Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , , , , ,

Retiring Sonoma County ag leader: Cannabis can be lifeline for grape growers, dairy farmers

Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

After eight years at the helm, Tony Linegar retired last week as Sonoma County agricultural commissioner, having overseen a tremendous amount of change in the farming sector that fetched a local record $1 billion of crops in 2018.

The 54-year-old Chico State graduate will be most remembered for his advocacy to treat cannabis and hemp just like any other crop, helping erase weed’s lingering stigma as a “stoner drug.”

He was instrumental in drafting local regulations for cannabis and hemp cultivation. He had vast experience with cannabis — which California legalized for recreational sales in 2018 — since he had previously worked in Mendocino County as its ag commissioner. He earlier worked in Shasta County, where he started in 1995 as an ag inspector.

Linegar took action here when vineyard owners violated local rules and had been vocal about upholding environmental and pest and disease protections in his talks with the politically influential wine sector. Although wine grapes represent a dominant 70% of the overall crop value of the county’s ag sector, he sees an industry in transition due to competitive pressures and evolving consumer tastes.

He thinks cannabis can help those small grape growers who are struggling to survive. Area dairy farmers, who have dealt with declining prices in the organic milk market, also will start growing or leasing their land for hemp and cannabis cultivation, he said.

Linegar sees the county’s agricultural sector becoming more balanced after a decadeslong dominance by the wine grape business.

“I do see more diversity coming into agriculture almost by necessity,” said Linegar, who is moving to Hawaii. “Whenever you have so many eggs in one basket, you are really vulnerable not only to market fluctuations but also pests and diseases. If you get a devastating pest come in, that can wreak havoc on a monoculture.”

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/10697266-181/retiring-sonoma-county-ag-leader

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, Habitats, WildlifeTags , , , , ,

Humans are speeding extinction and altering the natural world at an ‘unprecedented’ pace

Brad Plumer, THE NEW YORK TIMES

Humans are transforming Earth’s natural landscapes so dramatically that as many as one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction, posing a dire threat to ecosystems that people all over the world depend on for their survival, a sweeping new United Nations assessment has concluded.

The 1,500-page report, compiled by hundreds of international experts and based on thousands of scientific studies, is the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization. A summary of its findings, which was approved by representatives from the United States and 131 other countries, was released Monday in Paris. The full report is set to be published this year.

Its conclusions are stark. In most major land habitats, from the savannas of Africa to the rain forests of South America, the average abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20 percent or more, mainly over the past century. With the human population passing 7 billion, activities like farming, logging, poaching, fishing and mining are altering the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”

At the same time, a new threat has emerged: Global warming has become a major driver of wildlife decline, the assessment found, by shifting or shrinking the local climates that many mammals, birds, insects, fish and plants evolved to survive in. When combined with the other ways humans are damaging the environment, climate change is now pushing a growing number of species, such as the Bengal tiger, closer to extinction.

Read more at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/06/climate/biodiversity-extinction-united-nations.html

Posted on Categories Climate Change & Energy, WildlifeTags , , ,

First freeze of winter coming ever later

Seth Borenstein, ASSOCIATED PRESS

Related story: Misplaced monarchs stuck too far north

Winter is coming … later. And it’s leaving ever earlier.
Scientists say it is yet another sign of the changing climate, and that it has good and bad consequences for the nation. There could be more fruits and vegetables — and also more allergies and pests.
“I’m happy about it,” said Karen Duncan of Streator, Illinois. Her flowers are in bloom because she’s had no frost this year yet, just as she had none last year at this time either. On the other hand, she said just last week it was too hot and buggy to go out — in late October, near Chicago.
The trend of ever later first freezes appears to have started around 1980, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of data from 700 weather stations across the U.S. going back to 1895 compiled by Ken Kunkel, a meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.
Read more at: Science Says: Jack Frost nipping at your nose ever later

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , , ,

Valley Ford turkey king sues Marin County, Coastal Commission over agricultural preservation law

