Sunday, 23 March 2014

We Knew All Along

It was the Christmas season in the early 1980's. CBC Radio was doing its usual seasonal programming incuding interviews with experienced bakers.  I was listening to one of these, a dear old soul who was famous for her Christmas cakes.  She said she continued to use a recipe that had come down from her grandmother, with only one difference. She used margarine rather than butter.  I was shocked. PEI has always produced very high quality butter, now from large processing plants, but back in her lifetime there were small creameries throughout the province. What would cause someone to turn away from fresh local butter and start using margarine. And don't forget that the margarine produced in the 1950s  was pretty awful stuff. I decided to find out. I'd always been a butter person myself with my stubborn back to the land beliefs that you always buy what's produced locally, and in this case there was no hardship.

I discovered a very important lesson about human nature.  The fifties was a time when margarine was illegal on PEI, people used to have to go to the mainland to get it, and just like canned pop years later, this gave margarine a certain quality it really didn't deserve. It was certainly cheaper than butter, and I'm sure for hard pressed families this was important too. But there's nothing like the government telling you you can't have something to make it look very attractive.

Now comes some extraordinary research that's getting a lot of attention. All those warnings that butter, eggs, red meat are bad for you apparently not true. The statin producers (big drug companies that make billions off anti-cholesterol drugs) will no doubt create more evidence to cast doubt on these findings, and government nutritionists will scratch their heads and wonder what to say next, but just for the moment the rest of us can enjoy the fact that what had become guilty pleasures may be just what the doctor ordered.

