Newsweek article on Mexican drug cartels in Northern California

In the January 19th edition of Newsweek magazine, I write about how the legalization of recreational marijuana in California may not be the silver bullet that ends Mexican cartel’s involvement in California weed. The piece focuses on the small California county of Calaveras, where local officials are struggling to get a grip on a recent boom in marijuana farms.

The article relies on state and federal documents, news reports, interviews with county and federal law enforcement, and interviews with a federally-funded scientist who has investigated more than 120 illegal marijuana farms on public lands. In total I interviewed about three dozen people for the piece, and spent more than a year monitoring events in the state before publishing.

Many thanks for reading.

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Why people dressed as zebras dance in the streets of La Paz

On the face of it, the zebra programme is a playful way of making a point about traffic safety. But it’s also about changing lives. The programme moves at-risk youth from the shadows into highly public positions of civic authority. The training, structure, support services and social outlet — plus a monthly stipend of 688 bolivianos, or about USD 100 — helps the young men and women stay on track to finish school.

Marco Pachuri, a 24-year-old from La Paz, describes how the weekly work schedule, and support from the programme’s small team of psychologists, helped him become more accountable in day-to-day tasks like studying.

Pachuri’s mother abandoned his family before he enrolled in high school, and his father used to beat him. After his father’s business went bankrupt, Pachuri went job hunting as a teenager, assisting taxi van drivers and delivering crates of Coca-Cola to local businesses. That’s when the zebras caught his eye. “I would always see them in the streets, and sometimes they’d stop me,” he recalls. “I thought it was beautiful — they’d speak with everyone, kids, the elderly.”

Read the rest over at Citiscope. And yeah, that’s me in the photo!

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Talk at Solutions Journalism Network’s Bay Area chapter

The good people at Solutions Journalism Network invited me to visit San Francisco for a day and give a presentation on my reporting to their Bay Area chapter. They recently awarded me a travel grant to report this feature for Next City, which considers historic preservation as a tactic to prevent displacement in San Antonio.

WeWork SOMA: Room 6A

156 2nd Street

Wednesday, November 15 @ 12:30 PM

Here’s a link to the event page. Hope to see some of you there.

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Indigenous farmers fight eucalyptus damage to water source in Ecuador

The southeastern wedge of Ecuador’s Cotopaxi province is filled with rich agricultural land. It sprawls in small divided plots of greens and ambers across the region’s hills, ravines, and mountainsides.

But the indigenous farmers that call this area home are facing perennial water shortages that are crippling crop diversity. The shortages spurred an investigation due to start this year by the country’s Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Aquaculture and Fisheries and the Secretariat of Water into possible causes.

A clear culprit is nearby tree plantations that cover hundreds of acres throughout the Nagsiche River water basin. Because they’re made up of exotic species like eucalyptus and pine, they wreak havoc on the soil, with each tree sucking about 5-10 gallons (20 to 40 liters) of water out of the ground every day.

This can thwart crop rotations for local farmers like Maria Beatriz Padilla.

“All this land used to give a great harvest,” Padilla said, listing her former crops. “Beans, peas, Andean lupin, lentils, garbanzos, quinoa.”

She’s spent her 50 years on this same small plot in the Cusubamba district of the Salcedo region, where she makes about $300 a month selling her produce. But now, across the plains surrounding her house are patches of eucalyptus trees reaching dozens of feet into the sky.

Read the rest over at Mongabay.

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Father and son butt heads in decades-long battle over bird tourism site

Five years ago, Sergio Basantes and his wife Doris made history when they decided to turn their lush finca just outside of Quito into a hotspot for bird watching. It’s the first bird tourism site of its kind in the Ecuadoran province called Pacto, which rests at the southernmost tip of 65,000 square miles (167,000 square kilometers) of the dense rainforest called the Chocó-Darién region.

It took decades for them to get this far.

Read the rest over at Mongabay.

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