Paul Payne, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Free-range turkey pioneer Willie Benedetti doesn’t want to work forever.
Instead of raising fat birds for Thanksgiving tables, the 68-year-old farmer hopes someday to be playing with grandchildren in a house he’d like to build for one of his sons on his 267-acre ranch near Valley Ford.
But he said that’s not possible because of a new Marin County law meant to preserve agricultural lands that would force him to keep farming if he constructs the new dwelling.
Now, he’s teaming up with a conservative legal action group that wages high-profile property rights cases, challenging the mandate in a lawsuit against the county and the California Coastal Commission, accusing them of coercion and violating his constitutional rights.
“What they are doing is not right,” said the owner of nationally known Willie Bird Turkeys, whose family has owned the land near the Estero Americano just south of the Sonoma County line since 1972. “To put pressure on the farming community. It’s ludicrous.”
The stakes could be high for many of the estimated 200 landowners in the coastal zone. A victory for Benedetti and the Pacific Legal Foundation would have broader implications on state and local government’s authority to set such strict rules for development.
“If he got a court to say local land use restrictions and basic tools like zoning are an unconstitutional deprivation of property rights, all bets would be off to maintain any type of consistent character in communities,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael.
However, the ability to do just that is “battle-tested in the courts” and is not likely to go away, said Huffman, a former environmental attorney whose district runs from Marin County up the coast to Oregon.
Read more at: Valley Ford turkey king sues Marin County, Coastal Commission over ‘forced farming’ law | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Sustainable LivingTags , , ,

Wineries’ impact brings taste of bitterness to Sonoma campaign

Peter Fimrite, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
A supervisors race between two liberal candidates in Sonoma County has turned into a good ol’ Wine Country brawl amid fear that the region is too quickly transforming into a pricey, water-sucking theme park for the almighty grape.
The tug-of-war over the seat being vacated by disgraced Supervisor Efren Carrillo is billed by some as a choice between forests and vineyards, farmlands and event centers, conservation and industry.
But the election pitting organic farmer Lynda Hopkins against former state Sen. Noreen Evans for supervisor of the Fifth District, which covers western Sonoma County, including the entire coastline, is more complicated than that.
Both candidates purport to want the same thing — to protect the environment, particularly the Russian River; create affordable housing to counter skyrocketing prices; improve roads and other infrastructure; and prevent the county from turning into a wine monoculture.
The argument over which candidate can achieve those things has turned into a mud-slinging imbroglio, mainly over the alleged influence of special-interest groups.
At stake, if you believe the two candidates, is the future of bucolic Sonoma County, which has seen an explosion of winery development and a population increase of almost 4 percent since 2010.
“The major issue is the influence of wineries and agriculture,” said Ernie Carpenter, a former supervisor who is supporting Evans. “We are having a corporate buyout of many old family vineyards and wineries.”
Evans and her supporters say Hopkins is bankrolled by mineral extractors, real estate developers, and dozens of vineyard and winery owners worried about the government restricting tourist-friendly projects that would, in turn, clog already over-tapped roads.
Read more at: Wineries’ impact brings taste of bitterness to Sonoma campaign

Posted on Categories Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , ,

California drought puts Chinook salmon in danger of extinction

Ellen Knickmeyer, ASSOCIATED PRESS
Another deadly summer of drought has heightened fears of extinction in the wild for an iconic California salmon, federal officials said Wednesday.
Officials with the National Marine Fisheries Service said preliminary counts indicate that hot, shallow waters caused by the drought killed most of this year’s juvenile winter-run Chinook before they made it out to the Pacific Ocean.
It “doesn’t look very good,” said Garwin Yip, a federal fisheries spokesman.If a final count this winter confirms the bad news, it would mean a second straight summer in which 5 percent or less of the young fish survived California’s drought.
Since the fish spawn on a three-year cycle, the die-off would make management of next year’s water critical for the salmon’s survival in the wild.
The development suggests failure for a second year in a row for federal efforts to manage water flows from Lake Shasta, a main reservoir in the state’s water system, to keep salmon and other species alive.
“Droughts are always hard on salmon, but water management decisions made it worse this year,” said John McManus, executive director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association.
The juvenile salmon depend on water temperatures in the mid-50s, and were unable to survive in the warmer temperatures produced by shallower than usual water.
Chinook salmon are a mainstay of the state’s commercial fishing industry. California’s fishing industry and environmental groups are vying with the state’s farmers for diminishing water supplies in the driest four years on record.
Source: California drought puts Chinook salmon in danger of | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Water, WildlifeTags , , , , , , ,

Water woes come to a head in Sonoma County

W. Blake Gray, WINE-SEARCHER.COM

Even before the Russian River killed a dog 10 days ago, fighting over its water was getting ugly.