Why almost everything you've been told about unhealthy foods is wrong

free range beef
'The evidence that appears to implicate red meat does not separate well-reared, unprocessed meat from its factory farmed, heavily processed equivalent.' Photograph: Mike Kemp/Getty Images/Rubberball
Could eating too much margarine be bad for your critical faculties? The "experts" who so confidently advised us to replace saturated fats, such as butter, with polyunsaturated spreads, people who presumably practise what they preach, have suddenly come over all uncertain and seem to be struggling through a mental fog to reformulate their script.
Last week it fell to a floundering professor, Jeremy Pearson, from the British Heart Foundation to explain why it still adheres to the nutrition establishment's anti-saturated fat doctrine when evidence is stacking up to refute it. After examining 72 academic studies involving more than 600,000 participants, the study, funded by the foundation, found that saturated fat consumption was not associated with coronary disease risk. This assessment echoed a review in 2010 that concluded "there is no convincing evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease".
Neither could the foundation's research team find any evidence for the familiar assertion that trips off the tongue of margarine manufacturers and apostles of government health advice, that eating polyunsaturated fat offers heart protection. In fact, lead researcher Dr Rajiv Chowdhury spoke of the need for an urgent health check on the standard healthy eating script. "These are interesting results that potentially stimulate new lines of scientific inquiry and encourage careful reappraisal of our current nutritional guidelines," he said.
Chowdhury went on to warn that replacing saturated fats with excess carbohydrates – such as white bread, white rice and potatoes – or with refined sugar and salts in processed foods, should be discouraged. Current healthy eating advice is to "base your meals on starchy foods", so if you have been diligently following that dietetic gospel, then the professor's advice is troubling.
Confused? Even borderline frustrated and beginning to run out of patience? So was the BBC presenter tasked with getting clarity from the British Heart Foundation. Yes, Pearson conceded, "there is not enough evidence to be firm about [healthy eating] guidelines", but no, the findings "did not change the advice that eating too much fat is harmful for the heart". Saturated fat reduction, he said, was just one factor we should consider as part of a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. Can you hear a drip, drip in the background as officially endorsed diet advice goes into meltdown?
Of course, we have already had a bitter taste of how hopelessly misleading nutritional orthodoxy can be. It wasn't so long ago that we were spoon-fed the unimpeachable "fact" that we should eat no more than two eggs a week because they contained heart-stopping cholesterol, but that gem of nutritional wisdom had to be quietly erased from history when research showing that cholesterol in eggs had almost no effect on blood cholesterol became too glaringly obvious to ignore.
The consequences of this egg restriction nostrum were wholly negative: egg producers went out of business and the population missed out on an affordable, natural, nutrient-packed food as it mounded up its breakfast bowl with industrially processed cereals sold in cardboard boxes. But this damage was certainly less grave than that caused by the guidance to abandon saturated fats such as butter, dripping and lard, and choose instead spreads and highly refined liquid oils.
Despite repeated challenges from health advocacy groups, it wasn't until 2010, when US dietary guidelines were amended, that public health advisers on both sides of the Atlantic acknowledged that the chemical process for hardening polyunsaturated oils in margarines and spreads created artery-clogging trans-fats.
Manufacturers have now reformulated their spreads, hardening them by chemical methods which they assure us are more benign. But throughout the 20th century, as we were breezily encouraged to embrace supposedly heart-healthy spreads, the prescription was killing us. Those who dutifully swallowed the bitter pill, reluctantly replacing delicious butter with dreary marge, have yet to hear the nutrition establishment recanting. Government evangelists of duff diet advice aren't keen on eating humble pie.
But what lesson can we draw from the cautionary tales of eggs and trans fats? We would surely be slow learners if we didn't approach other well-established, oft-repeated, endlessly recycled nuggets of nutritional correctness with a rather jaundiced eye. Let's start with calories. After all, we've been told that counting them is the foundation for dietetic rectitude, but it's beginning to look like a monumental waste of time. Slowly but surely, nutrition researchers are shifting their focus to the concept of "satiety", that is, how well certain foods satisfy our appetites. In this regard, protein and fat are emerging as the two most useful macronutrients. The penny has dropped that starving yourself on a calorie-restricted diet of crackers and crudités isn't any answer to the obesity epidemic.
As protein and fat bask in the glow of their recovering nutritional reputation, carbohydrates – the soft, distended belly of government eating advice – are looking decidedly peaky. Carbs are the largest bulk ingredient featured on the NHS's visual depiction of its recommended diet, the Eat Well Plate. Zoë Harcombe, an independent nutrition expert, has pithily renamed it the Eat Badly Plate – and you can see why. After all, we feed starchy crops to animals to fatten them, so why won't they have the same effect on us? This less favourable perception of carbohydrates is being fed by trials which show that low carb diets are more effective than low fat and low protein diets in maintaining a healthy body weight.
When fat was the nutrition establishment's Wicker Man, the health-wrecking effects of sugar on the nation's health sneaked in under the radar. Stick "low fat" on the label and you can sell people any old rubbish. Low fat religion spawned legions of processed foods, products with ramped up levels of sugar, and equally dubious sweet substitutes, to compensate for the inevitable loss of taste when fat is removed. The anti-saturated fat dogma gave manufacturers the perfect excuse to wean us off real foods that had sustained us for centuries, now portrayed as natural born killers, on to more lucrative, nutrient-light processed products, stiff with additives and cheap fillers.
In line with the contention that foods containing animal fats are harmful, we have also been instructed to restrict our intake of red meat. But crucial facts have been lost in this simplistic red-hazed debate. The weak epidemiological evidence that appears to implicate red meat does not separate well-reared, unprocessed meat from the factory farmed, heavily processed equivalent that contains a cocktail of chemical additives, preservatives and so on. Meanwhile, no government authority has bothered to tell us that lamb, beef and game from free-range, grass-fed animals is a top source of conjugated linoleic acid, the micronutrient that reduces our risk of cancer, obesity and diabetes.
Government diet gurus and health charities have long been engaged on a salt reduction crusade, but what has been missing from this noble effort is the awareness that excessive salt is a problem of processed food. High salt is essential to that larger-than-life processed food taste. Without salt, and a sub-set of assorted chemical flavour enhancers, processed foods would be exposed for what they are: products that have lost their natural savour and nutritional integrity. Salt-free cornflakes, for instance, would be well nigh inedible. No one would want to buy them because they would see that they are a heap of nutritional uselessness. But where is the evidence that salt added as normal seasoning to home cooked food constitutes a health risk?
With salt, as with sugar, the public health establishment is too cowardly to take on the powerful processed food companies and their lobbyists by drawing a distinction between home-prepared food cooked from scratch and industrial convenience food.
The crucial phrase "avoid processed food" appears nowhere in government nutritional guidelines, yet this is the most concise way to sum up in practical terms what is wholesome and healthy to eat. Until this awareness shapes dietetic advice, all government dietary guidance should come with a tobacco-style caution: Following this advice could seriously damage your health.
Joanna Blythman is the author of Bad Food Britain and What to Eat
We were once told to eat no more than two a week. Now eggs look like the most all-round nutritious food you can eat, so there's no need to limit them.
The first generation margarine-type spreads turned out to be heart-stoppers, which makes it hard to trust anything the marge industry says. You're safer with good old butter.
Red meat
Processed red meat that's stiff with additives is to be avoided, but meat from free-range, grass-fed cattle is a rich source of conjugated linoleic acid, which reduces our risk of cancer, obesity, and diabetes.
Processed foods are loaded with the stuff to make them palatable but there's no evidence that salt added in judicious amounts in home cooking is a health problem.
Sugar and sweeteners in all forms are best reduced/avoided. Accustom your palate to a less sweet taste.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Cycle of Life

