Tag Archives: oak woodlands

Santa Rosa meadow up for sale by Sonoma County over neighbors’ objections 

J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

At the end of Beverly Way, a small and secluded street in northeastern Santa Rosa, lies the entrance to a grassy meadow beloved by local residents who for decades have wandered through the open field and among the massive oak trees beyond.

Visitors to the Sonoma County-owned land are welcomed by a prominent sign just beyond the street that declares the property part of the surrounding Paulin Creek Open Space Preserve, a more than 40-acre swath of land situated south of the former county hospital complex and above the Hillcrest neighborhood near Franklin Park.

But the meadow’s inclusion in a forthcoming county land deal — the sale of 82 acres to a local developer whose plans include hundreds of new housing units — has neighbors alarmed that the county is, perhaps unwittingly, turning over the field to housing construction.

A 16-foot banner recently staked down by Beverly Way neighbors speaks to that concern.“The county is selling our meadow to an apartment developer,” it proclaims, encouraging like-minded individuals to help prevent “the destruction of our preserve.”

Read more at: Santa Rosa meadow up for sale by Sonoma County over neighbors’ objections | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use

Sonoma County Forests, Part Two: Changing woodlands

Arthur Dawson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Editor’s Note: This is part two of a series about the indigenous forests that blanket Sonoma County — their past, present and threats to their future.This is the second in a series of three stories about Sonoma County forests that will be published in Sonoma Outdoors.

Part 1: The history of Sonoma County forests, January

Part 2: Where our forests stand now, February

Part 3: Our forests’ future, March

The 2017 North Coast Forest Conservation Conference, “Growing Resilience,” will take place June 7-9 at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Shone Farm, 7450 Steve Olson Lane, Forestville.

More information: Sonoma County Forest Conservation Working Group, sonomaforests.org

For the latest on the Sonoma County Vegetation map, visit sonomavegmap.org

Our forests “are undergoing a sea change,” observes Mark Tukman, founder of Tukman Geospatial, who is spearheading the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District’s development of a fine-scale vegetation map.

“I’ve spent over a year looking at aerial photos and coordinating field teams. Many of our oak woodlands are disappearing rapidly, transitioning to Douglas fir and California bay,” he said.

In many places this is visible at ground level — dead manzanitas scattered beneath oaks dying in the shade of Douglas firs — a century of change visible in a glance. Of course, oaks and firs represent just a few of our native trees. Sonoma County’s wide range of geology, soils, landforms and climate has been described as “where Alaska meets Mexico.” With 10 species of oaks and 19 conifers, our forests reflect this diversity.

Close up, they can seem infinitely complex. But if you pull back, larger patterns emerge. Moving west to east, conifers grow in parallel bands — Bishop pine along the cool coast, then redwoods, and finally Douglas fir reaching warmer areas far inland. Interspersed are woodlands of oak, bay, madrone and other hardwoods. There are no hard boundaries between any of these types — in fact mixed conifer-hardwood forests are more common than either alone.

By the early 20th century, forested lands had seen severe impacts. Logged-off tracts of redwood and Douglas fir were now brushy and crowded with young trees. Oak and madrone woodlands, leveled for firewood, had become grassland. Settlements replaced oak savannahs. By all indications, there were far less trees 100 years ago than today.

Read more at: The state of Sonoma County’s forests | The Press Democrat

Filed under Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Habitats

Walt Ranch: Water concerns arise from Napa area vineyard’s plan to fell 14,000 oaks

Alastair Bland, NEWS DEEPLY

Residents are concerned that plans to cut down 14,000 oak trees to make way for grapevines will impact groundwater, fish habitat and climate change mitigation.

In the small community of Circle Oaks, California, a few miles east of the wine-soaked Napa Valley, residents are fuming over a wealthy Texas couple’s plans to cut down 14,000 adult oak trees and replant the cleared woodland with 209 acres (85 hectares) of irrigated grapevines. The project, opponents warn, will destroy fish and wildlife habitat, reduce the environment’s resilience to climate change, and drain groundwater reserves.

“They’re going to be using about two times the water our community uses,” says Ron Tamarisk, who has lived in the small town of Circle Oaks with his wife, Nancy, since the 1960s. Tamarisk says the community’s wells have never run dry before, but locals are concerned the proposed vineyard will deplete their supply.

“This is going to dewater Milliken Creek,” says Chris Malan, who lives in a rural unincorporated area just east of the city of Napa and very close to the project site. She is referring to a stream that feeds Milliken Reservoir, from which the city of Napa receives water.

The couple behind the project, Craig Hall and Kathryn Walt Hall, are already well established in the local wine industry. Craig Hall, who has led a career in Texas as a real estate developer, told Dallas News in 2014 that he expected to sell as much as $50 million in wines in 2015, mainly through the couple’s Hall and Walt wine labels. Now, he and his wife’s new project, first introduced in 2006, is on the verge of becoming reality. The proposal to expand their Walt Ranch vineyard was approved in December by Napa County’s board of supervisors.

Locals are outraged by the county’s lenience toward the wine industry in general, which many sources claim exerts political influence over county decision making.

“If this project goes through, it establishes a precedent that a rich newcomer can come in and get their way,” says Randy Dunn, a resident of the small town of Angwin, in the hills northeast of Napa. Dunn is also a winemaker. He grows 35 acres of grapes, mostly cabernet, and says he felled a single oak tree to plant his current vines in the mid-1990s.

