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Petaluma ranchers beefing about slaughterhouse access

Matt Brown, PETALUMA ARGUS COURIER

Last month, Pam Torliatt loaded 25 grass-fed black Angus beef cows onto trucks and shipped them off for sale. The mass exodus represented a quarter of the herd she raised with partner Leo Ghirardelli on organic pastures in Tomales and Pepper Road west of Petaluma.

Since starting the Progressive Pastures label in 2006, Torliatt has peddled beef at Petaluma Market, giving local customers the satisfaction that their food was raised, harvested and sold within a 16-mile radius.

But all that is coming to an end after this year.

Marin Sun Farms, which owns the slaughterhouse on Petaluma Boulevard North — the only USDA-certified meat processing plant in the Bay Area — has informed ranchers that, starting in January, it will no longer process animals for private labels such as Progressive Pastures.

“This puts us out of the business of selling to the retail market,” said Torliatt, a former Petaluma mayor. “Knowing that our community is losing the ability to harvest locally, it’s going to have a tremendous impact on agricultural infrastructure. It’s going to have a negative affect on local agriculture.”

Read more at https://www.petaluma360.com/home/a1/10320684-181/petaluma-ranchers-beefing-about-slaughterhouse

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Wine moguls destroy land and pay small fines as cost of business, say activists

Alastair Bland, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO

After California wine industry mogul Hugh Reimers illegally destroyed at least 140 acres of forest, meadow and stream in part to make way for new vineyards sometime last winter, according to a report from state investigators, state officials ordered the Krasilsa Pacific Farms manager to repair and mitigate the damage where possible. Sonoma County officials also suggested a $131,060 fine.

But for environmental activists watching the investigation, fines and restoration attempts aren’t going to cut it; they want Reimers — an experienced captain of industry whom they say knew better — to face a criminal prosecution, which could lead to a jail sentence.

“We want him to be an example of what you can’t do here,” says Anna Ransome, founder of a small organization called Friends of Atascadero Wetlands. In August, the group sent a letter to Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravich, asking that she prosecute Reimers.

“If winemakers can figure into their budget paying fines and doing minimal restoration work, then what’s to stop the next guy from doing the same thing?” Ransome says.

The D.A.’s office did not return requests for comment. Multiple efforts to reach Reimers for comment were unsuccessful. On Nov. 13, a sign posted outside of an address listed for him that appears to be a residence read “Media Keep Out.”

The Sonoma County Winegrowers, an industry organization that promotes sustainability, also declined to comment.

Ransome’s concerns have been echoed by other environmental and community activists in Northern California who decry a pattern of winemakers violating environmental laws, paying relatively meager fines for their actions, and eventually proceeding with their projects.

For example, high-society winemaker Paul Hobbs now grows grapes on at least one small Sonoma County parcel that he cleared of trees in 2011 without proper permits. Though his actions on several locations where he removed trees caused community uproar, officials fined Hobbs $100,000 and allowed him to carry on with his business. Paul Hobbs Winery is listed by the Sonoma County Winegrowers website as certified sustainable.

Read more at https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/11/18/774859696/wine-moguls-destroy-land-and-pay-small-fines-as-cost-of-business-say-activists

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Habitats, Land Use, WildlifeTags ,

As bears move into Sonoma County, wildlife advocates seek to keep them safe, wild

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Aaron Bennett’s thinking goes something like this: Black bears had long since claimed territory in the Anderson Valley lands where his parents established Navarro Vineyards decades ago, so when the family planted pinot noir at high elevation in the mid-1990s, it was the humans who would have to learn to share.

That’s why he, his parents and sister so willingly tolerate the nighttime visitors to their vineyard, even supplying a playful Winnie the Pooh soundtrack to a compilation video they’ve posted online documenting hungry bears roaming through the grapevines in recent months.

“I grew up on the ranch. I see the bears just as cohabitants of the land,” said Bennett, 41.

The bears eat a ton or two of grapes each season — perhaps as much as $10,000 worth. It’s a sizable hit, but “it’s not the bear’s fault that we put pinot noir on the hills,” Bennett aid.

But even he acknowledged his view of the situation is not one that’s universally shared.

Data from California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife reflects a sometimes adverse human-bear relationship in Mendocino County and other rural North Coast counties, where the bear population is particularly dense.

But that could change. And with the increased presence of bears around the wild edges of Sonoma County in recent years has come a budding movement to prepare for their expansion south, in a bid to keep them wild and safe.

The newly formed North Bay Bear Collaborative is the product of conversations going back several years, when early signs began to indicate that what had been mostly transient visitors were beginning to settle in year-round.

The aim is to help humans adjust to their new neighbors and head off any conflicts.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10188029-181/as-bears-move-into-sonoma

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, WaterTags , , , , ,

Sonoma County drills wells to study groundwater sustainability

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The shallow wells Sonoma County’s water agency is drilling near 11 waterways have nothing to do with delivering water to 600,000 residents of Sonoma and Marin counties.

Instead, the 21 wells will serve as measuring sticks to determine whether pumping groundwater in the county’s three basins — the Santa Rosa Plain, Petaluma Valley and Sonoma Valley — is curbing the flow in creeks inhabited by federally protected fish and other species.

