Tag Archives: forest conversion

Oak woodlands and wine

Eric Biber, LEGAL PLANET

A recent controversy highlights the impacts of wine industry on native California oak woodlandsA popular San Luis Obispo county winemarker is suffering a backlash in restaurants after press reports that the winemaker bulldozed oak woodlands to expand production—possibly in violation of a county land grading ordinance.

The dispute (as this Wine Enthusiast piece makes clear) is not a novel one.  There is a long history of winemakers in California converting oak woodlands to vineyards, with potentially substantial impacts on native species habitat.

Conversion of oak woodlands to agricultural use is, in fact, one of the areas where state environmental law does not provide much protection.  Conversion of coniferous forests is covered by the California Forest Practices Act, which imposes regulatory requirements on conversion of timberlands to other uses. Conversion of oak woodlands to other uses besides agricultural uses requires review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for conversion activities.  Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 21083.4.  CEQA requires not just a public review of the potential environmental impacts of those conversions, but may also require mitigation of those impacts. However, there is an exemption in this CEQA provision for conversion to agricultural uses.

There are two main ways in which oak woodlands might still receive some protection from conversion to agricultural uses.

First, if federally or state listed endangered animal species are present, then federal or state endangered species protections might apply.  If state listed endangered plant species are present, then the habitat might also be protected from conversion—though there is some uncertainty about the scope of these protections, and whether agricultural conversions are fully covered by them.  However, many oak woodlands are not habitat for any listed federal or state species.

Second, if a local government imposes some sort of discretionary restriction on land conversion—such as requiring planning commission review of conversion of oak woodlands to agricultural uses—then CEQA would apply to that review process.  Of course, that depends on local governments imposing restrictions on land conversion to agricultural uses, something that varies greatly from county to county.  (For instance, San Luis Obispo County apparently does not protect oak woodlands.)

Oak woodlands are an important and threatened component of the natural heritage of California—and can be habitat for a wide range of native species.   Yet they have been significantly damaged by agricultural conversion, particularly for wine.  California native oaks—already under attack by a rapidly expanding disease epidemic—may face even greater threats in the future.  If non-medical commerce in marijuana is legalized by the voters this fall, we might see substantial expansion of marijuana cultivation at the expense of California’s oaks.    It may be time for the state legislature to look at stronger protections for them.

Source: Oak woodlands and wine | Legal Planet

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Habitats, Land Use

Emergency ordinance to protect oak trees to be considered by San Luis Obispo supervisors

Lindsey Holden, THE SAN LUIS OBISPO TRIBUNE

The site where oaks and steep slopes were cleared for a vineyard is a 315-acre parcel at 750 Sleepy Farm Road owned by Estate Vinyards LLC, a subsidiary of the multinational Wonderful Co. — Justin Vineyards is one of the company’s brands.

Oaks are more than just trees in North County — to many, they’re a crucial part of the Central Coast’s delicate, drought-ridden ecosystem.

On Tuesday, that was the message dozens of farmers, residents and environmentalists delivered to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors as they protested the recent clear-cutting of hundreds — some speakers said thousands, based on their own investigations — of oak trees on land managed by Justin Vineyards & Winery, just west of Paso Robles.

Supervisors responded by taking the first steps toward adopting the county’s first-ever tree protection ordinance.

“There are people out there right now probably sharpening their chainsaws,” said Diane Burkhart, who presented the board with a petition signed by about 400 people requesting protections for oak trees.

The site under fire is a 315-acre parcel at 750 Sleepy Farm Road owned by Estate Vinyards LLC, a subsidiary of the multinational Wonderful Co. — Justin is one of the company’s brands.

After neighbors protested the tree removals and construction of a large water-storage pond on the property, the county issued a stop-work order on June 9. Officials said they’re evaluating potential penalties for grading violations, but not tree removal because the county has no oak protection ordinance in unincorporated areas.

After hearing more than an hour of often emotional public comments Tuesday from residents, supervisors said they were ready to move ahead after decades of false starts on oak ordinances.

Read more at: Emergency ordinance to protect oak trees to be considered by supervisors | The Tribune

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Land Use

Resnicks’ deforestation ignites battle in SLO

Karen Velie, CAL COAST NEWS.COM

In the rolling hills that surround northern San Luis Obispo County communities, some farmers have planted grapes among the oaks. Locally, there has been an emphasis on stewardship of the land and protecting the oaks.