The Walt Ranch developers initially planned to cut down almost 30,000 trees. They downsized the plan last year in response to general opposition and to questions about the legality of how the new vines would be irrigated. There was talk for a time of pumping in water from another watershed entirely, that of Putah Creek, a Sacramento River tributary.

Read more at: Water Concerns Arise from Napa Area Vineyard’s Plan to Fell — Water Deeply

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

Mitigation for 157 Windsor oak trees cut down for apartment complex

Clark Mason, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Crews this week began cutting down more than 150 oak trees on a Windsor site, a tangible sign that a large apartment complex is soon to take their place.

The oaks, including some old-growth specimens and many trees said to be in declining health, are being cleared to make way for a 387-unit apartment complex that Windsor officials say will provide badly needed rental housing.

After an uproar two years ago over the removal of the oaks — a species considered an integral part of Windsor’s identity and also the town’s logo — the developers redesigned the project and agreed to cut down almost 50 fewer trees than they originally planned.

“We have saved many more trees than originally approved (for removal),” said Peter Stanley, project manager for the apartment development, which is expected to break ground by the end of March. “We met the need of the community and environmental concerns by saving as many oaks as we could.”

Windsor Planning Director Ken MacNab said there are currently 274 oaks on the property and 157 are scheduled to be removed.

Over half of the trees being taken out are in poor health or have hazardous structural issues, he said.

The developers will plant 267 new oaks, resulting in almost 400 oaks on the site once the project is completed. In addition, they are required to pay a mitigation fee of $420,000 for future oak planting throughout the town.

Read more at: 157 Windsor oak trees cut down for apartment complex | The Press Democrat

Filed under Land Use, Sustainable Living

Sonoma County Forests, Part 1: The history of Sonoma County’s woodlands

Arthur Dawson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The 2017 North Coast Forest Conservation Conference, “Growing Resilience,” will take place June 7-9 at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Shone Farm, 7450 Steve Olson Lane, Forestville.

More info: Sonoma County Forest Conservation Working Group, sonomaforests.org.

Sonoma County’s early chronicles are full of praise for the trees and forests. In 1877, one writer described looking over “a sweep of majestic forests unsurpassed on the continent — tier upon tier, range upon range of redwoods.”

About half the county’s vegetation was forest and open woodland at that time according to estimates; the rest was a mix of grasslands, chaparral and wetlands. The dense redwood forests on the Russian River floodplain, where Guerneville now stands, were considered “the finest body of timber in the state.” One tree was 23 feet in diameter; another measured 368 feet high and, at the time, was “the tallest tree yet discovered in America.” These are just shy of modern records; we’ll never know if even bigger trees went unrecorded.

Jose Altimira was impressed by the huge valley oaks near the Sonoma Mission, which he founded in 1823. They grew in a roblar covering dozens of square miles. Not exactly a forest, roblar is Spanish for a place where oaks are prominent within a mosaic of grasslands and wetlands.

Englishman Frank Marryat later described traveling through Sonoma Valley like this: “It seems ever as if we were about to enter a forest which we never reach, for in the distance the oaks, though really far apart, appear to grow in dark and heavy masses.”

Because they were desirable places to settle — flat with some shade and water, but not too wet — most of our towns grew up in roblars.

The Wappo name for the Santa Rosa area is wici-lo-holma-noma, or “meadowlark woods,” suggesting both grassland and trees. Windsor was named for its resemblance to the oak-studded grounds of England’s Windsor Castle. Even today, 200-year-old oaks can be found in Santa Rosa and other areas, adding habitat and character to many neighborhoods.

Of course, the county is home to more than just redwoods and roblars. Altimira “fell in love” with the riparian forest of “alder, cottonwood and bay” along Sonoma Creek, and he mentioned “madrone, bay and Douglas fir in the hills.” As he noticed, our forests are complex and diverse. We have 10 native oaks, numerous other hardwoods and 19 conifers, nearly as many as the “Evergreen State” of Washington.

Read more at: The history of Sonoma County’s woodlands | The Press Democrat

Filed under Forests, Habitats

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

Restaurants yank popular wine over environmental controversy

Justin Vineyards’ bulldozing of hundreds of oak trees has uncorked some disapproval among San Luis Obispo County restaurateurs and wine fans, who are making their feelings known with their wallets.

The vineyard manages land owned by Estate Vineyards LLC, a subsidiary of the multinational Wonderful Company, and recently cut down the oaks to make room for more grapes on their 750 Sleepy Farm Road property, just west of Paso Robles. County officials ordered the company to stop work on June 9 after receiving complaints from neighbors.

Estate Vineyards will likely face consequences for violating county grading regulations, although San Luis Obispo has no ordinances protecting oaks in unincorporated areas. The Upper Salinas-Las Tablas Resource Conservation District, a special district created under state law, also said the company violated three regulations, including not notifying the district prior to the tree removal so surveys for nesting birds could be carried out.

Some area restaurauters have decided to take matters into their own hands by taking Justin wines off their menus.

Big Sky Cafe in downtown San Luis Obispo announced on its Facebook page Friday that it will no long pour Justin wines. Owner Greg Holt said the restaurant had previously served many different varieties of Justin wines but was offering only the winery’s cabernet sauvignon when he decided to remove it from the wine list.

Holt said Justin’s wines were always good quality, but he couldn’t continue to serve them after he heard of the oaks’ destruction.

“I’m a native of this area,” Holt said. “… I grew up with oak trees, and I know how long they take to grow.”

Read more at at: Restaurants yank popular wine over environmental controversy

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