By TakePartAnimals
Humboldt County's Marijuana Boom Is Destroying Redwoods and Killing Rare Wildlife

By Todd Woody

Mark Harris banks the Cessna 182 over the blue expanse of Humboldt Bay and flies toward the redwood-studded hills beyond, to the now-quiet battlefields of the California timber wars. It's a flashback moment. Twenty-one years ago, Harris, then a ponytailed young attorney, took me, then a long-haired young reporter, up in Thumper, as he affectionately calls the 59-year-old prop plane, for an aerial view of the civil war raging in Humboldt County.

In the forests below, activists from the radical environmental group Earth First!—"No compromise in defense of Mother Earth"—were fighting a long and brutal battle to save the planet's largest groves of ancient redwood trees left in private ownership from a timber company determined to cut down every last one of them. Harris represented these "forest defenders"—who blockaded logging roads and chained themselves to chain saws—as well as their compatriots, who battled in the courts to stop the clear-cutting of trees that sprouted when Julius Caesar ruled the Roman Empire.

The redwood forests of Humboldt County, California, have endured 150 years of logging.Mary Grace McKernan

On this bright and sunny March day in 2016, I can see the victories and defeats etched in the landscape framed by the snowcapped Trinity Alps. Vast tracts of stump-covered hillsides abut soaring stands of redwoods.

"Look, there's Owl Creek," said Harris over the din of the four-seater's engine. In 1995, he helped win a landmark court victory that blocked the Pacific Lumber Company from logging the grove of old-growth redwoods that is home to a rare and rarely seen seabird called the marbled murrelet. Then on our right appears the Headwaters Grove. From a thousand feet up, the 3,000 acres of densely packed, 2,000-year-old, 300-feet-tall trees appear as an island amid the clear-cuts, looking like nothing so much as gargantuan marijuana buds.

The Headwaters, which harbors northern spotted owls, Pacific fishers, Humboldt martens, coho salmon and other endangered wildlife, is Humboldt County's Gettysburg, a battleground where thousands of activists risked arrest, pepper spray and the wrath of angry loggers to protect a primeval world from Charles Hurwitz, a Texas corporate raider whose Maxxam Corporation took over Pacific Lumber in 1986 and began clear-cutting the ancient trees, each one worth as much as $150,000. In 1999, the federal and state governments paid Hurwitz $480 million to acquire the grove and the surrounding Headwaters Forest. Pacific Lumber went bankrupt eight years later, its assets scooped up by the Humboldt Redwood Company, which pledged to log sustainably and not harvest old-growth trees. The timber wars were, at long last, over.

Another fight for the forests, though, is just beginning.

We shadow the Eel River, swollen from El Niño rains, as it meanders past the county's last sawmill and then head into SoHum, as locals call southern Humboldt. Flying toward the Pacific Ocean, we pass over redwood-covered hills pockmarked by dozens of clearings hacked from the forest. This land is zoned for timber production, but loggers didn't cut down those trees. In just about every clearing, long white cylinder-shaped structures appear, resembling, some say, rolling papers. It's an apt observation. The buildings are greenhouses and inside, marijuana plants are grown for Humboldt County's multibillion-dollar cannabis industry.

Seen from the air are eight marijuana growing operations hacked from the redwood forests of Humboldt County.Mary Grace McKernan

With California poised to fully legalize marijuana, a "green rush" has hit Humboldt as outsiders—Bulgarians, Laotians, Texans—flood into the county and set up industrial-scale marijuana farms. The environmental impact from more than 4,000 pot "gardens" is ravaging the redwood ecosystem that Humboldt environmentalists have spent decades fighting to save and restore. And not just in Humboldt. The marijuana boom in the two other pot-growing counties that form California's Emerald Triangle threatens a wide swath of the state's woodlands. Like forests worldwide endangered by development, Humboldt County's redwoods absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide, making them crucial to the fight against climate change.

Full Coverage: Fight for the Forests

"The single biggest threat to our environment right now has been unregulated cannabis," said Natalynne DeLapp, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center, a grassroots group that spearheaded the effort to protect the Headwaters and its wildlife. "In the last 20 years we've seen a massive exponential growth in cannabis production in the hills of Humboldt County and we've seen really devastating environmental effects."

Growers have fragmented forests by cutting trees to build greenhouses and roads on steep hillsides, choking creeks home to endangered salmon with sediment, fertilizers and pesticides and sucking streams dry during a record drought to irrigate marijuana crops. Once-still forests echo with the racket of hundreds of diesel generators. Rat poison and other toxic chemicals used by some growers to protect their plants are killing rare wildlife like the Pacific fisher.

"It's just been really sad, actually, really sad to see what's happened to the environment and a lot of work people have put into restoration efforts, to see those things unravel because people continue to bulldoze hillsides for clearings to grow more cannabis," DeLapp said.

In a community where there long has been a very thin green line between environmentalists and marijuana growers, DeLapp, 35, is leading a campaign to regulate an out-of-control industry. She's getting help from unlikely allies: a timber company and a group of marijuana farmers determined to create a truly green and sustainable cash crop.

Hiding in the Hills

Pot has been grown in these hills since the back-to-the-land movement of the late 1960s and early '70s brought hippies to Humboldt, a sparsely populated 4,052-square-mile rural county in Northern California. That a remote region known as the Lost Coast would become a haven for marijuana growers was no accident. "Humboldt County may not be the best place to grow marijuana from an environmental standpoint, but it's the best place to hide growing cannabis," noted DeLapp.

For decades, it was mostly grown by locals like Stephen Dillon, who comes from a fourth-generation Humboldt logging family that arrived in the county by schooner in the 1880s. His grandfather worked in the mills until he died, but when the timber wars erupted, Dillon sided with Earth First! after a foray into the Headwaters Grove in 1991. It was the year after "Redwood Summer," the first of a decade of mass protests against logging that would bring thousands of demonstrators and celebrities such as Bonnie Raitt and Woody Harrelson to Humboldt County.

"We could barely penetrate it," Dillon said of the Headwaters. "All we could do is find an old growth tree, walk along it, jump down into 20 feet of ferns, find another one, walk along it. There's nothing like it in the world. Jurassic Park is the closest you can describe." Dodging Pacific Lumber security guards, Dillon and his buddies found a way out of the forest. "We walked to the edge of Headwaters, then tried to get across a clear-cut. It was just like death and destruction outside the grove."