Almost 20 years ago, amid concerns sparked when the owners of Kendall Jackson winery bulldozed 843 oaks to create a vineyard in Santa Barbara County, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors discussed enacting an oak tree ordinance. However, a group of local farmers argued against the ordinance because they thought it would be onerous and in the past farmers had avoided clear cutting large swatches of oak trees.

But now, a group of farmers and San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Debbie Arnold say it is time to reconsider adopting an oak tree ordinance.

Prompted by the cutting of thousands of oak trees along with plans to create a 20-acre-foot agricultural reservoir that will drain millions of gallons of water out of the ground during a time of drought, many North County farmers no longer believe we can trust local property owners to self-regulate.

“This is the third property they have deforested,” said Matt Trevisan, with Linne Calodo Winery. “It is thousands of trees not hundreds. There is a bully in our county and they need to leave.”

Justin Vineyards and Winery, a company owned by Stewart and Lynda Resnick, violated a county code when it failed to get the permit required to grade on slopes in excess of 30 percent. Their company did submit a permit application for the construction of the water storage pond. However, the permit application stated no trees would be removed as a result of constructing the pond.

County staff responded to the violations with a stop work order.

“I am committed to providing more protection for our beautiful, native oaks,” Arnold said. “It is unfortunate we have to enact expensive and onerous regulation because not all landowners respect this amazing resource.”

Arnold said she contacted county Administrator Dan Buckshi and asked him to begin the process of bringing an oak tree ordinance proposal to the Board of Supervisors.

Following the clear cutting of oaks by Kendall Jackson winery, Santa Barbara County enacted an oak tree ordinance. That ordinance exempts oaks that are dead, within 50 feet of a home or are deemed dangerous. Property owners are then limited from removing more than a set amount of non-exempt oaks per acre, such as no more than 11 oak trees from a property between 800 to 899 acres.

“My goal is to bring forward an ordinance that includes common sense exemptions,” Arnold said. “I feel we need protection from this kind of abuse.”

While many bemoan the loss of our county’s forested lands, Resnicks neighbors fear the Resnicks will drain underground water sources to fill their reservoir, leaving their neighbors without the vital resource. And while several supporters of the failed Paso Robles water district claim its passage would have stopped the deforestation, the land Resnick recently deforested is outside the Paso Robles Basin’s boundaries.

Read more at: Resnicks’ deforestation ignites battle

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Land Use, Water

DA files environmental lawsuit against Sebastopol winery owner

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A series of environmental and regulatory blunders that brought unfavorable attention to Sebastopol winery owner Paul Hobbs in recent years could cost the renowned winemaker millions of dollars in civil penalties if a pending lawsuit filed by the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office prevails.

The District Attorney’s Environmental and Consumer Law Division lodged the civil complaint in May, saying Hobbs and his company “recklessly and carelessly” violated state and local land-use regulations in clearing trees and other vegetation from three prospective vineyard properties in west Sonoma County.

A spokeswoman for District Attorney Jill Ravitch said the aim of the May 28 suit is to safeguard the environment and protect the public interest by ensuring compliance with environmental rules governing vineyard development and other human interventions.

But attorneys for Hobbs said the case seeks “exorbitant and disproportionate civil penalties” in excess of $13 million, and does so improperly, suing on behalf of state agencies for which it has no authority to do so, according to court filings. Hobbs’ lawyers also said they intend to dispute the underlying facts as presented by the district attorney.

via DA files environmental lawsuit against Sebastopol winery owner | The Press Democrat.

Filed under Agriculture/Food System, Land Use

Environmental groups’ lawsuit could upend Sonoma County vineyard policies

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Three environmental groups are challenging Sonoma County’s approval of a 54-acre Annapolis vineyard in a case that reflects long-standing conflict over expansion of the county’s $600 million a year grape industry.

If the lawsuit were to succeed, it would wipe out the county’s vineyard development law, itself born amid controversy between growers and environmentalists 14 years ago.

That friction has intensified with the recent growth of forest-to-vineyard projects near the coast, a cool region hospitable to pinot noir grapes, the most expensive varietal grown in the county.

via Environmental groups' lawsuit could upend Sonoma County vineyard policies | The Press Democrat.

