The Emerald Triangle refers to an area located on the northwest coast of the United States (northern California) and comprised of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties. To be delve into the origins and traditions of cannabis cultivation in this region, we must go back to the 60s, during the Summer of Love in San Francisco. During the second half of the decade, and with the hippie counterculture as a backdrop, a good number of growers settled in this area in search of a place that would meet the ideal conditions for the outdoor cultivation of cannabis, namely isolation and a privileged climate. Since then, the Emerald Triangle has been one of the main sources of cannabis supplying California. As of 1996, and after the approval of California’s Proposition 215 for medical cannabis, the production in these three counties shot up due to the increase in demand, reaffirming the Emerald Triangle as one of the main producing areas of the country.
All classes of people arrive constantly in the Emerald Triangle: backpackers, trimmers, growers, breeders, specialists in resin extractions. anyone who feels an affinity for some aspect of the plant will be at home in this area like. Not without reason, the profits that can be obtained, in particular for those who grow outdoors and don’t have to pay expensive electricity bills, are an incentive that can be difficult to turn down.
A beautiful cannabis plant flowering in the Emerald Triangle (Photo: Brian Shamblen)
The cultivation of wine grapes is also popular in the valleys and hills of the Emerald Triangle
So the cannabis culture and industry grow ceaselessly in these three counties where the love for the plant has for decades been well-rooted in many families, many boasting third-generation growers. According to a 2014 report, cannabis was already turning over more money than traditional wine production, and there is now talk of creating a series of Denominations of Origin to distinguish the flowers grown in the different areas of the Triangle.
This region is often referred to as the Napa Valley (famous for its vineyards and the quality of its wine) or the Silicon Valley of cannabis given the large proportion of the population devoted directly or indirectly to the cultivation of this plant, and also to the incredible quality of its produce, be it flowers or cannabis seeds. As we have said, this area has a series of characteristics that make it ideal for this activity: the population is scarce and widely dispersed, with large tracts of unpopulated land.
The area saw a significant increase in population several decades ago. Many remote places were populated by young people who in the decades of the 60’s and 70’s wanted to return to the land to escape the social unrest of the time (for example, the Vietnam War) and have a more sustainable and ecological lifestyle. Groups like the Diggers, a community of activists from the Haight-Ashbury neighbourhood of San Francisco, were pioneers of cannabis cultivation in this area, followed by hundreds of young (and not so young) folk who simply looked for a different way of life.
The spectacular Mendocino Skunk from Paradise Seeds
In addition, it enjoys an ideal climatology for growing cannabis, with great solar exposure, absence of strong winds, an excellent and fertile soil and optimal temperatures. All this means that the cultivation and breeding of this plant has become, without doubt, one of the main and most profitable activities in this region, with excellent varieties of cannabis developed by local breeders.
The Emerald Triangle is a region located on the west coast of the USA and formed by three counties (Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity), a land were cann
In a paper published in Environmental Research Letters in 2018, he documented an 80 percent rise in the number of grow sites and a 91 percent rise in the extent of land used for marijuana cultivation in the remote watersheds of Humboldt and Mendocino counties from 2012-2016. His more recent data shows that the trend of rapid expansion continued through 2018, the year when the law governing legal recreational cannabis took effect in California.
Norton, director of the Hoopa Valley Tribal Environmental Protection Agency and a member of the tribe, is worried about the stream’s future. Under California’s new cannabis regulatory system, 266 marijuana farmers are applying for permits to grow on the Hoopa Valley Tribe’s traditional lands—some of which are now privately held and lie outside reservation boundaries.
Since legalization, large commercial cannabis operations have sprung up in the Salinas Valley and in Santa Barbara County—where impacts on salmon and trout are not an issue because those species have already been extirpated there. The cannabis grown there is cheaper than the stuff from the legendary Emerald Triangle.
“Why are we even emphasizing commercial cannabis cultivation in places where it came not because it was the best place to grow weed, but because it was the best place to grow weed in hiding?” Greacen asked. “Why are we growing weed in the remote headwaters of wild places, when there’s lots of opportunity to do it in places where it has almost no impact at all?”
As the agencies grappled with the new and unexplored issues of regulating cannabis, they altered their rules, making it necessary for early permit applicants like Casali to change their farms more than once. “A lot of people have seen early on how much it cost us, and a lot of people just can’t afford it,” said Casali. “That’s unfortunate—and it means [growers will] have to make a choice.”
“From the tribe’s perspective, within our aboriginal territory, there are 266 applications, and the county takes each of these applications individually,” Norton told EHN. “They do not look at the cumulative impact on the area.”
Butsic, who tracks the Emerald Triangle’s cannabis industry using satellite imagery, said it’s unclear how much legalization changed things on the ground so far. “The majority of farms that we see in Humboldt and Mendocino are not permitted by the state. They can’t sell on the legal recreational market, and are exporting to another state or selling on the black market in California.” He believes enforcement efforts will cause these illegal farms to fade away—but the process may take years.
When the tribe realized how many cannabis farms were clustered in Supply Creek’s headwaters, they sent a letter of protest to Ford at the Humboldt County Planning and Building Department.
Salmon and trout have traditionally been a staple food for the Hoopa and other northwestern California tribes. Coho, chinook and steelhead populations are now at a fraction of their numbers before white settlement.
Dried up streams and dying fish are putting the top cannabis-producing region in the country under the microscope.