The $300,000 project is the latest consequence of a state law, enacted during California’s five-year drought, requiring long-term sustainability of underground water supplies that were heavily tapped during the prolonged dry spell.

And that means assessing the connection between surface water and groundwater and possibly, for the first time in state history, setting limits on use of well water by residents, ranchers, businesses and public water systems.

“We can’t see what’s beneath the surface, so these monitoring wells will act like underground telescopes. They can help us see how much and when water is available,” county Supervisor Susan Gorin said in a statement.

Gorin is chairwoman of the Sonoma Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency, which covers the basin seen as most susceptible to depletion. Local agencies were formed in 2017 in each of the county’s basins to implement mandates of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act that became law in 2015 amid the state’s historic drought.

Farming interests generally have taken a dim view of the increased monitoring and prospect of pumping limits. During the recent drought, when stream flows were greatly diminished statewide, Central Valley farmers especially drew heavily on groundwater at rates that officials said were unsustainable, risking a whole host of related environmental impacts — on drinking water, soil and wildlife.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10275251-181/sonoma-county-drills-wells-to

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Sonoma County wine industry seeks to sway county planners on land-use regulations

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Leaders of Sonoma County’s wine industry on Monday fired a new volley in the protracted, cyclical battle over the expansion of their industry, hosting political appointees and county staff for a “mobile educational workshop” in an effort to inject industry-friendly language into long-delayed land-use policy.

Sonoma County Vintners, an industry trade association, organized the unique public meeting of the county’s Planning Commission, with stops including a recently completed 24-person, dormitory-style farmworker residence near Cloverdale, MacRostie Winery Estate west of Healdsburg and Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens north of Santa Rosa.

In Cloverdale, it was housing; at Kendall-Jackson, code enforcement. But the backdrop for the meeting was Permit Sonoma’s move to update an ordinance related to agricultural promotional activities — wine tastings and other events that fuel traffic and other impacts in rural areas.

Milan Nevajda, deputy director for Permit Sonoma, the county’s planning department, said the goal is to create an ordinance that balances the tension between what the industry needs and ensuring it can be a good neighbor.

The tension has existed for two decades, as hundreds of new wineries have come on line since the turn of the century, and the business model has shifted to seek more direct-to-consumer sales that have brought forth wine clubs, more tasting rooms and weddings and special, members-only dinners.

Opponents of that expansion have complained about the noise and the traffic, which they say detracts from the bucolic feel of the countryside.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10203620-181/sonoma-county-wine-industry-seeks

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Sonoma County supervisors remove granny unit restrictions on some farm parcels

Martin Espinoza, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Last year, Jennifer Mann sold her home in Santa Rosa’s Junior College District around the same time her son and daughter-in-law sold their home in downtown Sebastopol.

With the goal of establishing a “family compound,” they bought a home in rural Sebastopol, a unique, three-story, dome-shaped house that looks like a cross between a barn and an observatory.

It’s cramped for a growing family. Mann, a retired Santa Rosa Junior College employee, lives on the first floor, her two grandkids on the second and her son and daughter-in-law on the third.

“We have three acres and we always planned to build a second unit for me, so I could live on the land,” Mann said.

Until recently those plans were hindered by a county zoning restriction known as a “Z District,” which prohibits the construction of granny units in certain agricultural zones.

The restriction was aimed at preserving the county’s agricultural resources and preventing nonfarming residences from encroaching into agricultural lands. However, many smaller parcels restricted by a Z District do not qualify for farm-related housing because they do not meet size and agriculture production requirements.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10091428-181/sonoma-county-supervisors-remove-granny

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land Use, Sustainable LivingTags , , , ,

$50 million Santa Rosa compost facility inches ahead as opposition from neighbors grows

Tyler Silvy, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

When Greg Eicher and his wife, Gulten Eicher, moved to a quiet stretch of Walker Avenue five years ago, they were ready to embrace a more rural lifestyle there in southwestern Santa Rosa.

They’ve got a heap of homegrown fruits and veggies on offer, raise chickens for fresh eggs and even recently began beekeeping. There’s also a farm cat — Tekir, which is Turkish for striped or tabby cat.

Greg Eicher said they knew they were moving in a few blocks from Santa Rosa’s Laguna Wastewater Treatment Plant, which handles wastewater for 230,000 residents from Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Sebastopol and portions of unincorporated Sonoma County.

The Eichers occasionally get whiffs of what is treated at the plant. But Eicher said one waste-related facility is enough, and neighbors can’t abide a push by local governments to relocate a commercial-grade composting facility across the street from the Laguna site.

“This neighborhood has been putting up with the noise and the smell and the traffic — to the benefit of the entire city of Santa Rosa — for years,” Eicher said. “You’re doubling down on me.”

There’s no organized opposition yet, but thanks to leadership changes and the fits and starts of governmental negotiations for green-bin waste, neighbors have months, if not years, to coalesce and build their campaign against the proposal.