Filed under Forests, Land Use, Local Organizations, Sonoma Coast

Artesa forest-to-vineyard conversion near Annapolis shelved

Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

June 3, 2014, 7:29 PM

Artesa Vineyards and Winery of Napa has shelved its hotly disputed plans to plant a vineyard on forest land near Annapolis and has put the 324-acre property on the market for $1.5 million, the company announced Tuesday.

The decision was hailed by environmentalists, who last year persuaded a Sonoma County judge to rule that the vineyard project’s environmental studies were flawed.

“For us and the forest, it’s great news,” Friends of the Gualala River President Chris Poehlmann said of the winery’s decision.

via Artesa vineyard plans near Annapolis shelved | The Press Democrat.

Filed under Forests, Land Use, Sonoma Coast

Ruling deals setback to Artesa’s disputed vineyard plan

Brett Wilkison, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Environmentalists are hailing a court ruling this week that deals a significant setback to a hotly disputed vineyard project in northwestern Sonoma County.

If it stands, the decision could serve as a bulwark against the push of vineyards into a mostly untilled swath of the region’s coast range, blocking grape growers searching for cooler ground for their crops in the advance of climate change.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit brought last year by three groups challenging state approval of plans by Artesa Vineyards and Winery of Napa, owned by the Spanish wine giant Grupo Codorniu.

It wants to clear 154 acres of second- and third-growth redwood and fir trees and former orchard land near Annapolis to grow premium chardonnay and pinot noir grapes.

via Ruling deals setback to Artesa’s disputed vineyard plan | The Press Democrat.

Filed under Forests, Land Use

Court rejects plan to clearcut California redwoods for vineyard

Press Release: Friends of the Gualala River, Sierra Club Redwood Chapter, Center for Biological Diversity

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Elliot Daum has rejected a plan to clearcut 154 acres of Northern California redwoods to plant vineyards for a winery. The proposal in northwestern Sonoma County was challenged by the Sierra Club’s Redwood Chapter, the Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Gualala River. In response, Judge Daum said the state’s “environmental impact report” for Artesa Winery’s forest-to-vineyard project violates the California Environmental Quality Act.

“The highest and best use of coastal forests is to remain in their natural condition so they can protect our coastal rivers, support fish and wildlife, and combat climate change by sequestering carbon,” said Victoria Brandon, chair of the Sierra Club Redwood Chapter.

The judge found that, in preparing the environmental review for the project, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) failed to properly analyze alternatives that would be less damaging to the environment, such as using an unforested area for the vineyard.The court also determined that the agency did not appropriately address the lost carbon sequestration that would result from destroying the redwood forest. Redwood forests are well known for their capacity to absorb massive amounts of greenhouse gases as they mature over time.

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Filed under Forests, Land Use

A fight over vineyards pits redwoods against red wine

Alastair Bland, NPR, THE SALT

In the California wine mecca of Sonoma County, climate change is pitting redwood lovers against red wine lovers.This Friday morning, a coalition of environmental groups are in a Santa Rosa, Calif., courtroom fighting to stop a Spanish-owned winery from leveling 154 acres of coast redwoods and Douglas firs to make way for grapevines.

Redwoods only grow in the relatively cool coastal region of Northern California and southern Oregon. Parts of this range, such as northwestern Sonoma County, have become increasingly coveted by winemakers.

protest_largeChris Poehlmann, president of a small organization called Friends of the Gualala River, says the wine industry is creeping toward the coast as Californias interior valleys heat up and consumers show preferences for cooler-weather grapes like pinot noir.”Inexorably, the wine industry is looking for new places to plant vineyards,” says Poehlmann, whose group is among the plaintiffs.

via A Fight Over Vineyards Pits Redwoods Against Red Wine : The Salt : NPR.

Filed under Forests, Land Use

Chainsaw Wine

Alastair Bland, THE NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

There is no forest among the trees. That’s what state officials have said regarding a large stand of second-growth redwood and Douglas fir near Annapolis that a Spanish-owned winery has proposed to level and replace with grapevines and a winery.
Artes-large

The project, proposed by Artesa Vineyards & Winery, has been lumbering through the legal process for several years now, and to the dismay of Sonoma County environmentalists, it has progressed almost to the finish line. Now, the only roadblock still in the way is the lawsuit filed against the state by three conservation groups in June of 2012, and which will be heard in the Sonoma County Superior Court this Friday.

via Chainsaw Wine | News | North Bay Bohemian.

Filed under Forests, Land Use