We know there are big environmental costs caused by our dependence on oil, for everything from cheap food to plastics. We're all complicit at some level.  Then every once in a while you come across an idea that pushes us in a different direction, and this is one of those.

Take a look here:

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

The Expected and the Unexpected

Whenever I see a farm story in the Globe and Mail, especially in the editorial section, I get ready for another whine about the inefficiencies of supply management, or the benefits of farmers beating their costs down so they can compete on world markets.  This column promised something different: "The Sacredness of Canadian Agriculture" and started off with the long list of uncertainties and risks farmers have to endure, but by the time it reached its point it was back to the same old same old. By the way, one non-farm political daily that does a very serious job of covering agriculture is i-politics, some of the best columnists in Canada, and an agriculture reporter that looks at farm stories beyond what they mean to consumers.  and I loved this Tweet from Kady O"Malley:

And what about the unexpected? The production and sale of marijuana is receiving a lot of attention these days. Many continue to have that robin hood view of aging hippies defying unreasonable laws and staying high despite the Canadian government toughening up laws (just in the last two weeks the Harper government backtracked to a position more in line with Chiefs of Police, but still well to the right of Justin Trudeau). What continues to shock many are the enormous unintended consequences of the war on drugs, the enrichment of biker gangs, the violence linked with controlling markets, and in a piece written this week, environmental devastation caused by illegal growing. The move to legal commercial production of medical marijuana (including Edwin Jewell's new venture to produce marijuana in Charlottetown) is a small step away from this, but still 45 years after the Ledain Commission called for decriminalization.  O and enjoy the new Conservative ads once more demonizing Justin Trudeau.

The sacredness of Canadian agriculture

You’ve got to hand it to Western Canadian grain farmers – it’s never easy for them. Name another sector that needs to worry about flood, drought, heat, frost, rain, grasshoppers, rising input prices, mice, hail and crop disease. It’s always something.
In 2014, you can add to the list of frustrations an inability to get rail cars. For reasons that vary depending on whom you ask, Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway have been slow in delivering grain hopper cars to elevators this winter. Due to the bumper crops that were harvested last fall, elevators across the Prairies are plugged to the gills with grain – they can’t take in any more. And if farmers can’t deliver their grain, they don’t get paid. And then they get mad.
Predictably, there are a lot of fingers being pointed and a lot of versions of the story. According to the farmers, the railways are the villains in the story. They’re too busy zipping tank cars of bitumen around the country to bother with the less sexy wheat and canola.
The railways deny that, saying oil traffic makes up a very small percentage of their sales. According to them, they’re hauling almost as much grain as they usually do at this time of year – maybe a bit less due to cold temperatures and avalanches. The problem, CP and CN say, is the unusually large volume of grain produced in 2013. They just don’t have the capacity to haul it all to the ports as quickly as farmers would like. They also blame a lack of co-ordination across the entire supply chain, pointing the finger back at the producers, port terminals and elevators.
But aren’t the railways doing exactly what they, as profit-maximizing companies, should be doing: maximizing profits. The old system of price caps to haul grain was eliminated years ago, but under the current Canada Transportation Act, the railways still face a “maximum revenue entitlement” from grain. They face no such restrictions in shipping bitumen or other commodities.
The spat between the farmers and the railways reached Parliament on March 7, and there was a clear winner. Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt ordered CN and CP to increase the number of grain hopper cars to elevators. The story here has little to do with economics and everything to do with politics, since farmers vote and railways do not.
Farming in Canada has always been an exceptional sector, enjoying a level of political clout that no other industry can boast. If anyone questions why, for example, we need supply management in dairy or special revenue caps for grain, they’re glared at and asked “Don’t you know where the food on your plate comes from? Do you want to go hungry?” Farming has always been framed by the notion that we’re all only one meal away from starvation.
Canadian agriculture manages to command a degree of sacredness that even the Pope would envy. If agriculture – from dairy protectionism in Quebec to maximum revenue entitlements on western grain – was truly opened to market forces, there would be outrage. Combines would roll onto Parliament Hill; ice cream would be hurled at an effigy of the Prime Minister. It would be chaos.
A century ago, it may have made good sense to protect agriculture through various measures such as the Canadian Wheat Board, price caps on freight rates, and supply management in dairy and poultry. But today, agriculture is one of the fastest-growing and most technologically advanced sectors of the economy – especially on the Prairies this year. Canada is a global leader in agricultural exports. Is it still so sacrilegious to suggest that perhaps they no longer require the economic protection they once did?
Rather than maximum revenue caps and orders for railways to haul more grain, Canadian farmers would be better served by another action taken this week by Ottawa: the free-trade agreement with South Korea. By removing trade barriers, Canadian agricultural products will find new global markets.
If the railways were allowed to maximize the revenue they receive from hauling grain, it might be surprising how quickly they’d find a few spare grain cars sitting around – and how immediately those grain elevators would be emptied.
Todd Hirsch is the Calgary-based chief economist of ATB Financial and author of The Boiling Frog Dilemma: Saving Canada from Economic Decline.