Still in college, with a new baby, he began to grow marijuana while attending Earth First! rallies. "We were taught by the old hippies to grow under the shade of the trees," said Dillon, a sandy-haired 43-year-old sporting a goatee. "It really dovetailed with the Earth First! activist scene—they're both really antiestablishment; they're both in direct contact with nature in the woods, being free and working."

"Back then, it was the old hippies and the Vietnam vets who pretty much controlled the whole marijuana scene," he said. "They supported the volunteer fire departments, built the community centers." At environmental groups like EPIC, veteran activists tell stories, perhaps apocryphal, of bags of cash and weed appearing on office doorsteps to fund their good works.

"This was back in the day when weed was very expensive—$4,000 a pound," said Dillon. "A family could get by on 20, 30, 40 pounds a year and be happy." Today, prices have dropped below $2,000 a pound and as farmers grow more marijuana to make up the shortfall, the environmental impact grows too.

Mom-and-pop backyard pot gardens got bigger after 1996 when California voters passed Proposition 215, which legalized marijuana for medical use. After spending decades trying to eradicate marijuana in Humboldt County, the state started treating the business as quasi-legal, at least if growers were supplying the medical marijuana market. People like Dillon came out of the woods and started growing pot in greenhouses. "I was the first greenhouse in my valley since the '80s," he said. "Now I'd say there are over 200. Mine are the smaller ones."

"New people came and got money signs in their eyes," added Dillon, executive director of the Humboldt Sun Growers Guild, a cooperative of local farmers who promote organic, sustainably grown marijuana. "They were like, 'Screw that hippie down the road—he's a wuss. Let's throw up five of these things in a row.' A lot of the new people coming in have absolutely no understanding of the creeks and the roads and the ecosystem they're in."

Video: Up in Smoke: Humboldt County's Green Rush

Ironically, the decline of the timber industry helped spur the rise of an environmentally destructive marijuana industry. As the sawmills closed, out-of-work loggers began growing pot, while Humboldt's old logging families began to sell off their timberlands to outsiders who would subdivide the property and sell to other marijuana growers. "The old-timers are up against a rock and a hard place as they've got taxes to pay on their land but it's not economically feasible for them to log it anymore," Dillon said. "So they sell and the only person sitting on the other side of the table is a pot grower with a lot of cash."

I'm talking to Dillon not on his farm but at the "Marijuana Investor Summit" in San Francisco. The March event at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square has attracted 1,300 attendees paying $750 a pop and Dillon has come to see what the future holds. The hotel reeks of weed, but the conversations of the suits sitting around us are about money and market share.

"These guys are literally stockbrokers and hedge fund people, trying to figure out how to get into the business," said Dillon, uncharacteristically attired in a sports jacket and a button-down shirt, glancing over his shoulder. "They have no regard for the environment, the culture, the land, the communities involved. They have absolutely no stake in any of those things. It's all about the money."

By any measure, enormous sums of money are flowing through Humboldt County, such as the $500,000 police officers found stashed in a false compartment in a 61-year-old Humboldt man's pickup truck during a routine traffic stop in Utah.

"He obviously had just transported marijuana from Humboldt to that state and was on his way back—the scent of marijuana was very strong," said Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey, noting that his office typically seizes $1 million to $2 million in cash a year from growers. When Humboldt sheriff's deputies subsequently raided the man's home in a remote corner of the county, they found 1,200 pot plants growing in five greenhouses, along with 230 pounds of dried marijuana.

Few signs remain of the timber industry, which in the 1950s employed half the Humboldt County workforce. Signs of the cannabis culture, though, are everywhere, from the highway billboard advertising a sale on gigantic inflatable water tanks favored by growers for irrigating their crops to the plaque in my hotel room advising, "For your comfort this is designated a non-smoking/non-medical Prop 215/non-pet friendly room." Conversations inevitably turn to drug-related topics. The next-door neighbor busted in Missouri for transporting marijuana. The young eastern European women arrested working at a grow operation. The barrel-chested, tattooed Bulgarian guy spotted in the hills carrying an AK-47 and talking on a satellite phone.

"The Bulgarian grows are horrendous!" wrote a commenter on Redheaded Blackbelt, a local news blog that reports on all things cannabis. "You said the 'B' word," another commenter replied. "They are taking over this county, buying land all over. Seems like every time I go to the mountain store the guy in front of me is wearing a track suit and speaking Eastern European."

Signs of the environmental devastation wrought by renegade cannabis cultivation, though, are largely out of sight. When I contact a local environmentalist to see if he can show me the damage, I get a curt reply: "You are aware that these are not friendly hills to drive around in, right?" Residents of those hills who have witnessed firsthand the destruction of streams and forests aren't eager to talk to the media, he said, mentioning a friend who is "afraid of winding up in a ditch, leaving his kids without a dad."

I'll hear the phrase "Snitches get stitches" more than once while I'm in Humboldt.

Growing Devastation

Heeding the warning, I decide the safe bet is to report from 1,000 feet up aboard Thumper with a guide familiar with the terrain. Since the timber wars, Mark Harris, a surfer turned attorney and now a youthful 54, has developed a thriving legal practice representing local marijuana farmers and groups like the Humboldt Sun Growers Guild.

As we fly toward SoHum's marijuana belt, we pass the last paved road we'll see, deserted but for a flatbed truck stacked with soil and fertilizer. "During growing season you'll see those trucks running back and forth all day long," said Harris, throttling back the engine to slow the plane as the photographer with me pushes open a window, sticks her head out and starts shooting the greenhouses sitting on patches of dirt carved from the redwood forest. "I'm surprised no one down there has called me yet saying, 'Hey Mark, is that you up there?' " he said, chuckling and glancing at his iPhone. Often, he said, the sight of a low-flying plane triggers alarm below as growers spread the word through the hills of a possible incursion by law enforcement. To avoid freaking growers out, Harris often posts a notice on the Redheaded Blackbelt blog that he'll be doing a flyover.

