Tag Archives: oak woodland

Sudden oak death rampant in Sonoma County after two wet winters, raising longterm fire risks

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Rejuvenated by two straight wet winters, the insidious pathogen that has killed more than 3 million trees in Central and Northern California in the past two decades reached a record level of infection this year, including major gains in Sonoma County.

The spread of sudden oak death could further transform North Coast forests already ravaged by drought and altered by climate change, increasing their vulnerability to catastrophic fire.

The lethal pathogen is spread largely by wind-blown water droplets and resides in bay laurel trees without harm but can infect and ultimately kill four species of oaks, the fire-resistant native hardwoods that cover coastal ranges and inland valleys and hillsides. Their displacement, in favor of bay trees and conifers, could raise fire risks across the region.

“If you’ve had sudden oak death for 20 years, my guess is the forests will be worse off,” said Matteo Garbelotto, director of the forest pathology and mycology laboratory at UC Berkeley, which oversees the annual sudden oak death survey.

Results of the latest survey showed a 10-fold increase over 2015 — from 3.8 percent to 37 percent this year — in the sudden oak death infection rate in an area that includes Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, Sonoma and Petaluma. That level of infection, which stunned researchers, was matched or exceeded in only three other parts of the 17-county survey area.

The infection rate doubled north of Healdsburg and increased slightly less west of Highway 101, where the infection is already rampant in the hills west of Sebastopol.

Read more at: Sudden oak death rampant in Sonoma County after two wet winters, raising longterm fire risks

Filed under Forests

Sonoma County Forests, Part Three: An uncertain future

Arthur Dawson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Among individual species there will [also] be winners and losers. Redwoods are expected to remain stable in the western half of the county, but decline in places more distant from the coast. Douglas fir shows a similar pattern. The biggest loser may be Oregon or Garry oak. The real winner may not be a tree at all, but chamise, a shrubby chaparral species.

To look into the future of forests in Sonoma County requires finding a similar time in the past — or at least one as close as possible. And for that, scientists have turned to studying minute specks of pollen at the bottom of Clear Lake.

“When considering the future of our forests,” says Professor David Ackerly of UC Berkeley, “the closest analogy for the present moment was the warming at the end of the last ice age, 14,000 years ago.” Pollen preserved in sediment at the bottom of Clear Lake recorded a dramatic change at that time from conifer-dominated forests to oak woodland. That transition took place over 4000 years, as temperatures rose about 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Today the Earth is heating up many times faster and, depending on who you talk to, warming over the coming century could match the rise after the ice age. Changes in rainfall are also expected for Sonoma County, although it’s uncertain whether we’ll see more precipitation or less. But even with more rain, warmer overall temperatures may increase evaporation to the point where less water will be available to plants. The timing of rainfall is important, too — a few torrential storms bank less soil moisture than the same amount falling slowly and steadily over the winter months. Soil moisture is an important factor controlling where trees can grow.

In this scenario, the survival of living things depends upon their ability to adjust to the changes more quickly than in the past. Animals are lucky ­— they can move to other locations; individual trees and plants are stuck to one spot. In the short term, many are already shifting their yearly cycles — the beginning of spring, as marked by budding and flowering, is two weeks earlier than it was 50 years ago. Long-term, trees move between generations, their seeds spread by wind, water, gravity and animals to more suitable places.

Read more at: Sonoma County’s forests face uncertain future | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Habitats

Appeals court backs Napa County in watershed initiative dispute

Barry Eberling, NAPA VALLEY REGISTER

An appeals court has upheld Napa County’s rejection of a proposed Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Measure that backers had wanted to appear on last November’s ballot.

California’s First District Court of Appeal has issued a decision making it harder for backers of a controversial watershed and oak protection initiative to place their measure before voters. The three-judge panel in a Tuesday decision agreed with the county that the initiative petition had a fatal, if technical, flaw. Backers might have to once again go to shopping centers and gather a few thousand signatures if they want to move forward.

“I believe our group is stronger than ever,” Angwin resident and initiative backer Mike Hackett said on Thursday. “I think we’re determined to put a measure on the ballot about the protection of our water resources and trees.”

Backers are considering options, Hackett said. Possibilities include appealing the Court of Appeal decision to the California Supreme Court and circulating an amended initiative petition.

Whatever route they take, Hackett said the goal is to have a measure on the June 2018 ballot. Napa County has no elections before then.

“We will not be deterred,” he said.

The Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Measure wades into an ongoing community debate about allowing hillside vineyards and other large developments amid forests in the county’s mountains. It would strengthen stream setback laws, limit the cutting of oaks and, in some cases, require county-issued permits to cut oaks.

Napa Valley Vintners, Napa County Farm Bureau, Winegrowers of Napa County and Napa Valley Grapegrowers oppose it. The groups said that the county already has strong watershed protection laws.

