about everything we can think of, but something like this needs to be done this time of year in the woods,” said Fogerty. “This is the time when we’re going to get this type of scenario. It’s the season when marijuana harvesters are out.”
To accomplish the mission, officers were required to find the grow, evacuate wounded people and rescue a hostage. Of course, communication was key, as one of the secondary goals of the exercise was to work out the bugs that can happen when working with other counties. SWAT team officers in Onieda County provide mutual aid to most counties in northeast and north central Wisconsin
“Tomorrow we could get a call in Forest County or in Marinette County to help,” said Fogerty. “A few years ago a suspect shot three kids and was laying in the woods in northern Marinette County, and we were called to respond. The only way you can be ready for them is to train.”