Attorney and pilot Mark Harris sits at the helm of his Cessna before takeoff. Mary Grace McKernan

Visible through the trees is a network of narrow dirt roads that snake through the redwoods to greenhouses. Some are old logging roads from the 1940s that growers have reopened; others they built themselves. Either way, the poor construction means that come the winter rains they erode, washing sediment into streams where endangered coho and chinook salmon spawn. Something catches Harris' eye and he swings over three greenhouses sitting on clearings that had been hacked from a hillside above a muddy creek. Redwoods have been cut down for two other grow sites just yards from the water. "In some watersheds you see a 100, 200 of these," said Scott Bauer, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife who went on 40 raids of marijuana grow operations last year. "So you see forest fragmentation; you see road building that's atrocious."

In places like the nearby Salmon Creek, he said, the state has spent millions of dollars decommissioning old timber roads while residents have worked to restore watersheds left damaged and devoid of salmon by decades of industrial logging. Then came the green rush. "There's hundreds of grow sites in there," said Bauer. "You go out there today and the creek runs chocolate. It's just puking sediment and you used to didn't see that. I saw chinook spawning there in 2009 and I've been back a number of times and it's just running like mud. Even if the salmon are spawning, you can imagine that survival isn't that great."

We fly over another clearing in the forest that is being prepared for the upcoming growing season. The metal frame of a greenhouse sits next to an empty inflatable water storage tank the size of a suburban swimming pool. Supersize versions of the water bladders you take camping, the tanks can hold 5,000 gallons and weigh 42,000 pounds when full. "If the grow site hasn't been properly graded, the tanks can get loose," said Harris. "They go crashing down the hill taking out trees until they hit the creek."

That some pot farmers are using such tanks to store water collected in the rainy season is a positive sign, given the devastation caused by the pumping of streams and creeks during the dry summer months to irrigate thirsty marijuana plants. A 2015 study coauthored by Bauer found that in the summer, growers were diverting as much as 100 percent of the water from some Humboldt County streams, including Salmon Creek.

That is jeopardizing the survival of salmon across the region, according to Scott Greacen, executive director of Friends of the Eel River, an environmental group involved in the recovery of Humboldt County's watersheds. Take China Creek, a coho spawning stream that's a tributary of bigger creeks that flow to the ocean. "Ten years ago we had coho in China Creek," said Greacen, a ponytailed 51-year-old who formerly served as executive director of EPIC. "Now we have lost them completely because someone built a dam at the top of the creek and cut off the flow of water. When the wardens showed up, all they found was dead fish."

More commonly, he notes, a group of growers will fire up their diesel generators at the same time and pump dry a pool where salmon are swimming. The water will percolate back into the creek when they turn off their pumps, but the pool only has to be dry for a minute for the fish to die. "It's a death by a thousand cuts," said Greacen. "In the timber-wars era, we could take you to these massive clear-cuts and the impact on the forest was obvious for anyone to see. Now it's not the greenhouse itself or the pot plants themselves that are the harm, but it's the land use associated with it and the cumulative impact of hundreds of these grow sites."

What we can't see from the air are the animals dying in the forests from rat poison and other toxic chemicals some growers use to protect their plants. The threat has become so dire that when the federal government proposed listing the Pacific fisher as a threatened species, it cited cannabis cultivation as a risk to the mammal's survival.

Death by Cannabis

Seven years ago, wildlife ecologist Mourad Gabriel was a doctoral student at the University of California, Davis, where he tracked the behavior of a group of radio-collared fishers, elusive cat-size carnivores that resemble wolverines, only cuter. Fishers, whose numbers have fallen as low as 500 in Northern California, prefer the same mix of old-growth forest and riparian habitat favored by the northern spotted owl—and, increasingly, outlaw marijuana growers.

After a radio-collared fisher was found dead in a remote forest in 2009, an autopsy revealed it had died from poisoning by a rodenticide commonly used on illegal grow sites to kill rats and other animals that like to eat sugar-laden young pot plants and that fishers prey on in turn. As the green rush brought more of these "trespass grows" into state and national forests and parks and onto private timberlands, the fisher death toll rose. In a 2012 study, Gabriel and his colleagues found that 79 percent of 58 fishers they examined had been exposed to rodenticides, four had died and a nursing female had passed the poison on to her offspring. By late last year, the death rate from poisoning hit 18 percent of the radio-collared population.

Wildlife ecologist Mourad Gabriel. Mary Grace McKernan

Gabriel began to accompany law enforcement officers on raids of grow sites, finding anywhere from five to 120 pounds of rodenticides—some banned in the U.S.—spread around every one. "You can feel the death in the air," he told me as we walked along the Mad River, which borders a forest that is prime Humboldt County fisher habitat. There's also a marijuana grow site nearby. "They were intentionally and maliciously poisoning wildlife, putting out rodenticides in tuna cans. As little as an eighth or a sixteenth of a teaspoon of some of these poisons can kill an American black bear. Three ounces of another will kill one-and-a-half spotted owls."

Last year, two endangered northern spotted owls found near grow sites had rodenticides in their system, as did 80 percent of barred owls that had been culled to stop them from competing with their endangered cousin. The federal government in the 1990s put much of the Pacific Northwest off-limits to logging and has spent millions of dollars to save the spotted owl. Gabriel also came across dead bears, foxes, birds and vultures near marijuana grow sites last year. Each tested positive for rodenticides and other poisons. Also at risk is the Humboldt marten, a weasel-like carnivore that lives in old-growth redwood forests and that was thought extinct until a camera trap captured a photo of one in 1996. The marten and the spotted owl hunt the same prey as fishers.

"Think of all the folks who were galvanized to protect the Headwaters and the unique ecosystem that supports this wildlife," said Gabriel, who is executive director of the nonprofit Integral Ecology Research Center in Blue Lake, a hamlet of 1,200 people east of Eureka. "It doesn't matter how good-quality the habitat is if you have these new threats from marijuana grow sites."

At one site, growers had strung a line of fishing hooks baited with hot dogs laced with methomyl, an extremely toxic pesticide. Gabriel discovered a dead two-year-old male fisher 30 feet from the camp, poisoned meat lodged in its esophagus. The pesticide had killed the fisher before it could swallow the hot dog. "I'm disheartened. It's heartbreaking," says Gabriel, who had just returned from conducting an autopsy on yet another fisher. Cause of death: rodenticide.