Volunteers gathered 6,298 signatures last year, more than the 3,791 needed to qualify the measure for the November 2016 ballot. But Napa County voided the petition on a technicality.

The 18-page initiative petition circulated by proponents referenced an appendix in the 2010 Napa County Voluntary Oak Woodland Management Plan. But it didn’t include a copy of the appendix.

Whether it should have or not is the crux of the legal dispute. State law requires initiative petitions to include a full text of the proposed law, so people thinking of signing can make an informed decision.

Read more at: Appeals court backs Napa County in watershed initiative dispute | Local News | napavalleyregister.com

Filed under Forests, Habitats, Water

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

Backers of oak woodlands initiative sue Napa County

Barry Eberling, NAPA VALLEY REGISTER

There are local and state efforts afoot to protect oak woodlands. This oak vista can be found along the trails in Moore Creek Park, which has blue oak, valley oak, black oak and more.

Supporters of a proposed initiative to further protect oak woodlands and watersheds have filed a lawsuit that argues Napa County wrongly rejected it for the November ballot.

They are asking the Napa County Superior Court to require Registrar of Voters John Tuteur to present the initiative to the Board of Supervisors. Supervisors would then have to either adopt the initiative as law or place it on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Napa County has yet to file a reply to the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday on behalf of initiative proponents Michael Hackett and James Wilson.

Tuteur on June 5 certified the initiative petition as having enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. But in a June 9 memorandum, he rejected the petition on technical grounds.

“We are disappointed, surprised, dismayed – you can pick the adjective,” Angwin resident Hackett said on Thursday.

But he had no bitter words for either Tuteur or County Counsel Minh Tran. “These are all good people,” Hackett said. “There is nothing personal here.”

At issue is the amount of information that initiative proponents made available as they gathered signatures at local shopping centers and other locations.

Read more at: Backers of oak woodlands initiative sue Napa County | Local News | napavalleyregister.com

Filed under Forests, Habitats, Water

Of water and wine 

Stett Holbrook, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

In the winter of 2015, a Hong Kong real estate conglomerate purchased the Calistoga Hills Resort, at the northern end of the Napa Valley, for nearly $80 million. Today, mature oaks and conifers cover the 88-acre property, which flanks the eastern slope of the Mayacamas Mountains.

But soon, 8,000 trees will be cut, making way for 110 hotel rooms, 20 luxury homes, 13 estate lots, and a restaurant. Room rates will reportedly start at about $1,000 a night, and the grounds will include amenities like a pool, spas, outdoor showers and individual plunge pools outside select guest rooms.

Following the sale, one of the most expensive in the nation based on the number of rooms planned, commercial broker James Escarzega told a Bay Area real estate journal that the project “will be a game changer for the luxury hotel market in Napa Valley.” That may well be true, but it’s likely not the kind of game changer that many locals want to see.

While the Napa Valley conjures images of idyllic winery estates and luxurious lifestyles, all is not well in wine country. A growing number of residents decry the region’s proliferation of upscale hotels, the wineries that double as event centers and the strain on Napa Valley’s water resources. In the wake of California’s unprecedented drought, the city of Calistoga—like others—has been under mandatory water rationing. “We’re told not to flush our toilets,” says Christina Aranguren, a vocal critic of the proposed resort, whose guests will be under no such restrictions. “I want to know where the water will come from.”

Other new developments will further strain local infrastructure. The 22-acre Silver Rose Resort, across town from the Calistoga Hills Resort, will feature an 84-room hotel and spa, 21 homes, a restaurant, a winery and a six-acre vineyard. Last year, Calistoga’s Indian Springs Resort underwent a $23 million expansion and added 75 new guest rooms to bring its total to 115.

Read more at: Of Water and Wine | Features | North Bay Bohemian

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

The wild diversity of Sonoma County’s oak trees

Melanie Parker, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

So why are oak forests important? Many would say they are a huge part of our county’s scenic landscape, but they also provide valuable habitat for more than 300 wildlife species and as many as 5,000 insect species. Oaks provide an abundant food source as well as cavities that house birds like the oak titmouse, and fallen logs and branches used by ants, beetles, salamanders and even frogs. Oak woodlands are simply teaming with life.

Where is your favorite spot to enjoy Sonoma County’s magnificent oak woodlands? Is it a stretch along your morning commute, a park you often visit, or perhaps the trees in your yard?

Oak trees are perhaps the single most iconic element of our landscape. So what do we know about them?

For starters, there are 10 different species in Sonoma County, and in many places the trees are blended together in an unusual way. While other counties boast high numbers of blue oak woodlands or Oregon oak woodlands, here scientists just scratch their heads and label many of our forest stands “mixed oak.” This diversity can be seen in the patchwork of greens in the forest canopy around places like Spring Lake.

