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By Steve Birr

A hiker came across a massive marijuana farm with possible links to Mexican drug cartels hidden inside San Isabel National Forest in Colorado Friday.

The illicit grow operation uncovered in Pueblo County spanned two fields on land belonging to the U.S. Forest Service and had more than 7,400 marijuana plants. Authorities on the scene encountered two unidentified men at the grow site who fled the scene. Investigators say it is the second largest pot farm busted in Pueblo County and the fifth found in the San Isabel National Forest, reports FOX 31.

Narcotics detectives investigating the find said the grow site may be related to Mexican cartels operating in the area, but no arrests have been made. The previous four grow sites found since 2012 had suspected connections to Mexican cartels.

“These grows are not indigenous to Colorado and the water and fertilizers required for these grow operations represent a clear environmental hazard for our beautiful Colorado mountains,” Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk Taylor said in a statement, according to FOX 31.

A previous marijuana bust in the San Isabel National Forest in August 2012 netted more than 9,400 pot plants. Officials estimate the value of the drug seizure Friday at more than $7 million.

Authorities recently made the largest bust of an illicit marijuana operation since Colorado fully legalized weed, charging 62 people involved in a scheme spanning five states.

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman said June 28 their investigation, dubbed Operation Toker Poker, resulted in the indictment of 12 businesses. Authorities arrested 43 of the individuals involved, but 19 others are still at large. The defendants, who allegedly knew each other from high school and played poker together, are accused of laundering millions of dollars and committing fraud, along with a litany of other charges.

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