It has also gotten personal. Some marijuana growers apparently were not happy when Gabriel's 2012 study attracted widespread media attention. People threatened Gabriel at the supermarket and the gas station, he said. His office was broken into. He woke one morning to find one of his Labradors writhing in agony. An autopsy would show that the dog had been poisoned with the same rodenticide Gabriel had linked to fisher deaths. "The harassment has dissipated, but it still goes on," he said. "I let law enforcement handle it."

The environmental threat from cannabis cultivation hit too close to home last year. A hunter, Gabriel shot a quail in Humboldt County and prepared the bird for his family for dinner. After the bird was eaten, a thought struck him. "I saved some meat and said to myself that if we're getting material from the same areas as grow sites, I should have it tested." The lab results showed that the meat was contaminated with a highly lethal rodenticide, the same poison Gabriel routinely found at marijuana grow sites. How the bird became contaminated is unknown, but to Gabriel it's a worrying sign that such poisons are spreading through the food chain.

"What does that mean for the local indigenous people who are almost 100 percent dependent on hunting for game species like deer and salmon?" he asked, referring to the nearby Hoopa community. "I would have never thought that if I hunted a wild animal out in a remote forest that I would have to have it tested for toxicants."

Gabriel estimates that only a fraction of trespass grow sites are detected. "There may be 10,000 to 20,000 sites that still need to be cleaned up," he said. "With the 300 to 500 grow sites law enforcement eradicates each year, you could just see the numbers just piling and piling up. What we worry about is that wildlife and their habitat are slowly drowning in these toxicants that will be in the environment for decades to come."

The Sustainable Solution

Mention rodenticides and Stephen Dillon just shakes his head. "I've never bought rat poison over 26 years of growing," he said. "We would set rat traps and tie them to trees and the foxes and bobcats would come by every night and clean the traps for us."

In 2014, Dillon and other local longtime marijuana farmers formed the Humboldt Sun Growers Guild as fears grew that the outsiders setting up industrial marijuana operations were destroying the environment and undermining the Humboldt cannabis economy, much as the unsustainable logging of the 1990s doomed the timber industry. The idea: If local growers banded together, they could use their collective market power to create a brand, True Humboldt, that would sell only organic, sustainably raised marijuana. In other words, the Whole Foods of pot. "True Humboldt cannabis is raised the good, old-fashioned way: under the California sun ... We believe in sustainability, organic cultivation techniques and conservation of water," reads a brochure from the group.

The Humboldt Sun Growers Guild growers then did something unthinkable for people who spent decades dodging government helicopters sent to eradicate their crops and throw them in jail: They asked the county to regulate their industry, setting standards for land, water, pesticide and energy use as well as banning the conversion of timber lands for marijuana farms.

"We're trying to prevent another extractive industry from rising and prevent another boom/bust cycle like fishing and logging," said Harris, the group's attorney. "Humboldt County cannot endure another couple of years of drought conditions with the level of resource extraction going on with these industrial-scale marijuana grows. It's horrible."

Humboldt County's back-to-the-landers helped form EPIC in 1977 in part to fight the government's spraying of marijuana crops with highly toxic herbicides. Now the environmental group has joined the fight to force marijuana farmers to stop using poisons and comply with environmental regulations. In October 2015, nearly 20 years after the legalization of medical marijuana, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law legislation that authorized counties to regulate marijuana cultivation. Humboldt County's board of supervisors in January approved the state's first ordinance to license marijuana farming, giving growers until the end of the year to register and obtain permits that govern their use of water, energy and rodenticides.

"Cannabis has been a completely unregulated industry in California," said DeLapp, EPIC's executive director. "If farmers agree to store water and other best practices, they don't have to hide in the woods and we can get them out of the deepest areas that impact wildlife."

She found a seemingly surprising ally in the Humboldt Redwood Company when timber executives company joined forces with their erstwhile antagonists to push for protections of timberlands from growers. In 2012, company security officers stumbled across a campsite and found more than 5,500 marijuana plants growing on Humboldt Redwood timberland. Last July, sheriff's deputies cut down 270 pot plants, some as tall as seven feet, on company property. Job requirements for Humboldt Redwood security officers include "planning of eradication activities and prosecution of people cultivating marijuana on company property," according to an advertisement.

Compliance with the ordinance will take cash. A lot of it. Outlaw growers are unlikely to seek permits and spend the money to repair roads, build water storage and take other environmental precautions, promoters of the ordinance acknowledge. Still, said Dillon, regulation of cannabis cultivation could free up law enforcement to focus on the worst offenders. "I'm not a big advocate of the government after spending my whole life in the pot wars, but there are people who are destroying the environment that need to be held accountable," he said. "For True Humboldt it's about protecting the small and mid-range farmer and creating a viable industry that's going to pass all the environmental scrutiny it needs to. We welcome environmental regulation."

During the flyover, Harris points out greenhouses built on land that has been properly graded and supplied by ponds that store water collected during the winter rains so depleted creeks aren't tapped in the hot, dry summers. "People are trying to do the right thing," he said. "We need to make that the norm."

Restoring the Redwoods

The high stakes for the redwood ecosystem are driven home when I visit the 7,500-acre Headwaters Forest Reserve, which includes the Headwaters Grove and which was nearly lost to another unsustainable industry. Park ranger Julie Clark and David LaFever, Headwaters' forest ecologist, lead me down the Salmon Creek trail through a fern-covered woodland of redwood, Douglas fir, and red alder. Seventeen years ago, when Pacific Lumber turned over Headwaters to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Clark recalls, this was a wasteland, the old-growth redwoods leveled to make room for logging roads. BLM hired a Pacific Lumber worker who helped build those roads to remove them, taking out 100,000 dump trucks' worth of sediment. The trees aren't the only thing that has returned. "A mountain lion's been here," said LaFever, bending down to examine an unmistakable paw print and scat peppered with the white bones of some creature. Farther up the trail, Clark points to a tree etched with long claw marks. "That's from a black bear." Sometimes she'll find an anchovy on the forest floor, dropped by a marbled murrelet as the seabird returns from the ocean with dinner for its chick nesting high on a mossy branch of an old-growth redwood.

As the trail starts to climb, the air cools and we enter a grove of redwoods soaring to heights of 300 feet amid newly flowering trillium, a delicate white plant with yellow stamens that blossoms but a few weeks a year in the shade of the 1,000-year-old trees. Nearly all the redwoods bear a slash of bright-blue paint that once marked them for the sawmill. "Either Pacific Lumber didn't make it this far or the company got tied up in litigation, but for whatever reason these trees survived until the Headwaters deal," said LaFever, standing next to what Clark calls the "family tree," a giant amid giants with three trunks sprouting from one root system.