The Russian River runs through some of the best grapegrowing areas in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. Thirty years ago it was thick with salmon swimming upstream from the Pacific Ocean. The water level has declined and the fish population has dropped with it. Four years of severe drought have aggravated the situation.
Now the Russian River has an algae problem. A family took its 3-year-old golden retriever on a river visit late last month near Westside Road, where some of the country’s most expensive Pinot Noir comes from. Moments after climbing to shore, the dog went into seizures, foamed at the mouth and died. County public health officials discovered a toxin produced by blue-green algae that can also affect humans. They issued a warning just before the Labor Day weekend about the dangers of swimming in the popular recreation spot.
In July the state of California imposed water-use restrictions on residents, forbidding them from watering their lawns and limiting how often they could wash their cars. However, it did not restrict water use to Sonoma County’s 439 wineries or its 60,000 acres of vineyards. There was at least one fist fight at a meeting to explain the restrictions to residents.
There may be no connection between the algae and either the river’s recent woes, or the wine industry. According to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, blue-green algae is most likely to proliferate in bodies of water with high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous when the water is hot and the weather is calm, as it has been in Sonoma County for most of this summer. It’s a common problem in the southeast United States and is found all over the world.
“I am not aware of anything that wineries or vineyards will be contributing that will encourage the growth of such algae except using the water for irrigation, which may affect the water level,” UC Davis viticulture and enology professor Dr. Anita Oberholster told Wine-Searcher.
But the dog may become a symbol for an environmental movement that has grown over the years from a quiet rumbling to an outright roar, most of it directed at the growth of the wine industry.
In August, activists in four counties formed a group called Wine and Water Watch to try to concentrate their efforts. The new state regulations announced in July that exempted wineries and vineyards were a big motivating factor.
Read more at: Water Woes Come to a Head in Sonoma | Wine News & Features

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

Coho vs. Pinot: On the Russian River, grape growing and fish don't aways mix

Will Parrish, NORTH BAY BOHEMIAN

As California lurches through its fourth year of an unprecedented drought, it is no surprise that long-simmering Russian River water conflicts have come to the forefront. At the center of this struggle are salmon and trout, whose epic life journeys play out on a scale akin to Homer’s Odysseus.

