The Outside Blog

Adventure : Politics

The Mother of All Anti-Fracking Tools

In Mora County, New Mexico, a patchwork of prairie, foothills, and high peaks on the east flank of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, unemployment stands at 16 percent, county workers operate out of leaky temporary buildings, and the population density is so low—just two people per square mile—that the tiny community and its largest town, 300-person Wagon Mound, are still classified as frontier by state health officials.

In short, Mora isn’t the kind of place that comes to mind for a national showdown on fracking. But in April 2013, county commissioners took center stage in the fight by passing the Community Water Rights and Local Self-Governance Ordinance, which declared it illegal for companies to extract hydrocarbons anywhere in the county, making Mora the first in the U.S. to ban oil and gas drilling outright, on public and private land.

Not surprisingly, lawsuits soon followed. The county was sued in federal district court in Albuquerque late last year by the Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico (IPANM) and three local property owners. In January, a second suit was filed by Shell Western, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, the world’s sixth-largest oil company.

The likely outcome? Busy lawyers. But the suits could also set a nationwide precedent by settling an interesting argument: Does a community’s right to self-governance trump the rights of corporations? The county ordinance’s basic aim is to protect the water supply in a parched region of a drought-stricken state, but it also contains a bill of rights for the environment, which argues that natural ecosystems “possess inalienable and fundamental rights to exist.”

The lawsuit by Royal Dutch Shell claims that Mora County’s rule denies the company its constitutional rights, chief among them corporate personhood, which states that a business has the same rights as an individual. (The controversial Citizens United Supreme Court ruling cemented corporations’ constitutional right to free speech.)

“This ordinance denies our property interest by declaring to criminalize virtually any activity undertaken by a corporation relating to oil and gas exploration and production,” says Curtis Smith, a spokesman for Shell.

Some environmentalists say that’s the whole point and are eager to test it. The ordinance was drafted with help from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a Pennsylvania nonprofit. CELDF cofounder Thomas Linzey acknowledges that provisions in the document contradict existing laws, but he relishes the chance to defend the self-governance statute before a judge. As the case goes into litigation, tiny Mora County, which doesn’t even have a stoplight, could help usher in a series of similar laws, and CELDF is working hard to ensure that this happens. It’s a fight Big Green groups have failed to take up, says Linzey, so it’s being waged at the grassroots level.

“Environmental folks don’t seem to give a shit,” he says. “They complain that the existing laws, which are stacked against us, are the only tools we have. We say maybe you should invent some new tools, because you’re not protecting anything.”

Banning oil and gas extraction under the purview of local government isn’t new. In 2010, Pittsburgh became the first city to ban fracking, which uses high-pressure water and chemicals to release oil and gas from subterranean shale deposits. Since then, more than 400 municipalities have instituted similar resolutions. The bans have mostly come in the form of zoning changes that keep the industry outside city limits.

But gas companies don’t drill in cities; they drill in the areas around them. That’s what makes Mora County’s ordinance unique. It bans energy extraction from a huge undeveloped area, nearly 1.2 million acres of rolling prairie, piñon and ponderosa forests, and 13,000-foot peaks.

“The oil and gas industry felt like it could contain these sorts of initiatives on a city-by-city scale,” says Eric Jantz, a staff attorney at the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, which is defending Mora County in the suit brought by IPANM. “But once you start getting into countywide prohibitions, that’s something the oil and gas industry has bigger concerns about.”

John Olivas, the Mora County commission chairman who helped pass the ordinance, says county commissioners voted for the sweeping legislation because regulations and zoning rules—typical anti-fracking tools—are simple loopholes that the industry would one day march through. “If the price is right for these corporations,” he says, “they’re coming.”

Karin Foster, the executive director of IPANM, counters that Mora County has been commandeered by a rogue environmental group. “This community-rights ordinance appeals to uneducated people in small communities that feel like they need to fight the man,” Foster says. “I don’t think the people leading them have their interests in mind.”

Some locals agree. Mora County is 80 percent Hispanic, and many residents are suspicious of Anglo groups coming in with an agenda, be it industrial or environmental. “That’s a real missionary attitude, to come into a place and say, ‘We’re going to protect you,’ ” says Sofia Martinez, an environmental -justice activist from Wagon Mound. Martinez opposes fracking, but she wishes that the county had taken a regulatory approach, one that didn’t expose it to potentially lengthy and expensive lawsuits. (Though the county has pro bono representation, by CELDF, among others, it may have to pay damages if it loses.)