Environmental activist Rob DiPerna stands in front of a 1,000-year-old redwood in the Headwaters Forest Reserve. The blue paint once marked it for the sawmill. Mary Grace McKernan

With us is Rob DiPerna, EPIC's forest and wildlife advocate. In the late '90s, DiPerna was an Earth First! activist, infiltrating these forests and lugging sacks of concrete to build barricades on logging roads and sitting in old-growth redwoods to prevent loggers from cutting them down. "We were trying to do anything we could to keep the trees standing," said DiPerna, 45, whose nearly waist-length hair shows a hint of gray. "To be in the forest under the cover of darkness, trying to avoid loggers, cops and security—it affects the individual more profoundly than people realize."

"The sobering part of it for me standing here is to realize that there isn't much old-growth redwood left, and the fact that these trees are still here is an actual miracle," he said as he strains to see the top of the family tree.

When we reach a ridgeline, we can see the core Headwaters Grove across a clear-cut valley that is regenerating. The grove is off-limits to the public to protect its unique ecosystem and wildlife. Along a path to the Headwaters visitor center is a grove of 50 redwood seedlings planted last year and "dedicated to the visionaries and activists who dedicated countless days, months, and years to protect the Headwaters Forest Reserve," according to a plaque. It feels a bit like a memorial to a long-ago struggle, but to DiPerna and other activists, the fight goes on. The government only acquired 7,500 acres of the 60,000 that activists wanted protected, and DiPerna continues to work to limit the impact of ongoing logging and restore a damaged ecosystem. Nor are the timber wars over for people like Kristi Wrigley, whose family settled on the Elk River in the 1880s outside what is now the Headwaters Forest Reserve. After Pacific Lumber's timber harvesting increased 10-fold in the 1980s, the Elk River began to regularly flood her property as a result of the dirt washed into the stream from the hills where logging continues to this day. "I no longer can farm my apple farm that's been in my family for generations," Wrigley said as we stand on the banks of the south fork of the Elk River, the water muddy with sediment. "We've already had five floods this year and it's only March."

Kristi Wrigley, Elk River area native

For Scott Greacen, the environmental activist, the green rush is so dangerous because it threatens to push to the point of no return forests devastated by industrial logging. There is, he said, a far more critical use of redwood forests in an era of accelerating climate change: "My deepest hope for the redwood region is that we come to our senses as a society quick enough to say that the highest and best use for this landscape is putting carbon back in the bowels of these big fat organisms that are incredibly good at accumulating it."

This article was reposted with permission from our media associate TakePart.

By Rodale WellnessClimate
6 Reasons Why Your Allergies Might Be Getting Worse

By Bill Gottlieb

More than 24 million American children and adults suffer from asthma, which is when the respiratory "pipes" (bronchi) that carry air in and out of the lungs are inflamed and spasm. And every year, the disease sends more than 1.8 million people to the hospital, killing nearly 4,000 with severe, choking asthma attacks.

Fifty percent of people with asthma have attacks triggered by allergens, such as molds, dust mites and animal dander. Of course, you can have allergies without asthma. You can have hay fever (seasonal allergic rhinitis), which is when your immune system mistakes pollen from grass, trees or weeds for a foreign invader and revs up its defenses, triggering sneezing, red and itchy eyes, a stuffed and runny nose, and fatigue.

But whether you have asthma or asthma and allergies or just allergies, you may have noticed your condition is getting worse. The rates of asthma have increased over the past 25 years—the number of people with asthma has increased fourfold and the number of deaths from asthma attacks has doubled. And people with hay fever are noticing that every allergy season seems like the worst ever.

What's happening? Many studies show the increase in allergies could be due to changes in the environment. This slideshow shows six reasons why more people might be feeling the affects of allergies:

Adapted from Health-Defense.

This article was reposted with permission from our media associate Rodale Wellness.

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Is Your Toothpaste Toxic?

Popular toothpastes, even many marketed as "natural," contain harmful ingredients including endocrine disruptors, inflammatory agents and carcinogens, according to a new report from The Cornucopia Institute, an organic industry watchdog.

Popular toothpastes, even many marketed as "natural," contain harmful ingredients including endocrine disruptors, inflammatory agents and carcinogens.Shutterstock

Behind the Dazzling Smile: Toxic Ingredients in Your Toothpaste, describes how the quality of "natural" toothpastes varies significantly between brands and how these personal oral care products commonly include nonessential ingredients that may be harmful. Cornucopia blames regulatory loopholes for allowing the use of endocrine disruptors, inflammatory agents and suspected carcinogens in toothpastes.

"The cosmetics industry is no different and may be worse, than leading food companies when it comes to gimmicky ingredients and misleading health claims," asserted lead report author Jerome Rigot, PhD, a policy analyst at The Cornucopia Institute. "However, we have created a useful web-based scorecard to help discriminating consumers see through marketing hype and make the best decision for their family when buying toothpaste."

Cornucopia spotlights the most problematic ingredients to be avoided, which are common in some of the most popular "natural" and premium brands as well as familiar mass-market brands like Colgate and Crest. These include synthetic preservatives like sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, surfactants like sodium laureth sulfate, which may contain a toxic, cancer-causing contaminant and artificial flavors and colors tied to behavioral problems in children.

The report emphasizes that the mouth's oral mucosa "is one of the most absorbent areas of the body" and raises questions about putting in your mouth potentially toxic contaminants that may pass directly into the bloodstream.

The watchdog shared its study with Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Susan Collins (R-Maine). The Senators have introduced The Personal Care Products Safety Act that would require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to evaluate the safety of ingredients in everyday personal care items, like deodorant, shampoo and toothpaste.

Currently all cosmetics and personal care products like toothpaste remain essentially unregulated, something the FDA readily admits:

"Firms and individuals who market cosmetics have a legal responsibility to make sure their products and ingredients … are safe under labeled and customary conditions for use and that they are properly labeled. Under U.S. law, cosmetics products and ingredients do not need FDA approval before they go on the market. The one exception is color additives, … which must be approved for their intended use."