No, your pot doesn't come from enviromentally conscious hippies

This is your wilderness on drugs.

Starting about 90 miles northwest of Sacramento, an unbroken swath of national forestland follows the spine of California's rugged coastal mountains all the way to the Oregon border. Near the center of this vast wilderness, along the grassy banks of the Trinity River's south fork, lies the remote enclave of Hyampom (pop. 241), where, on a crisp November morning, I climb into a four-wheel-drive government pickup and bounce up a dirt logging road deep into the Six Rivers National Forest. I've come to visit what's known in cannabis country as a "trespass grow."
"This one probably has the most plants I've seen," says my driver, a young Forest Service cop who spends his summers lugging an AR-15 through the backcountry of the Emerald Triangle—the triad of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties that is to pot what the Central Valley is to almonds and tomatoes. Fearing retaliation from growers, the officer asks that I not use his name. Back in August he was hiking through the bush, trying to locate the grow from an aerial photo, when he surprised a guy carrying an iPod, gardening tools, and a 9 mm pistol on his hip. He arrested the man and alerted his tactical team, which found about 5,500 plants growing nearby, with a potential street yield approaching $16 million.
Today, a work crew is hauling away the detritus by helicopter. Our little group, which includes a second federal officer and a Forest Service flack, hikes down an old skid trail lined with mossy oaks and madrones, passing the scat of a mountain lion, and a few minutes later, fresh black bear droppings. We follow what looks like a game trail to the lip of a wooded slope, a site known as Bear Camp. There, amid a scattering of garbage bags disemboweled by animals, we find the growers' tarps and eight dingy sleeping bags, the propane grill where they had cooked oatmeal for breakfast, and the backpack sprayers they used to douse the surrounding 50 acres with chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The air smells faintly of ammonia and weed. "This is unicorns and rainbows, isn't it?" says Mourad Gabriel, a former University of California-Davis wildlife ecologist who has joined us at the site, as he maniacally stuffs a garbage bag with empty booze bottles, Vienna Beef sausage tins, and Miracle-Gro refill packs.
According to federal stats, trespass grows in California alone account for more than one-third of the cannabis seized nationwide by law enforcement, which means they could well be the largest single source of domestically grown marijuana. Of course, nobody can say precisely how much pot comes from indoor grows and private plots that are less accessible to the authorities. What's clear is that California's marijuana harvest is vast—"likely the largest value crop (by far) in the state's lineup," notes the Field Guide to California Agriculture. Assuming, as the guide does, that the authorities seize about 10 percent of the harvest, that means they would have left behind more than 10 million outdoor plants last year, enough to yield about $31 billion worth of product. That's more than the combined value of the state's top 10 legal farm commodities.
Even before voters in Colorado and Washington legalized recreational pot in 2012, marijuana was quasi-legal in California, and not just for medical use. Senate Bill 1449, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010, reclassified possession of an ounce or less from a misdemeanor to a maximum $100 infraction—you'll get a bigger fine for jaywalking in Los Angeles. Indeed, many states have eased restrictions on pot use. But with the exception of Colorado and Washington, whose laws dictate where, how, and by whom marijuana may be grown, they have had little to say about the manner in which it is cultivated—which is challenging to dictate in any case, since growers who cooperate with state regulators could still be prosecuted under federal statutes that classify pot as a Schedule 1 drug, the legal equivalent of LSD and heroin. So where is all this legal and semilegal weed supposed to come from? The answer, increasingly, is an unregulated backwoods economy, the scale of which makes Prohibition-era moonshining look quaint.
To meet demand, researchers say, the acreage dedicated to marijuana grows in the Emerald Triangle has doubled in the past five years. Like the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s, this "green rush," as it is known locally, has brought great wealth at a great cost to the environment. Whether grown in bunkers lit with pollution-spewing diesel generators, or doused with restricted pesticides and sown on muddy, deforested slopes that choke off salmon streams during the rainy season, this "pollution pot" isn't exactly high quality, or even a quality high. "The cannabis industry right now is in sort of the same position that the meatpacking industry was in before The Jungle was written by Upton Sinclair," says Stephen DeAngelo, the founder of Oakland's Harborside Health Center, a large medical marijuana dispensary. "It simply isn't regulated, and the upshot is that nobody really knows what's in their cannabis."