Mora County’s case is likely to take years to resolve. Any ruling will almost assuredly be appealed, moving the case to the Tenth Circuit Court in Denver. But for now, Mora has become a cause célèbre, with other counties—like San Miguel, in New Mexico, and Johnson, in Illinois—considering similar bans. Cities and counties are now even working on community ordinances outlawing things like factory farms and GMO crops.

“We’ve all heard about Mora County,” says Sandra Steingraber, one of the nation’s most outspoken anti-fracking activists and author of Raising Elijah: Protecting Our Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis. Steingraber has been watching the fight all the way from upstate New York, where she’s battling at the township level. “The science is certainly on our side, and it points to the need for a nationwide ban,” Steingraber says. “Now we’ll see if the law ends up on our side.”

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How the Clintons are Stopping Traffic

It’s no secret that Africa’s elephants are in danger. Widespread poaching, fueled by demand for ivory in China and ineffective regulation, have led to alarming population losses, from 1.2 million in 1980 to only 500,000 this year. Today, approximately 96 African elephants are killed by poachers every 24 hours. Last September, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI)—a project of the Clinton Foundation—launched an $80 million effort to bring together foreign governments and NGOs to help protect the seven-ton mammals, in part by capitalizing on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s diplomatic experience. Millie Kerr sat down with Chelsea Clinton, the 34-year-old vice chairwoman of the family foundation, to check in on the early progress.

OUTSIDE: How did this issue hit your radar?
Clinton: In 2012, we realized that we’d been unaware of the crisis—similar to what it had been in the 1980s—and we were both sheepish about that, because we think we’re pretty plugged-in people. When my mom was secretary of state, one of the things that drew her attention to this was the fact that the Lord’s Resistance Army and Joseph Kony, the Al-Shabaab and the janjaweed in West Africa, Al Qaeda in North Africa, and many of the rebel and terrorist groups in Central Africa are trafficking not only in guns and humans, but in ivory.

And that prompted the initiative?
When my mom left the government, we knew this was one of the areas we wanted to work on together. She had relationships with many of the leaders who impact the demand or trafficking. We thought that, through CGI, we could bring together those people—governments, NGOs on the ground, foundations that can help fund the work—to really make a coherent, coordinated effort. For the first time in recent history, it became clear what the governments, NGOs, and academic partners were committing to in order to stop the killing, traffic, and demand.

Have you seen any progress?
There’s been tremendous progress, especially on the demand side, though we certainly don’t deserve credit for much of it. In China, influential CEOs pledged to no longer give ivory as gifts, and [former NBA star] Yao Ming has been a tremendous champion in his work with WildAid, which has run a number of campaigns in China that seem to be making a difference. Most of the ivory in the world is sold in China and Vietnam, though also here in the United States. We worked with the president’s task force on wildlife trafficking, and we’re thrilled with the policy that emerged from that, which is to ban all commercial imports of African ivory into this country. I think that’s an important step—not only in helping stop the demand, but also for our moral authority. 

You were in Tanzania, Rwanda, and Zambia last year. Did you see 
an impact on the ground?
I saw an SMS platform that lets local villagers report poachers. That’s been successful—not necessarily in stopping the poaching, but in limiting and deterring it. They used to find multiple carcasses of elephants that had been poached by the same group. Now, with this early-alert system, the rangers are able to deploy. They may not be able to save that first elephant, but they can save the second or third.

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Are Apples A Health Risk?

Your fruit isn’t so fresh. Take the apple. That one on your desk has likely been sitting in storage for months (tasty). So, to keep it looking fresh, it’s been treated with diphenylamine (DPA), a pesticide that doesn’t kill insects or fungal growths, but is designed to prevent fruit from developing brown or black patches.

This past March, the European Union issued what seemed, to many unaware of its proactive stance, like a very surprising statement. It would ban the importation of all apples containing the chemical, costing U.S apple growers $20 million in annual export sales. If Europe’s so worried, why aren’t we?

Introduced in 1962, DPA has been evaluated for safety several times, and subsequently deemed “unlikely to present a public health concern” by the World Health Organization. It does, however, have the potential to break down into carcinogenic nitrosamine after sitting on shelved apples for months post-harvest, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group. (Since the 1970s, the government has regulated products to prevent human exposure to nitrosamines.)

In a study by the pesticide’s manufacturers, researchers found three unknown chemicals on apples treated with DPA, but couldn’t determine whether any were nitrosamines. This unanswered question drove the European Commission to first ban DPA use on fruit grown within its own 28 member nations—and now to outlaw the import of any apples and pears containing more than 0.1 parts per million of DPA.

“Nobody has been able to identify any real risk from DPA, but Europe is trying to be on the prudent side,” says pesticide expert Carl Winter, a food toxicologist at the University of California–Davis. The Environmental Protection Agency, on the other hand, green-lights DPA residue of up to ten parts per million—a hundred times the new European standard.

But while Europe changed its stance, the Codex Committee on Pesticide Residues, and international regulatory group, hasn’t altered its regulations either, also setting them at ten parts per million. 

Both the EPA and Codex—depending on who you ask—have consistently set careful standards for the safety of chemicals. And what we end up eating often contains much lower concentrations than the standards allow. A 2011 study by Winter’s team found that our typical exposure to DPA is 208 times lower than the established acceptable level.

Of course, there’s a catch: the EPA can license a chemical that hasn’t met all the requirements—such as those for comprehensive disease-testing—on the condition that the manufacturer follows up on its data after approval. But two separate studies from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Government Accountability Office found that the EPA uses this conditional registration process more often than necessary, and doesn’t always review the follow-up data, which means pesticides have been approved without confirming that they pose no real risk.

And there are factors that the EPA overlooks. It doesn’t require testing against many of the more subtle and sensitive diseases, like hormone disruption and learning disabilities (many of which have been linked to pesticide exposure). It doesn’t account for exposure to multiple pesticides at once (such as in air and water). And it often doesn’t change regulations to reflect new studies——until that ten-year review date comes up, says Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the NRDC.

To ever call pesticides safe is likely a misnomer. “Pesticides are literally designed to kill organisms,” Sass points out. “What the EPA regulates is safety when used according to the label, not safety against all human diseases and effects.”

Unfortunately for consumers, while there’s a handful of studies suggesting that pesticide exposure can increase the risk of birth defects, respiratory illnesses, and cancer, there are far fewer studies analyzing the effect of merely eating chemical-covered produce.

A 2011 British meta-analysis did find that organic produce has slightly more vitamins and antioxidants than chemical-covered versions (though some studies have shown otherwise), and a 2013 study in PLoS ONE revealed that fruit flies live longer when fed extracts from organic, rather than conventional, produce. But, explains Sass, exposure levels are too low, and people too diverse, for us to really test the health effects of eating organic fruit and vegetables alone.

Back to the big question: should the U.S. follow in the EU’s footsteps? Possibly. Many Americans—including the EWG—believe Europe’s decision should prompt the EPA to revisit the pesticide’s safety. But, as Winter explains, since all growers outside Europe follow the international standard of ten parts per million, doing so would have a huge impact on international trade.

Regardless of the U.S.’s actions, do keep eating those apples. “The health benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables far outweigh any potential risks from these chemicals,” says Ruth MacDonald, a registered dietitian who chairs the Food Science and Human Nutrition department at Iowa State University. If you have the financial means and the drive to buy organic, go for it—but don’t stop eating apples just because they have pesticides on them.

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Sugar Is Not the Enemy

Since its release in theaters on May 2, the anti-“Big Food” documentary Fed Up has received plenty of media attention and praise. Through stories and expert commentary, the film, narrated by Katie Couric, strives to bring attention to the underlying causes of youth obesity—and places the blame squarely on added sugars. For this reason, New York Times food writer Mark Bittman called it “probably the most important movie to be made since An Inconvenient Truth.”

Given the accolades, it’s hard to imagine detractors, but remarks of disapproval keep coming, including from spokespeople at both the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), who focus on the documentary’s one-sided and sugar-obsessed take on obesity. Beyond stigmatizing a nutrient that’s critical to fueling exercise—and has repeatedly been shown to enhance athletic performance—Fed Up falls short on emphasizing the role of other calorie sources in weight gain, and it discounts one of the most powerful tools in the war on obesity: physical activity.

While added sugars are a significant part of the problem because they are widely used to make food appetizing, they are far from the whole problem, says Dr. David Katz, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center and listed as a member of the scientific advisory board for Fed Up. “In terms of overall health outcomes, the evidence overwhelmingly indicates the conjoined importance of what we do with our forks and what we do with our feet,” he says.

If Dr. Katz is straightforward in his criticism, he is joined by many other nutrition experts and organizations who have taken a harder line against the film. Angela Lemond, a registered dietitian nutritionist and AND spokesperson, says that the film’s minimizing of the benefits of exercise is “truly unfortunate” and “irresponsible,” noting that sugar is a quickly absorbed source of carbohydrate that is crucial for exercise performance. Moreover, the film’s focus on sugar as a major factor in contributing to obesity is a “biased view” not shared by the majority of objective scientists, says James O. Hill, a professor of pediatrics and medicine at the University of Colorado, Denver and an ASN spokesperson.

“Research is clear now that adding sugar to a diet and taking away the same number of calories does not cause weight gain or any other of the outcomes attributed to sugar in this film,” Hill says.

But Hill’s chief criticism of the film is the absence of any expert on physical activity. Based on his own research at the National Weight Control Registry, which he founded, an hour or more of physical activity per day is key for long-term weight management success. The registry follows more than 6,000 formerly obese people who have succeeded in keeping weight off permanently. Regardless of how many calories that activity burns, the reason an hour or more of daily exercise works may be due to a change in the body’s biology that helps control appetite and food intake, Hill explains.

While Fed Up blames rising obesity rates on sugar, consumption of added sugars has actually fallen by a quarter over the past decade, with most of the reduction coming from a decline in sugar-sweetened beverages, according to national survey data, says ASN spokesperson Dr. Roger Clemens, chief science officer for specialty ingredient supplier E.T. Horn Company. He also served on the USDA 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Dr. Clemens says that Fed Up “misconstrues the evidence from many studies and confuses customers” about the role of sugar and processed foods in promoting obesity.

As an avid cyclist who enjoys a regular 50-mile ride, Dr. Clemens stresses the role of sugars in fueling exercise. His own sports drink and exercise fuel of choice: orange juice plus peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He also says the film doesn’t take into account that exercise will help improve the way sugar is handled in the body through improved insulin sensitivity. Guidelines on sugar intake for active versus nonactive people should not be the same, he says.

While Fed Up has done much to reignite the national debate on obesity and sugar, it’s crucial to separate fact from narrative function. Active people and athletes need sugar to perform. When it comes to obesity, no single nutrient should take all the blame. When it comes to weight loss, a focus on the whole diet is necessary and exercise remains key.

“For health, [exercise is] essential—elemental. The importance cannot be overstated,” says Dr. Katz. “For weight maintenance, also vital; for weight loss per se, diet matters more just because it is so much easier to out-eat exercise than to out-exercise an unregulated intake of calories.”

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Accidental Activists

In his one-room cabin in the hills of southern Humboldt County, Utpara Deva is giving a slideshow on his computer. A former photographer, Deva moved to this rural area in 1996 to get away from the hustle of city life in San Francisco. He peers over his reading glasses, scanning through the photos from last summer. These aren’t like the epic black-and-white landscapes he once printed as an assistant for Ansel Adams. The subject here is more urgent.

“This is in late July, and the creek is still running,” he says. “So pay attention to what it looks like.” The photo shows the glistening surface of nearby Mattole Canyon Creek, filled with thousands of tiny steelhead. Some are the size of sardines; others are bigger, up to eight inches long.

“Uh-oh,” he says, clicking to the next photo. In it, a one-inch black PVC pipe snakes out of a gas-powered water pump and into the creek. Increasingly, Deva says, marijuana farms are diverting water in the summer to irrigate their crops, wrecking habitats and killing the fish. The creek pictured here feeds into the Mattole River, home to some of California’s last steelhead and cohos.

“Fish and Wildlife had a tip about the pump for more than a month—it makes you crazy,” he says. To try and save the fish from the rapidly shrinking creek, he and several neighbors began scooping up steelhead in five-gallon buckets and carrying them to the river below. Over time, the creek turned to pools, then eventually dried up completely. Deva and his neighbors were able to save a few hundred fish out of the thousands that wound up either being eaten by raccoons and kingfishers or starving to death.