Rigot unpacks the impact of this gaping loophole. "It means," he said "that the FDA does not require impurities, including several potential contaminants such as the carcinogens 1,4-dioxane or ethylene oxide, to be listed as ingredients on the labels of personal care products because these toxic chemicals are produced during manufacturing. Even though technology exists to remove these contaminants (such as vacuum striping) many companies don't use it because regulators do not force them to do so."

The FDA restricts or prohibits just 11 synthetic ingredients in cosmetics. In contrast, the European Union (EU) prohibits more than 1,300 ingredients and restricts an additional 250 ingredients for use in personal care products. As a result, the U.S. lags significantly behind other countries on cosmetics safety, allowing many hazardous chemicals that are banned in Canada, Japan and Europe.

In fact, many toothpastes sold in Europe and other countries by American corporations are created with different, safer formulations for international markets than the same products sold in the U.S., to accommodate stricter cosmetics laws.

"If a company truly cared about the health of its customers, it would formulate its products not according to a given country's regulations, but rather to ensure the safest possible product with the highest quality ingredients regardless of where the products are sold," stated Mark Kastel, senior policy analyst at Cornucopia.

Slick packaging and misleading health claims are among a variety of marketing ploys used to induce customers to purchase oral care products that, in reality, may be detrimental to their health. Furthermore, a majority of "natural" brands—a term used by many companies to portray their products as healthier and safer—don't' include any certified organic ingredients in their formulations.

"How 'natural' is a flavor when it is obtained by concentrating ingredients obtained from pesticide-intensive agriculture?" asked Terry Shistar, PhD, member of Beyond Pesticides' board of directors.

Cornucopia found that a majority of well-known "natural" toothpaste brands, such as Tom's of Maine, Jason, Desert Essence and Kiss My Face, contain carrageenan, a non-nutritive thickening and emulsifying agent extracted from seaweed. "Peer-reviewed published research has established that food-grade carrageenan has the potential to cause intestinal inflammation, diabetes and even cancer," said Linley Dixon, PhD, scientist with Cornucopia.

Cornucopia's scorecard rated Dr. Bronner's line of toothpaste at the top of the "five-brush" category (on a scale of 1-5), finding it to be among the best and safest products available in the market. "In addition to Dr. Bronner's, whose formulation is based on certified organic coconut oil, there are a number of other excellent products that depend primarily on organic ingredients and/or natural clay, that would contribute to oral health without posing unnecessary risks," concluded Rigot.

By YES! MagazineFood
5 Urban Weeds You Can Eat

By Jasleena Grewal

Foraging or wandering in search of food and plants, isn't relegated to remote forests and idyllic fields. Edible and usable weeds are abundant in urban environments too. Some are found in common cuisine: Dandelion and stinging nettle are often used in salads and teas. And many weeds are vitamin- and nutrient-rich.

YES! Illustrations by Jennifer Luxton.

Harvesting urban weeds can help us connect better with the natural spaces where we work, live and play. But finding them requires a little technique. Melany Vorass Herrera, author of The Front Yard Forager, suggests carrying a field guide to help identify plants, picking only as much as you need and avoiding areas known for pollution, heavy industry or chemical use (pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers).

Your nearest urban patch may be home to a variety of edible weeds, including some you may never have heard of, like lamb's quarter.

This article was reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.

By DeSmogBlogEnergy
Renewable Energy Generation Breaks Records Every Month in 2016

By Mike Gaworecki

Electricity generation from wind, solar and other renewable energy technologies have set monthly records every month so far in 2016, based on data through June released by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) Wednesday.

"Both hydroelectric and nonhydroelectric renewables have contributed to this trend, but in different ways. After a lengthy West Coast drought, hydro generation has increased and is now closer to historical levels. Nonhydro renewable generation continues to increase year-over-year and has exceeded hydro generation in each month since February 2016," the EIA said.

Nellis Solar Power Plant located within Nellis Air Force Base, northeast of Las Vegas. The power plant occupies 140 acres, contains about 70,000 solar panels and generates 14 megawatts of solar power for the base. Wikimedia Commons

According to EIA's data, net U.S. electricity generation from non-hydroelectric, utility-scale renewables—biomass, geothermal, solar and wind—through June 2016 was 17 percent higher than in the first half of 2015. Electricity generation from conventional hydropower also rose, by nearly 12 percent. Combined, production from all utility-scale renewable sources was up 14.5 percent compared to the same period in 2015.

Not only has electricity generated by renewables exceeded previous levels in every month so far in 2016—in other words, more renewable energy was produced in January 2016 than any other January on record, more renewable energy was produced in February 2016 than any other February and so on—but renewable utility-scale electricity generation hit an all-time high of 16.55 percent of total domestic generation.

Those weren't the only records broken, either. Utility-scale wind rose 23.5 percent in the first half of 2016, setting a new six-month record of 5.96 percent of total generation.

Meanwhile, generation from utility-scale solar thermal and photovoltaics grew by 30.3 percent and accounted for 0.87 percent of total utility-scale electrical output. The EIA also estimates that distributed solar photovoltaics or rooftop solar systems, expanded by 34.3 percent. Combined, utility-scale and distributed solar comprised 1.26 percent of total generation. A year ago, solar was responsible for just 0.94 percent of electricity generation.

Together, wind and solar grew by nearly 25 percent over the first half of 2015 and now provide almost as much electricity as conventional hydropower. Biomass and geothermal were the only renewable sources tracked by the EIA that have experienced declines so far in 2016.

Of course, renewables aren't the only record-breakers out there. July 2016 was the 15th record-breaking month in a row in terms of global temperatures, data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association showed. And Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, reported that July 2016 was also "absolutely the hottest month since the instrumental records began."

Electricity generated from coal plummeted by more than 20 percent and nuclear power stagnated, growing just one percent, per the EIA data. Generation fueled by natural gas, on the other hand, was up by 7.7 percent.

Still, Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign, noted that renewable energy has continued to defy projections.

"Renewable energy's share of net electrical generation for the balance of 2016 may dip a little because electrical output from wind and hydropower sources tends to be highest during the first six months of each year," Bossong said. "Nonetheless, the data thus far is swamping EIA's earlier forecast of just 9.5 percent growth by renewables in 2016."