It's not just stoners who are at risk. Trespass grows have turned up everywhere from a stand of cottonwoods in Death Valley National Park to a clearing amid the pines in Yosemite. "I now have to spend 100 percent of my time working on the environmental impacts of marijuana," says Gabriel, who showed up at Bear Camp in military-style cargo pants and a kaffiyeh scarf. "I would never have envisioned that."
Gabriel grew up in Fresno, the son of immigrants from Mexico and Iraq, at a time when the Central Valley city was plagued by turf wars among pot-dealing street gangs, notably the local Norteños chapter and their rivals, the Bulldogs. That world did not interest Gabriel, who spent a lot of his free time catching frogs and crawdads on the banks of the San Joaquin River. His love of the outdoors led him to study wildlife management at Humboldt State University, where he became fascinated with fishers, the only predators besides mountain lions clever and tough enough to prey on porcupines. The fisher, which resembles the love child of a ferret and a wolverine, was nearly eradicated from the West by logging and trapping during the early 20th century. It still hasn't rebounded. This year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service will consider listing it as a threatened species.
When Gabriel first began venturing into the woods to trap and radio-collar fishers, he assumed that most of them were dying from bobcat attacks, disease, and cars running them over. But then, in 2009, he discovered a dead fisher deep in the Sierra National Forest that showed no signs of any of those things. A toxicology test indicated that it had ingested large quantities of rat poison.
Back in his lab, he tested frozen tissue from 58 other fisher carcasses he'd collected on some of California's most remote public lands and found rodenticide traces in nearly 80 percent of them. Rat poison isn't used in national forests by anyone except marijuana cultivators, who put it out to protect their seedlings. Rodents that eat the poison stumble around for a few days before they die, making them easy prey for hungry fishers.
In 2012, after Gabriel published his rat poison results, he was the target of angry calls and messages. One person accused him of helping the feds "greenwash the war on drugs." Another made vague threats against his family and his dogs. Gabriel also received a prying email, later traced by federal agents to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, soliciting the locations of his home, office, and field study sites. In Lost Coast Outpost and other local news sites, commenters shared links to his home address. "Snitches end up in ditches," one warned.
Then, last month, Gabriel's Labrador retriever, Nyxo, died after someone fed him meat infused with De-Con rat bait.
The types of threats Gabriel has received are not uncommon, and they have frightened scientists away from studying the environmental impacts of pot farming. "At my university, there is nobody who will even go near it," says Anthony Silvaggio, a sociologist with the state university's Humboldt Institute for Interdisciplinary Marijuana Research. Biologists who used to venture into the wilderness alone to survey wildlife now often pair up for protection. In July 2011, armed growers in the Sequoia National Forest chased a federal biologist through the woods for a half-hour before giving up. The following year, researchers surveying northern spotted owls on Humboldt County's Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation were shot at with high-caliber rifles. Each growing season, a significant chunk of one designated fisher habitat in the Sierra National Forest becomes inaccessible to scientists because it's dangerously close to illegal gardens.
Gabriel won't go near a known grow site before it's been cleared by law enforcement, as Bear Camp has. Scattered across the hillside, his team finds 4,200 pounds of chemical fertilizer, five kinds of insecticide, and three kinds of rodenticide. The stash includes a restricted pesticide capable of killing humans in small doses. Gabriel's friend and colleague Mark Higley dons a gas mask and seals the canister in a garbage bag. "If it does erupt, I want everyone to be at least 20 to 30 feet away," Gabriel warns. "It's aluminum phosphide, and when it hits the air, it turns into phosphine gas." Breathing it can kill you.