For years, the water used by thousands of marijuana farms has been creating a problem for California’s endangered cohos and threatened steelhead. Now, with the worst drought in the state’s history, pot farms are poised to push these species over the edge. During the summer of 2013, two dozen fish-bearing streams in the area dried up. There were reports of people stealing water from fire hydrants and filling up water trucks right out of the rivers. In July, at the peak of summer, 10,000 gallons of water were stolen from a school cistern in the small town of Weott, just off Highway 101. Any hope for California’s salmon and steelhead was quickly disappearing—and, suddenly, residents, marine biologists, and marijuana growers found their worlds colliding. 

Highway 101 winds north from Deva’s cabin, past California’s untouched Lost Coast, through ancient redwood groves until, 70 miles later, it reaches Eureka. Here, the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s local office is filled with hunting licenses, tide table books, and fishing guides.

Scott Bauer, an environmental scientist with the agency, is at his desk. Forty-one years old, he has close-cropped hair and a graying goatee. Nearby are two clear plastic containers the size of 35mm film canisters. Inside both are a few tiny cohos and steelhead in formaldehyde, bent in half like pickled vegetables in a too-small jar. He found them at a stream where water diversions were so bad the fish starved to death in the warm, stagnant pools. Bauer’s work focuses on salmon recovery projects—but, these days, his nickname is “the marijuana man,” a title that makes him wince. Pot farms have been exploding here in recent years, and marijuana issues now take up nearly all his time.

{%{"quote":"It’s impossible to know how much water is drawn from streams for marijuana farms. But with farms increasing at unprecedented rates, many residents believe marijuana is the biggest factor threatening Humboldt’s watersheds."}%}

“I knew people grew dope, but it wasn’t talked about,” Bauer says, recalling when he started with Fish and Wildlife in 2005. A few years later, while flying over Humboldt in a small plane, he saw the countless greenhouses and gardens carved into the mountainsides. The scale of growing sank in, he says. Since then, the farms have only gotten bigger. According to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office, there are approximately 4,100 outdoor marijuana farms in the county. And these are the obvious ones, the ones visible from above. The undetectable indoor operations remain uncounted.

“It’s like that moment when you look at one of those computer pictures, crossing your eyes—and suddenly everything shows up,” Bauer says. “You start looking around, and that’s all you see.”

In the summertime, he gets frequent calls from landowners about the streams on their property drying up. He works with legislators in Sacramento about the issue, and he accompanies the Humboldt County Drug Task Force on private-land busts. Because it’s his job to make people keep water in the streams, he says he’s not welcome in many of the small communities where marijuana farming is a way of life—the same places he needs to have the most impact.

“You can’t have fish without water,” he says.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife is spending $12 million annually on fish-habitat restoration in Northern California, and that money is disappearing as quickly as the state’s water. But if these creeks dry up for three or four years in a row, it will all be for nothing. There will be no generations of fish to return; the runs will be dead.

Simultaneously, Humboldt County is ground zero for marijuana farming, California’s biggest cash crop, but not because of good soil or the right amount of rain. The real reasons that make Humboldt so good for growing pot, according to Deva, are bad roads, rugged terrain, and a poor county with underfunded law enforcement. “Humboldt County was made for black-market growing,” he says.

In 2010, the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy estimated that as much as 79 percent of the nation’s marijuana comes from California; that number includes both illegal operations and licensed medical ones. The handful of game wardens and sheriffs in Humboldt County currently busts less than one percent of the illegal growing operations in the hills. With legalization likely in the next few years and little threat of arrest, marijuana farmers have been scaling up while the price is still high, putting more and more pressure on rural watersheds.

Bauer witnessed what happened at Mattole Canyon Creek, near Deva’s cabin. The grower who was eventually arrested had 877 small plants. This, Deva says, is on the smaller side for many farms. But there were numerous other growers upstream, all taking water from the same place. As Mattole Canyon Creek was drained into puddles, juvenile steelhead were sucked into the uncovered pipe as it carried water into the woods.

“We don’t care what you’re growing,” Bauer says, “We could give a hoot. We care about the critters in the streams.”