By Climate News NetworkClimate
Seals Reveal How Antarctic Sea Ice Melt Affects Ocean Currents

By Tim Radford

Scientists have recruited the elephant seal—the bruiser of the pinniped world—to explore and report back on the dynamics of ocean currents in the Antarctic winter.

Elephant seal carrying satellite-linked sensor in Prydz Bay, Antarctica.University of Tasmania

And the mammals have delivered a potentially ominous message: because fresh water is melting from the sea ice, the density of southern ocean surface waters is significantly reduced.

If there is too dramatic a reduction, the all-important dense waters that descend to the depths and power the ocean conveyor system that drives circulation—and climate—could falter.

The southern elephant seal, Mirounga leonine, has been pressed into service as an all-weather submersible to investigate and record data from the polynya system—polynyas are patches of ocean, surrounded by shelf ice, that fail to freeze—of the southern ocean sea ice.

And the researchers report in Nature Communications journal that their study "highlights the susceptibility of Antarctic bottom water to increased freshwater input from the enhanced melting of the ice shelves, and ultimately the potential collapse of Antarctic bottom water formation in a warming climate."

The choice of elephant seals rather than humans is a simple one: shipboard research is all but impossible in the Antarctic winter.

Biologists had already enrolled the elephant seals—by sedating them, and gluing to their bulging necks a data monitor and radio transmitter that falls off with the next moulting season—to settle their own marine biological questions

So physicists and oceanographers have now taken advantage of the temperature and salinity data radioed back to them from each animal's 60 dives a day.

"We became very interested in the seal data once we saw they were foraging in the polynya regions, in particular the fact they were there through the winter, a critical period of time for dense shelf water formation, and a time that we really struggle to observe in any other way," said Guy Williams, a physical oceanographer at the University of Tasmania's Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies.

Sea ice freezes as fresh water and rejects the salt into the water beneath it. This creates an insulating layer that cuts off the ocean from the freezing atmosphere, so sea ice never gets deeper than two meters.

But Dr Williams told Climate News Network:

"In polynyas, the surface of the ocean remains open, while the freezing continues, as newly-formed ice is swept away by persistent offshore winds. And certain topographic effects—coast, glacier tongues, icebergs—also help to keep the area open.

"Like a constantly emptied and refilled ice tray in the fridge, polynyas can generate up to 20 meters of sea ice growth in a winter, and, correspondingly, a much greater amount of salt rejection.

"It leads to this very important water mass called dense shelf water—dense enough once it escapes the continental shelf to mix all the way to the bottom of the ocean basins in the production of Antarctic bottom water."

This is the agency that drives the global ocean overturning system, a planetary-scale phenomenon, carrying heat around the globe and nutrients and dissolved atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide to deep layers of the ocean.

"Any reduction to Antarctic bottom water will slow the conveyor belt, and equally thin the conveyor belt, as the density, and depth to which it ultimately goes, decreases," Dr Williams said.

By Stefanie SpearClimate
Bill Nye: 'There's Enough Wind and Solar' to Power the World

If you're wondering if the epic flooding in Louisiana is related to climate change, CNN has your answer.

Bill Nye the Science Guy was on CNN's New Day Tuesday to talk about the flooding in Louisiana, where at least 13 people have been killed and 60,000 homes damaged.

"For us, on my side of this, this is a result of climate change," Nye told CNN's Chris Cuomo. "It's only going to get worse."

"As the ocean gets warmer, which it is getting, it expands," he continued. "Molecules spread apart and then as the sea surface is warmer more water evaporates. And so it's very reasonable that these storms are connected to these big effects."

In addition to discussing impacts of climate change, Nye shared what he believes is a solution to the problem of a warming planet.

"The big unexploited renewable resource on the East Coast of the United States, and Canada and Mexico, is wind," Nye said. "So, I encourage you, I am not a member of this, but I encourage everybody to check out The Solutions Project, a bunch of civil engineers who have done an analysis that you could power the United States, you could power most of the world, renewably if you just decided to do it, right now. There's enough wind and solar resources, a little bit of tidal and some geothermal, to run the whole place."

Nye did not just leave the conversation about climate change and renewables, he also called out CNN for having "essentially a climate change denier meteorologist."

Nye didn't mention any names, but, according to Huffington Post, he appeared to be referring to CNN meteorologist Chad Myers, who has a track record of making comments on climate change that run counter to established science.

"You know, to think that we could affect weather all that much is pretty arrogant," Myers said in 2008.

However, on Twitter, Myers said that he has since come around:

He followed up that tweet with this one:

By Carl PopeClimate
Big Oil’s Nightmare Comes True

"This was retail politics and oil lost," was how Adrienne Alvord of Union of Concerned Scientists summed up the stunning environmental victory Tuesday in the California legislature, a victory which cemented the state's commitment to a 40 percent reduction in climate pollution by 2030.

It's not accidental that states providing climate leadership are the states with the biggest clean energy sectors, including California.

Only a few weeks ago there was a strong consensus that the oil industry, by spending millions of dollars on behalf of a cadre of moderate Democrats in the Assembly, had blocked just such a doubling down on the state's existing 2020 goals. For the oil industry, victory was an existential necessity. Only by holding future climate commitments hostage could the industry hope to get Gov. Brown to abandon the state's existing mandate that by 2020 the carbon content of fuels be cut by 10 percent. As a practical matter, the requirement means roughly 20 percent of California's more vehicles will be driving on something other than oil—electricity, natural gas or biofuels.

And oil knows it cannot withstand a competitive transportation fuels market. Once California creates such a market and builds businesses that can produce low carbon fuels at scale, fuels competition will go global and oil's empire will wither. But it looked like oil had survived to fight another day. Gov. Brown had signaled his next move by forming a ballot committee for a (high-risk) initiative for the fall of 2018. But a small group of climate and environmental justice advocates refused to let the Assembly moderates off the hook. Demanding a vote, they re-energized their broad coalition of main-line businesses, EJ advocates, labor, climate greens, the faith community, clean tech and clean fuels businesses, local government and public health advocates.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon told them he would give them a vote once they had the votes—and on Tuesday he pulled the trigger, giving the oil industry, which thought it had won, only 24 hours to regroup. It wasn't enough and the Assembly passed SB32 by 47 votes, a six vote margin over the 41 needed. The California Nurses Association was heard from, but so was Ebay. Gov. Brown and the White House weighed in, but a lone Republican, Assemblywoman Catherine Baker joined them in supporting progress. Wednesday the Senate concurred and the bill, linked to an environmental justice focused companion bill, went to the governor for his signature.