Where they do carve out their own single-type stands, oaks can teach you something about the microclimate and soil type you are in.

The majestic valley oaks love the deep soils in our valley bottoms. Hike through the Laguna de Santa Rosa to get a good look at them. Their leaves are dull green, without sharp tips and deeply lobed. Blue oaks endure relatively hot and rocky locations. Look for them on inland ridges like those in Sonoma Valley above the town of Glen Ellen. Their leaves are blue-green, no sharp tips and shallowly lobed.

Black oaks are water lovers and enjoy shady canyons like those in Hood Mountain and Sugarloaf Ridge. Their leaves are large and sharply tipped, with deep lobes.

Oregon oaks take up where the valley oaks leave off on hillsides with fertile soils. They can be seen with the coast live oak rimming the meadows at places like Taylor Mountain. Leaves are bright green, lobed and not sharply tipped.

And finally there is our most ubiquitous oak, the coast live oak, which dominates the western portion of the county while holding its own in almost any setting. Its leaves are dark green, curved, with sharp little spines.

To make matters more interesting, many of Sonoma County’s oaks hybridize, creating another 12 versions of oak to inspire your appreciation for the wonders of nature. Annadel State Park is a good example of rampant hybridization between blue oak and Oregon oak.

Read more: | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA

Filed under Forests, Habitats

Tracking sudden oak death 

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

People who want to participate in this weekend’s local blitz are asked to sign up online at ucanr.edu/blitz2016 and to start by attending an hour-long training session Saturday morning at four locations in Santa Rosa, Graton, Cloverdale and Sonoma (see the website for details).

Spring rains brought relief to a drought-weary region, filling North Coast reservoirs and farm ponds and turning grassy hills a glorious emerald green.

But the wet, sometimes windy weather was also ideal for Phytophthora ramorum, the insidious pathogen that causes sudden oak death, a disease that has killed more than 3 million trees in coastal forests from Monterey to Humboldt counties since 1995, when it was discovered in Marin County.

The pathogen can be spread by human footprints and nursery plants, but in nature it rides in water droplets blown from the leaves of bay laurel trees, a host species that abounds in close proximity to the oak and tanoak trees that sudden oak death kills.

California’s four-year drought slowed the disease’s spread considerably, but officials are wary of a widespread rebound, including Sonoma County, owing to a comparatively soggy spring. Santa Rosa has recorded 12.5 inches of rain since March 1, compared with 1.5 inches in the same period last year.

“We think we’ll see a bump this year,” said Lisa Bell, the county’s sudden oak death program coordinator. “We want to see what the pathogen does coming out of a drought.”

The means for that assessment is the SOD Blitz, an annual volunteer effort organized by the UC Berkeley Forest Pathology and Mycology Lab. More than 40 people have signed up for the Sonoma County blitz on Saturday and Sunday, and Bell said she’s hoping for many more volunteers who will be trained to collect samples — primarily bay leaves — that will be analyzed at the Berkeley lab.

Read more at: North Coast rains a boost for sudden oak death | The Press Democrat

Filed under Forests

Lytton Rancheria development outside Windsor stokes big land-use dispute

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A tribe’s plan to build housing for its members on the outskirts of Windsor while also potentially adding a 200-room hotel and a large winery has generated one of the biggest land-use disputes in the young town’s history.

The 270-member Lytton Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians wants to establish a home base, something it has not had since the tribe’s 50-acre rancheria north of Healdsburg was illegally terminated by the federal government in 1958. In the past dozen years, it has used revenues from its East Bay casino to buy up an ever-larger swath of land southwest of Windsor, off Windsor River, Starr and Eastside roads.

That’s where the tribe could build more than 360 homes and a community center on just over 500 acres it hopes to take into federal trust through legislation carried by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. It would add the hotel and a 200,000-case winery if given approval under a future federal environmental review.

A separate deal negotiated with Sonoma County would prohibit a new casino on the land while allowing for the prospect of the tribe’s more than doubling the amount of property it holds in trust — to roughly 1,300 acres — making an even bigger part of Windsor’s outskirts exempt from local land-use restrictions.

Lytton tribal officials say their intent is to create a community for themselves and expand their economic ventures beyond gambling.

Creation of a homeland will allow the tribe to continue to govern itself and “to provide for tribal generations to come,” Tribal Chair Marjie Mejia testified in a congressional subcommittee hearing in June.

But project opponents have decried the increasing scope and potential impact of the development plans, which they note would require the destruction of 1,500 trees. The additional commercial development could deplete local water supplies and bring a huge influx of people and cars to the rural area, opponents say.

Read more at: Lytton Rancheria development outside Windsor stokes big land-use | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Water