TULARE COUNTY, Calif. – It is 5:30 in the morning in Tulare County, California and the temperature outside is already a balmy 70 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat is expected to rise well over the 100-degree mark by the day’s end. Deep in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, alongside a hairpin turn on a steep cliff’s edge, wait six SUVs. Next to them stand 15 Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) officers dressed in full SWAT camouflage gear, ready for action.

As the sun flirts with the mountaintops in the horizon, the Ranking Officer in Command (ROC) tells his group of men to hurry up because the bird (helicopter) is in the air and on its way. The men, a special SWAT low-crawl team, arrived hours earlier and had to trek three miles uphill through the dense, treacherous forest guided only by moonlight and the Global Positioning System. | photo essay and story


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