In July, roughly 1,000 rural Sonoma County residents overflowed classrooms and small meeting chambers at five informational sessions convened by the State Water Resources Control Board. It would be hard to exaggerate many attendees’ outrage. At one meeting, two men got in a fistfight over whether to be “respectful” to the state and federal officials on hand.
The immediate source of their frustration is a drought-related “emergency order” in portions of four Russian River tributaries: Mill Creek, Mark West Creek, Green Valley Creek and Dutch Bill Creek. Its stated aim is to protect endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead trout. Among other things, the 270-day regulation forbids the watering of lawns. It places limits on car washing and watering residential gardens. It does not, however, restrict water use of the main contemporary cause of these watersheds’ decline: the wine industry.
“The State Water Resources Control Board is regulating lawns? I challenge you to find ornamental lawns in the Dutch Bill, Green Valley and Atascadero Creek watersheds,” said Occidental resident Ann Maurice in a statement to the water board, summing up many residents’ sentiments. “It is not grass that is causing the problem. It is irrigated vineyards.”
In what many see as a response to public pressure, the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, an industry trade group, announced last week that 68 of the 130 vineyards in the four watersheds have committed to a voluntary 25 percent reduction in water use relative to 2013 levels. According to commission president Karissa Kruse, these 68 properties include about 2,000 acres of land.
Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore, whose district encompasses more Russian River stream miles than that of any other county supervisor, has been strongly involved in developing the county’s response to the water board regulations and was the only supervisor to attend any of the state’s so-called community meetings.
“I applaud the winegrowers for stepping up,” Gore says in an interview. “I think they saw the writing on the wall. They knew they weren’t going to continue to be exempt from this sort of regulation for long, and there are also winegrowers already doing good things in those watersheds who wanted to tell their stories.”
Initially, state and federal officials who crafted the regulation said they preferred cutting off “superfluous” uses as a first step. “Our target is not irrigation that provides an economic benefit,” says State Water Resources Control Board member Dorene D’Adamo of Stanislaus. D’Adamo has been the five-member board’s point person for developing the regulations and was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown as its “agricultural representative.
“Many residents argue that there is no way of monitoring the vineyards’ compliance with the voluntary cutback because their water use has never been metered. Moreover, these residents’ passionate response to the regulation did not emerge in a vacuum. Rather, it tapped a deep well of resentment regarding the long-standing preferential treatment they say state, county and even federal officials have accorded the powerful, multibillion dollar regional wine industry.
As longtime Mark West Creek area resident Laura Waldbaum notes, her voice sharpening into an insistent tone, “The problem in Mark West Creek did not start with the drought.”
Read much more at: Coho vs. Pinot | Features | North Bay Bohemian

Posted on Categories Land UseTags , , ,

Napa County eyes tighter winery permit oversight 

Jeff Quackenbush, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
Acknowledging public sentiment to tighten up enforcement of permits for wine production in Napa County, the Board of Supervisors on Aug. 11 got their first look at new tools for doing so, including reviewing compliance annually, attaching violation notices to property records and making those operating flagrantly outside their limits have a one year or longer “timeout” in seeking permission for permit changes.
This discussion on major changes to the way the county keeps tabs on what wineries are doing comes amid growing public concern about wine production and hospitality operations in rural areas of Napa and Sonoma counties. And some involved in planning policy in Sonoma County have been looking at the current Napa County winery audit as a potential model for measuring and regulating wine-related visitation and facility scaling in rural areas.
Full public hearings on such measures are set to come in September and November, so the board was giving staff direction on get-tougher recommendations coming from planning and building staff as well as an advisory committee of agriculture and environmental protection representatives and the most recent Napa County Grand Jury.
Read more at: Napa County eyes tighter winery permit oversight | North Bay Business Journal

Posted on Categories Land Use, WaterTags , , , ,

Napa County strings together a 'living' river

Amber Manfree, CALIFORNIA WATER BLOG
In the historic heart of Napa Valley, a moderate climate and the alluvial soils deposited by the Napa River create perfect conditions for world-class cabernets. An acre of vines here sells for around $300,000, or 25 times the state average for irrigated cropland.
Yet a group of landowners have ripped out 20 acres of these prized vineyards to make room for river restoration, with levee setbacks, terraced banks and native plants.
The project runs the length of Rutherford Reach, a 4.5-mile stretch of the Napa River between St. Helena and Oakville. Landowners say the changes will bring economic benefits over the long term by reducing crop losses from floods and plant disease. Most of all, they feel good about giving back to the river that has brought them so much.
Rutherford Reach is one several sites undergoing major habitat and flood control improvements on the Napa River. Some projects started more than 40 years ago. Others are just getting off the ground.
Far from postage-stamp restorations, these efforts are steadily transforming a huge swath of wetlands in a very lived-in area, re-establishing geomorphic function at the landscape scale.
Innovative funding, inclusive planning and adaptive management power these projects and offer lessons for river restoration elsewhere.
With the completion of ongoing projects, tens of thousands of acres and about 60 percent of the Napa River’s length will have been rejuvenated with improved habitat, intact geomorphic function and reconnected floodplains. Map by Amber Manfree/UC Davis
Here’s a closer look at three major flood control and river rejuvenation projects on the Napa: Rutherford Reach, downtown Napa and the lower Napa River:
Read more at: Napa County strings together a ‘living’ river