While those hippie outlaws are still around the Emerald Triangle, come harvest time you're just as likely to see a new breed of grower around town,
standing on the side of the road holding cardboard signs looking for work "clipping and bagging" marijuana plants, or parked in front of hydroponic stores
in a brand new pick up buying grow lamps or plant food. "In the winter, they take off for Costa Rica and Honduras to live the good life," Bauer says. "And
then next spring, they're back. They're here to make money and then leave."
When California voters passed Proposition 215 (which allows for the possession and cultivation of medical marijuana) the new breed of growers who flooded
the Emerald Triangle mostly opted for indoor growing, or large-scale farms on private and public forest land, known as trespass grows. Today, at least one
third of the marijuana grown in the state is produced indoors, which accounts for nine percent of California's annual electricity use. "Each time there's a
new initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use it just gets worse," says Tyce Frasier, a second-generation grower. "More people move here, or
people expand the size of their operation to cash in before it becomes legal and regulated."
If there is a solution to these trends, it may come from the growers themselves. While California has regulations that govern agriculture, requiring
permits from everything from water usage to the grading of dirt roads, they are mostly ignored in the Emerald Triangle. "I get growers who come to me and
say, 'I'd like to work with the county to make sure I'm getting all the right permits, but what I'm doing is illegal according to federal law, and I don't
want to put a big target on my back,'" Silvaggio says.
Environmentally conscious growers are instead taking matters in to their own hands, targeting trespass grows and what they call "pollution pot." A group
called Grow It in the Sun ran ads on local radio urging newcomers to stop growing indoors, and another group called the Emerald Growers Association has
created a "best practices guide," to encourage organic farming. One non-profit, called Sanctuary Forest, has even begun helping farmers buy tanks to store
water for the dry summer months.
"For a long time there was a code of silence, because even if you saw something you didn't like, you were doing something illegal yourself and you didn't
want the attention to blow back on you," Silvaggio says. "Now that's changing. It's got bad enough that growers are starting to speak up, pointing out
there's a sustainable way to do this."
The implications extend beyond the Emerald Triangle or even California. To date, 15 states allow some form of cultivation, including Colorado and
Washington, which just legalized marijuana for recreational use. "We have a market that's going to expand exponentially," Silvaggio says. "And yet most of
these states that are legalizing aren't even thinking some of the things we're seeing here. The environmental impact is only going to increase in frequency
and scale. It's a moral test for this community."
As for Bauer, finding hope is hard. Not long ago he returned to that first site he visited years ago. Little had changed. There was still sediment in the
creek. And then he noticed something that alarmed him: sacks of pesticides that hadn't been there more than a few weeks. The growers were back, expanding