Until then, and perhaps for many more years, the future of green waste handling in Sonoma County will remain in limbo — with both tons of material and millions of ratepayer dollars continuing to go out of the county.

It’s been more than a year since the board of Zero Waste Sonoma — the renamed Sonoma County Waste Management Agency — voted to begin negotiations with Renewable Sonoma, a private company, to handle commercial-grade composting operations, a service not offered in Sonoma County since that company’s previous site was shut down four years ago in the wake of wastewater violations.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10023046-181/50-million-santa-rosa-compost

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Forests, Land Use, WaterTags , , , , ,

Sonoma County wine executive’s vineyard business firm accused of water quality violations

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Prominent Sonoma County wine executive Hugh Reimers, who last month abruptly left as president of Foley Family Wines, faces allegations that his grape growing company has violated regional, state and federal water quality laws for improperly clearing land near Cloverdale to build a vineyard.

The North Coast Regional Water Quality Board accused his Santa Rosa vineyard management company, Krasilsa Pacific Farms, of violations of the water board’s local water rules, the California Water Code and the federal Clean Water Act for clearing and grading 140 acres. The water quality board concluded the work on a section of Krasilsa Pacific’s more than 2,000-acre property was done without applying or obtaining the necessary permits required by the county to operate a vineyard.

The board filed a notice of its violations on June 6 to Reimers, as manager of Krasilsa, listing 28 different locations on the property three miles east of Cloverdale where infractions were found by investigators with the board and Sonoma County Department of Agriculture. Many of those spots had multiple violations within the cleared land: a steep, grassy ridge featuring oak woodland between the Russian River and Big Sulfur Creek.

The water quality agency’s findings have not been linked to Reimers’ sudden resignation from Foley’s Santa Rosa wine company he joined in 2017 and he led as president since January 2018.

The water agency is in the process of determining what sanctions to levy against Krasilsa, said Josh Curtis, assistant executive for the agency. The penalties could range from a cleanup of the property in an attempt to return it as close as possible to its condition before Krasilsa’s work started in late 2017 or early 2018, to the assessment of fines.

Investigators with the water board and county ag department have forwarded their report and underlying findings regarding the Krasilsa land to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office. The case is under review by the district attorney’s environmental and consumer law division, office spokeswoman Joan Croft said.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/9886319-181/notable-sonoma-county-wine-executives

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Climate Change & Energy, Forests, Habitats, Land UseTags , , , , ,

Land use policy key to reining in global warming, U.N. report warns

Julia Rosen and Anna M. Phillips, THE SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE

Slashing greenhouse gas emissions from cars and power plants won’t be enough to avoid the worst effects of climate change. To meet the goals of the Paris climate accord, experts say, humanity also needs a new approach to managing the land beneath its feet.

A sweeping new report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change highlights the myriad ways that rising temperatures have impacted agriculture, wildfire risk, soil health and biodiversity. The report also examines how land and its uses can exacerbate the effects of global warming — or help mitigate them.

“It tells us that land is already doing a lot of service for us, but also that we can do a lot with land,” said Louis Verchot, a forester at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Palmira, Colombia.

A summary of the IPCC’s assessment was released Thursday after a marathon overnight negotiating session in Geneva. It will inform United Nations climate negotiations in Santiago, Chile, later this year, when countries will revisit their pledges to reduce emissions.

One of the report’s major themes is that forests play an important role in absorbing the carbon dioxide generated by human activities, and protecting them is crucial to reining in warming.

The report also emphasizes the need for a new approach to agriculture that would feed a growing population while using natural resources more sustainably.

“Limiting global warming to 1.5 or even 2 degrees [Celsius] will involve removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and land has a critical role to play,” said Jim Skea , co-chair of the climate change mitigation working group.

Read more at https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/environment/story/2019-08-08/ipcc-land-use-global-warming?_amp=true

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Point Reyes management plan calls for shooting elk, preserving ranches

Guy Kovner and Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

How To Get Involved
To comment on the plan through Sept. 23, go to parkplanning.nps.gov/poregmpa
Two informational meetings are planned on the proposal:
When: Aug. 27, 5-7 p.m.
Where: West Marin School Gym, Point Reyes Station
When: Aug. 28, 5-7 p.m.
Where: Bay Model Visitor Center, Sausalito

Tule elk in the Point Reyes National Seashore could be shot to control their swelling numbers, and cattle ranchers would be assured a lengthy future and latitude to expand their farming operations under a proposed management plan aimed at bridging a sharp divide over the presence of commercial agriculture in the 71,000-acre national park.

The plan, which cost nearly $1 million to develop and won’t be implemented until next year, was released Thursday by the National Park Service, which manages the sprawling seashore on the Marin County coast.

Reviving a controversy that dates back to the agency’s decision in 2012 to evict an oyster farm from a Pacific Ocean inlet in the seashore, the plan — described as “shockingly anti-wildlife” by one conservationist — could also send environmentalists and the federal government back into court over the conflict between farming for profit and land preservation.

The proposal has been identified by the National Seashore staff as the “preferred alternative” of six variations developed over the past two years. The public now has 45 days to review and comment on the document.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9858446-181/point-reyes-seashore-plan-balances