The Emerald Triangle's pot culture has changed a lot since the hippies drove up from San Francisco in the early 1970s in search of peace, freedom, and blissful communion with nature. At first, the back-to-the-landers grew pot primarily for themselves, but news that the United States was paying to have Mexican pot farms sprayed with paraquat, a toxic weed killer, convinced American stoners to seek out the hippie weed.
Before long, Humboldt had become a name brand, but marijuana might never have come to define the Emerald Triangle had the old-growth timber industry not logged itself out of business by the mid-1990s. In 1996, when California became the first state to legalize pot for medical use, out-of-work loggers took advantage of the opportunity. "Then you had everybody like, 'Sure, I'll grow some weed,'" recalls Humboldt State's Silvaggio. The size of the harvest grew, helped along by post-9/11 border enforcement, which made it harder for Mexican pot to enter the country. The latest leap in production was the result of Prop. 19, California's 2010 legalization measure; although it lost narrowly at the polls, the Emerald Triangle's growers boosted output in anticipation of having a mainstream product. Now marijuana "is all we have," Silvaggio says. "Every other thing is built here to serve that economy."
Drive around the Emerald Triangle during harvest season with the radio on, and you'll hear ads openly pitching Dutch hydroponic lamps, machines "for trimming flowers," and 2,800-gallon water storage tanks—because "you don't want to be the one that has to call the water truck in for multiple water deliveries late in the season." Even mainstream businesses like furniture stores get in on the green rush with "harvest sales." Talk of bud-trimming parties and the going price per pound dominates restaurant conversations. And in backwoods hamlets where you'd expect high unemployment, you come across a lot of $50,000 pickups.
As with much of the state's agricultural industry, the pot trade is stratified, and much of the labor is done by undocumented farmworkers. The man arrested at Bear Camp confessed to the police that he'd traveled north from Michoacán, Mexico, to pick apples in Washington, but knew he could make more money tending pot in California. Industry observers believe that at least some of the trespass grows are run from south of the border, but Silvaggio adds that many are financed by locals. Either way, the grunt workers tend to be the only ones busted when the grows are raided.
Although the original Northern California growers saw pot cultivation as an extension of their hippie lifestyles, their environmental values haven't readily carried over to the next generation. "They are given a free pass to become wealthy at a young age, to get what they want," Silvaggio explains. "And do you think they are going to give it up when they turn 20, with a kid in the box? They can't get off that gravy train." But with prices dropping as domestic supply expands, "you can't go smaller; you've got to go bigger these days to make the amount of money you used to make. So what does that mean? You have to get another generator. You have to take more water. You've got to spray something because you may lose 20, 30 grand if you don't."
Smaller growers operating on their own properties tend to use slightly better environmental practices— avoiding rodenticides, for instance—than the industrial growers who have moved in solely to make money. Even so, Silvaggio says, "we found that it's just a tiny fraction of folks who are growing organic."
Among the downsides of the green rush is the strain it puts on water resources in a drought-plagued region. Scott Bauer, a biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, calculates that irrigation for cannabis farms has sucked up all of the water that would ordinarily keep local salmon streams running through the dry season. Marijuana cultivation, he believes, "is a big reason why" at least 24 salmon and steelhead streams stopped flowing last summer. "I would consider it probably the No. 1 threat" to salmon in the area, he told me. "We are spending millions of dollars on restoring streams. We are investing all this money in removing roads and trying to contain sediment and fixing fish path barriers, but without water there's no fish."
Thirty square miles in one Emerald Triangle watershed, where pot farms siphon up roughly 29 million gallons of water per season California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
At Bear Camp, Gabriel leads me to a steep slope where the growers have plugged a freshwater spring with a makeshift dam of logs and tarps, one of 17 water diversions found at the site. Where moisture-loving ferns and horsetails should be flourishing, a plastic pipe leads downhill to a 1,000-gallon reservoir feeding a vast irrigation network. Gabriel unkinks a hose to release an arc of water from a sprinkler. National Guard troops enlisted to help out have already yanked the cannabis plants here, leaving behind a hillside of girdled white oaks and bare soil. "When we have a two-to-four-inch rain, this will just be a mud river," Gabriel says. Sediment laced with pesticides and other chemicals will find its way into the salmon stream below. We hike down to a clearing where a helicopter is pulling out sling loads of irrigation piping. "Look at this!" Gabriel shouts after plunging into a thicket to help the soldiers rip out another dam. "Insect killer right in the middle of it!"
He and his colleagues have seen much worse. At a grow site in July, he found a fisher that had died from eating one of many poisoned hot dogs strung around the site on a trotline. A state game warden raiding a grow in 2011 discovered a black bear and her cubs convulsing on the ground, having eaten into a stash of pesticides. Two threatened northern spotted owls, the species once at the center of a bitter fight between loggers and environmentalists, tested positive for rodenticides in Gabriel's lab; he's now looking into whether toxins from grow sites could be impeding that species' recovery as well. "When there is no adequate regulatory framework," Silvaggio warns, "you are going to have nature taking a hit."

