Utah hunters are being asked to keep their eye out for a different type of wildlife than what they're used to: marijuana plants.

Local law enforcement agencies are embarking on a new marijuana eradication campaign called the "Spot Pot, Get A Lot" program, it was announced this week by Maj. Rich Townsend, chief of the state Bureau of Investigation.

Hikers, hunters, 4-wheelers and other outdoor enthusiasts have been successful in spotting entire groves of the illegal plants in Wasatch Front canyons. Thousands of plants worth millions of dollars have only been found with help from citizens, Townsend said.

"When you pluck up 9,000 plants in the canyons, it leads you to believe there's more than we're aware of," he said.

The "Spot Pot, Get A Lot" campaign introduces a new technique in fighting marijuana growers: a toll-free hotline at 1-888-POT-FOUND. Tips leading to large growth finds may yield as much as a $1,000 reward.

"We haven't been successful looking for marijuana growths; citizens have been the most successful," he said. "We wanted to reward them and give additional incentive."

Law enforcement has trouble finding large growths in the mountains because they're too hard to see from the air. They're planted so they blend in with the foliage.

To recruit more help from outdoor enthusiasts, ads with the hotline number and the money offer will be posted in their publications, Townsend said.

"It's our feeling, and it's backed up by the crime we deal with, that marijuana is a gateway drug to harder and more dangerous drugs. And the effect on driving is dangerous," he said. "People shouldn't be allowed to smoke it."

Tips to the hotline will be passed on to city police or county sheriffs by the bureau wherever the suspected growing is taking place. In this way, the bureau is functioning more as a channel to facilitate local law enforcement.

Because Utah's growing season is relatively short, indoor marijuana growing is on the rise, Townsend said. While county sheriffs will usually be called out to investigate large growths in the mountains, operations growing more than would be needed for personal use in a basement or garage will be viewed similarly with the wilderness endeavors with thousands of plants, he said.


E-mail: akirk@desnews.com