It’s impossible to know exactly how much water is being drawn from streams for marijuana farms because, by its very nature, the industry is unregulated. Estimates for how much a plant consumes in a day vary from three to six gallons, depending on size, how they’re grown, and whether you ask Fish and Wildlife or a grower. But with farms increasing at unprecedented rates in past years, many residents believe marijuana is the biggest factor threatening Humboldt’s watersheds. If Fish and Wildlife’s estimates are accurate, there are 30,000 marijuana plants in each of four Humboldt and neighboring Mendocino watersheds known for their prolific number of grows. Multiply that by the high end of the watering scale—six gallons a day—and, as noted by Santa Rosa’s Press Democrat, that’s “altogether more than 160 Olympic-size swimming pools over the average 150-day growing cycle for outdoor plants.”

According to data from the National Weather Service, during the past three years, Humboldt had basically average rainfall. But residents say that, even during those years, the creeks started drying up, which suggests that California’s drought is not the main factor.

{%{"quote":"This isn’t a cannabis issue, it’s an issue that’s being exacerbated by cannabis."}%}

“It’s as if everybody around here lived in spotted owl habitat, or marbled murrelet habitat,” says Dana Stolzman, executive director of Southern Humboldt’s Salmonid Restoration Federation. She explains that the availability of salmon at the local grocery store makes it hard for people to accept that they’re endangered in places like this. “Everybody here lives in endangered coho habitat.”

Unlike most people, the majority of rural residents in southern Humboldt County get their water from springs—groundwater that wells up and flows to the surface; the same water that combines to form the area’s streams. Except in a few small towns, there’s no city water system. Wells are rare because they can draw unwanted permitting attention. So whether they’re doing laundry or growing a thousand marijuana plants, both the original homesteaders and the new “pot miner” generation, which came largely to grow marijuana, are fully responsible for obtaining their own water.

The fact that growers aren’t the only ones using the water is something Kristin Nevedal is quick to point out. “This isn’t a cannabis issue, it’s an issue that’s being exacerbated by cannabis,” she says, using the plant’s scientific name. Nevedal is the executive director of the Emerald Growers Association, a policy group that advocates for marijuana legalization and medical use. And she has a point. No matter what people are using water for, there are more residents here than there used to be. Marijuana farmers, she says, are easy targets. Some families in Humboldt are now in their third generation of pot growing. For many, it’s a stable income in a beautiful setting. For some, it’s the only way they know to make a living. The question has become one of whether growers are willing to put the survival of steelhead and cohos before their own livelihood.

Leaving his cabin, Deva climbs into his truck, puts it in four-wheel drive, and heads down a rutted-dirt road. At the crest of a hill, he comes to a stop. There, in a clearing of madrones, is a silver silo. Its walls and roof are of corrugated steel, and it stands about 35 feet wide. The cone-shaped top is open, to collect rainwater.

“This is basically a model grow site,” Deva says. The structure is a 47,000-gallon rain-harvesting tank. One of his neighbors, a grower, is in the process of building it. From there, he scrambles down the hillside, and through a carpet of oak leaves, to another curiosity: what look like two giant, sand-colored water beds. They’re military surplus, he says, explaining that they would have been used for storing liquids like jet fuel in Afghanistan. But here, they hold 20,000 gallons of water each, pumped in during the winter, when streams are usually running high. Deva explains that this growing operation, which gets a hundred percent of its water from rain during wet winters, has “zero impact on the fish.”

He continues down the hill to a meadow that overlooks the sweeping mountains of the King Range. Before him are three long, raised garden beds that together contain about a hundred marijuana plants. The buds were recently harvested, so all that’s left are yellowing, four-foot-high stalks. This operation produces about 50 pounds of marijuana, which, Deva says, translate to around $60,000 a year. But environmentally minded growers like these ones, who make every effort to minimize their footprint in this fragile ecosystem by using water storage, installing elaborate drip systems, and taking water only during the winter, remain under the radar due to fears of getting caught out by the law.

In the watersheds of southern Humboldt County, where unregulated agriculture and, now, drought are threatening a species on their way to extinction, the future is hard to predict. It won’t take much for the coho to go the way of California’s grizzly bear, a relic of the past, and the steelhead aren’t far behind. According to Fish and Wildlife’s Scott Bauer, three cohos were counted in the Mattole River last year. “That is essentially extirpated—extinct,” he says, going on to speculate that, if every resident and grower started storing water, it might be enough to save these watersheds and their fish.

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