Most growers just want to be left alone, but the small minority who are politically outspoken tend to favor regulation. Kristin Nevedal chairs the Emerald Growers Association, the triangle's marijuana trade group. The coauthor of an ecofriendly pot-farming guide, she often consults with state and local lawmakers about how to make the industry more responsible. "Prohibition hasn't curbed the desire for cannabis," she says. "So we really need to look at changing our policy and starting to treat it like agriculture, so we can manage it."
One of the most serious efforts on that front was a system put in place by Mendocino County, which as of 2010 allowed the cultivation of up to 99 plants, provided growers registered and tagged each one with zip ties purchased from the county. Sheriff's deputies monitored the grow sites and checked that they complied with environmental laws. "That program was in a lot of ways fabulous," Nevedal recalls. Almost 100 growers participated, but the program was shut down in early 2012, after federal agents raided one of the grows and US Attorney Melinda Haag hinted that she might just take the county to court. Later that year, a federal grand jury subpoenaed the county's zip tie records.
Since then, efforts to regulate pot farming have mostly shifted to the state level. In Colorado, pot vendors are required to list on their packaging all the farm chemicals used to produce their products, and the state recently implemented a "seed to sale" tracking system. Most Coloradans grow indoors due to the climate, which reduces pesticide use and makes it easier to keep pot off the black market, but it's highly energy intensive. In the journal Energy Policy, researcher Evan Mills estimated that indoor grows suck up enough electricity to supply 1.7 million homes—in California, they account for a whopping 9 percent of household energy use. The newly minted regulations for Washington state allow outdoor grows so long as they are well fenced and outfitted with security cameras and an alarm system.
In the next few years, new legalization measures appear destined for the ballot in California, Alaska, and Oregon. But while it may help create a market for responsibly grown cannabis, legalizing pot in a few states won't wipe out the black market, with its steep environmental toll. There's simply too much money to be made shipping weed to New Yorkers at $3,600 per pound, and too few cops to find all the grows and rip them out. "The trespass grows are really an issue because of prohibition," says Gary Hughes, the executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center, a 37-year-old Emerald Triangle environmental group that cut its teeth fighting the logging industry. "It is not the growers who are a disease. They are just a symptom. The real disease is the failed drug war."
Yet without the drug war, the region's pot sector might fade into oblivion. Take away the threat of federal raids, and to some extent pot becomes just another row crop, grown en masse wherever it's cheapest. "A shift in cultivation to the Central Valley is definitely possible," Hughes acknowledges.
There will likely still be a niche for the Emerald Triangle growers who started it all, Nevedal believes, just as there has been for craft whiskey distilleries in post-Prohibition Kentucky. Growing really good weed is simply too much work and too much strain on the environment to make sense on an industrial scale. As it happens, Nevedal speculates, the Emerald Triangle might just end up where it started, providing artisanal dank for a high-end market. "The future," she says, "is the small family farm."