Why the victory? Quite simply, retail politics. Clean energy now provides far more stimulus and creates far more jobs than fossil fuels. Clean power is seen by the public as the linch-pin of the state's economic future. Jobs on the ground trump oil industry ads on the screen. It's not accidental that states providing climate leadership are the states with the biggest clean energy sectors—California, Washington, Nevada, Oregon—and Iowa, with its nation leading wind sector and a public utility, Mid-America, that is planning to shortly hit 85 percent renewables and go on to 100 percent.

And it's cheaper.

The oil industry is in a state of shock. Their press release bizarrely asserted that Rendon had scheduled the vote to "cover up" the fact that the state's latest auction for carbon emission permits had attracted few buyers—a result oil called "terrible." The auction simply reflected the fact that emitters, uncertain if the law would be extended past 2020, did not know how many permits they needed to buy. The oil industry conceded as much, saying "Today's miserable auction result reflects the market's lack of certainty." But it is revealing that oil called it "terrible" and "miserable" that the cost of carbon permits was low—demonstrating again that what they fear is not that decarbonizing will cost too much and hurt the economy, but that it will prove irresistibly cheap and strand them. Also revealing—SB32 was written precisely to provide the certainty whose absence the oil industry allegedly deplores!

(In fact, the legislature is going home next week and Rendon had to bring the bill up more or less when he did. The short notice was tactical—but hardly conspiratorial).

Ideological, right-wing opponents of climate progress and clean energy stayed more on message, releasing a poll purporting to show that the public, all the other evidence to the contrary, didn't really favor tougher clean-up of carbon pollution or California climate leadership after all.

Read carefully, however, the poll says something quite different. It confirms that most Californians want to move forward on clean energy and climate, believe that such progress is good for California even if others do not lead and want action. Even California Republicans are part of this consensus. Sixty-two percent of California Republican voters think that climate change is either a very serious or somewhat serious threat to the state. Again, of Republicans, 67 percent expect the changes resulting from global warming to occur in their lifetimes. A majority favor the state's current climate goals and a plurality favor the longer-term, more ambitious goals just passed.

It is true that, if nudged to believe that after such action, "hundreds of local manufacturing facilities would be shut down and thousands of middle-class jobs would be lost in California" large majorities of Republicans, and Democrats and Independents, lose their appetite. But if you said to the same sample that ambitious climate progress would mean "continued economic growth, an end to air pollution, cheaper gas and billions of dollars of new exports for California industries" the supportive numbers among Republicans would probably jump from a plurality to a super-majority. The latter statement is the true one, it turns out—and, more or less, it is what most California voters are experiencing—which explains why, un-manipulated, even Republicans are happy that the state continues to move forward.

But California is not the only arena where oil's long regime is coming to an end. Investors are watching warily as the majors—Chevron, Exxon, BP and Shell have now accumulated an unprecedented $184 billion in debt, fallen far short ($40 billion short in the first half of 2016) of their promised goals of paying their dividends from profits, not borrowing. Shell, Chevron, Exxon and BP have all seen their previous platinum grade credit ratings cut a notch. To placate investors, the majors pledge that they have new (but far from transparent) business plans to someday make money again—if only oil will stay at some magic level. For BP it's $50-55/barrel. Unfortunately, it has not been in that range since 2014.

Many of the independent oil producers, of course, have gone bankrupt. Oil remains stubbornly below $50. Most independent analysts believe that for the oil majors, prices in the $75 range are required to compete with Persian Gulf and other OPEC members in the long term. And those prices, unequivocally, require one thing: a continuation of oil's monopoly in transportation fuel.

California this week called the question. That monopoly is going away. Oil has lost before, but never because the retail politics of its competitors proved more compelling. This was no decisive battle. There may be none, just as there is no moment when the fate of the Roman Empire was sealed.

But the sands of time are running. Oil's empire is in its decline and fall.

By EWContributorScience
97% of Most Species-Rich Places on Earth Have Been Seriously Altered by Humans

By James Cook University

James Cook University's Prof. Bill Laurance has taken part in a study to map the ecological effect of people on the planet. He said the news isn't great.

"The most species-rich parts of the planet—especially including the tropical rainforests—have been hit hardest. In total, around 97 percent of Earth's biologically richest real estate has been seriously altered by humans," he said.

The scientists found environmental pressures are widespread, with only a few very remote areas escaping damage.

"Humans are the most voracious consumers planet Earth has ever seen. With our land-use, hunting and other exploitative activities, we are now directly impacting three-quarters of the Earth's land surface," said Laurance.

Researchers combined data garnered from unprecedented advances in remote sensing with information collected via surveys on the ground.

They compared data from the first survey in 1993 to the last available information set from 2009.

Laurance said that 71 percent of global ecoregions saw a marked increase in their human footprints.

But he said the news was not all bad.

Maps showing the current state and recent change in the global human footprint.

"While the global human footprint expanded by nine percent from 1993 to 2009, it didn't increase as fast as the human population—which rose by a quarter—or economic growth—which exploded by over 150 percent—during the same period."

Laurance said wealthy nations and those with strong control of corruption showed some signs of improvement.

"In broad terms, industrial nations and those with lower corruption appear to be doing a better job of slowing the expansion of their human footprint than poorer countries with weak governance. But the wealthy countries have a much higher per-capita footprint, so each person there is consuming a lot more than those in poorer nations."

Laurance said the suitability of lands for agriculture appears to be a major determinant in where ecological pressures appeared around the globe.

"The bottom line is that we need to slow rampant population growth, especially in Africa and parts of Asia and demand that people in wealthy nations consume less," he said.

21 Best Vegan Cookbooks of 2016

This is #TheYearOfVegan and the proof is in the vegan pudding. Vegan food blogs are everything, new restaurants are opening left and right, and chain restaurants are offering more vegan options. Equally important is the fact that more and more people are enthusiastically partaking of this vegan explosion.

Recently, we've seen the release of many vegan cookbooks. This is super-exciting, because sometimes it's nice to peruse an actual book (not the Internet) while looking for a recipe and be untethered from the computer while preparing a scrumptious meal.

Here are our favorite cookbooks from this year so far: