If you’ve lived on the North Coast for any amount of time, and if you’re not completely up-to-date on modern marijuana cultivation practices, chances are you cherish a quaint image of the industry: The mom-and-pop family operation, hippies living out on the land and trying to get by — maybe comfortably, maybe not so much. You could do the scene in needlepoint.

Sure, we all know that this isn’t the whole story anymore. Day after day news of the latest mid-to-megabust passes across our screens and slowly we begin to cotton to the idea that things aren’t what they once were. But if you’re like me, you still haven’t quite all-the-way recalibrated your memories of the old-timers who used to lovingly hide their two dozen clones under a not-too-thin, not-too-heavy canopy of manzanita.

The Lost Coast Outpost recently acquired a set of images from the Humboldt County Drug Task Force that sort of shakes us out of this stupor. These are aerial photos of grow scenes throughout the North Coast that were taken between 2009 and 2011. These seem all to be on private land in the boondocks, and the scale of operations they depict are sometimes hard to credit. Many of them depict illegal grading, massive landscaping and/or tree-falling, and voracious water usage. The Aquarian live-lightly-on-the-land ethos seems to have bypassed these types entirely.

After viewing these pictures a couple of times, I have a little bit better understanding of why Sheriff Mike Downey is Batsignaling the feds for help, as Ryan Burns reported last week. I also get a sense of why so many of these cases are now being investigated by environmental regulators like the California Department of Fish & Game and the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Holy moly but some of these things are huge. Pictures below. Click on any of them to launch a large-screen slideshow. Location, year and sometimes addition information can be found in the captions.