SACRAMENTO In the thick of California's illegal marijuana harvest season, authorities say they've seized 742-thousand-684 plants with an estimated street value of more than two-point-six (b) billion dollars.
The numbers have already surpassed last year's season total by 20 percent.

And the state Department of Justice's annual Campaign Against Marijuana Planting is still a month away from wrapping up operations after the season peak at the end of September.

Agents say the raids, often in remote, forested terrain, are growing more dangerous as Mexican drug cartels move in, expanding operations into multimillion-dollar gardens.

Authorities say the drug lords are hiring armed guards, including violent street gang veterans, to protect their profits.

About three weeks ago, a grower was shot dead and a state Fish and Game warden was wounded during a raid on a 22-thousand-plant pot farm in the hills above Los Gatos.

It was the fourth suspect to die in a marijuana raid shootout with authorities in the past three years and the first time a law enforcement officer has been shot in CAMP's 22-year history.