Bill Swindell, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Randy Dunn was worried about the future as he walked around his vineyards Thursday morning in the Howell Mountain wine region of Napa County.
Dunn has been farming the land since 1978, when he and his wife, Lori, bought a 5-acre parcel of cabernet sauvignon vines tucked around Douglas firs more than 1,400 feet above sea level. It was a time well before “cult cab” became part of the vernacular of Napa Valley and some prized wines sold for more than $1,000 a bottle.
Things have changed in Napa, Dunn contends. There is very little room left on the valley floor, he says, pushing rich investors and wine companies into the hills to carve out the remaining land left to plant vineyards in the country’s most prized wine region.
“They don’t know a thing about wines. They hire a project manager. They hire a vineyard consultant,” Dunn grumbled about some of his neighbors. “There is still a lot left to preserve. There is an incredible amount of hillside planting. Most people don’t see it because it’s tucked away somewhere. … Enough is enough.”
Napa County residents will determine if “enough is enough” on June 5 when they vote on Measure C. The initiative would limit vineyard development on hills and mountains to provide greater protection to watersheds and oak woodlands, the latter of which covered more than 167,000 acres, or about 33 percent of the county’s overall area before last year’s wildfires.
Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/business/8282347-181/measure-c-sparks-debate-over
Alastair Bland, GREENBIZ
Kellie Anderson stands in the understory of a century-old forest in eastern Napa County, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. To her left is a creek gully, a rush of the water audible through the thick riparian brush. The large trees here provide a home for deer, mountain lions and endangered spotted owls, while the stream supports the last remnants of the Napa River watershed’s nearly extinct steelhead trout.
“They want to take all of this out,” said Anderson, who sits on the steering committee of a local environmental organization, Save Rural Angwin, named for a community in the renowned wine country of the Napa Valley. She is studying a project-planning map of the area as she waves her free arm toward the wooded upward slope. “It looks like this will be the edge of a block of vines,” she said.
Anderson and two fellow activists, Jim Wilson and Mike Hackett, were visiting a property of several dozen acres that the owners plan to clear and replant with grapes, the county’s principal crop. The project is one of many like it pending approval by Napa County officials, who rarely reject a vineyard conversion project in the Napa Valley, a fertile strip that runs northward from the shores of San Francisco Bay.
In Napa County, neighboring Sonoma County and farther to the north in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, concern is growing among some residents, environmentalists and scientists about the expansion of vineyards into forested regions and the impacts on watersheds and biodiversity. In Napa, an aerial view reveals a carpet of vines on the valley floor, which is why winemakers hoping to plant new vines increasingly turn to land in the county’s wooded uplands. At these higher elevations, “about the only thing standing in the way of winemakers are the trees,” said Hackett.
“Napa is getting really carved up,” said Adina Merenlender, a conservation biologist at the University of California at Berkeley, who began studying the ecological impacts of vineyard conversions in the 1990s. “We see it all over the western and eastern ridges — it’s been relentless.” The transformation of shrub, oak and conifer habitat into new vineyards threatens wildlife migration corridors, she said. “We’re down to the final pinch points,” said Merenlender, referring to narrow corridors that eventually could become functionally severed from the relatively expansive wilderness areas in the mountains north of Napa County.
Federal fisheries scientists also have expressed concerns that the wine industry is harming endangered populations of steelhead trout. The creeks flowing off the hills of Napa County are critical to remnant populations of steelhead and salmon, and biologists with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) say the irrigation of vineyards has reduced stream flows and clogged waterways with eroded soils. “Extensive water diversions, groundwater pumping, and increased agriculture (vineyards) water use during the dry season have reduced the extent of suitable summer rearing habitat … throughout much of the Napa River watershed,” NMFS scientists wrote in the Napa River chapter (PDF) of a 2016 report.
Read more at: In California, conservationists face off with vineyard owners | GreenBiz
John Sammon, LEGAL NEWSLINE
Two Sonoma County vintners received a judgment in favor of their proposed wine making operation when an appeal by the Sierra Club was turned back by the state’s 1st Appellate District Court of Appeals.
The court found in favor of the defendants Ronald and Ernest Ohlson, operators of the Ohlson Ranch, who applied for a permit to turn grazing land on their property into a grape vineyard. The Agricultural Commissioner of Sonoma County (commissioner) issued the permit after making a determination the issuance was a “ministerial” act, and therefore exempt from California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) standards.
The commissioner’s decision was challenged by the Sierra Club, Friends of Gualala River and the Center for Biological Diversity, who asked for a writ of mandate, a court order to an agency or court to follow the law by correcting a previous action (issuing the permit).
Before the year 2000, grape growers in Sonoma County could plant vineyards without government review or permission.. Since then, new directives have been added, including submitting plans to address erosion controls, proper grading, drainage and other safeguards.
The Ohlsons filed an application in 2013 to turn 108 acres out of 132 acres of range land into a vineyard. The property included wetlands and marshy depressions but no trees or streams. Erosion was to be controlled by the use of anchoring grass, mulch, filter strips and cover crops.
Read more at: Calif. court rules against appeal filed by Sierra Club, others over vineyard permit | Legal Newsline
Alastair Bland, YALE ENVIRONMENT 360
Kellie Anderson stands in the understory of a century-old forest in eastern Napa County, about 70 miles north of San Francisco. To her left is a creek gully, a rush of the water audible through the thick riparian brush. The large trees here provide a home for deer, mountain lions, and endangered spotted owls, while the stream supports the last remnants of the Napa River watershed’s nearly extinct steelhead trout.
“They want to take all of this out,” says Anderson, who sits on the steering committee of a local environmental organization, Save Rural Angwin, named for a community in the renowned wine country of the Napa Valley. She is studying a project-planning map of the area as she waves her free arm toward the wooded upward slope. “It looks like this will be the edge of a block of vines,” she says.
Anderson and two fellow activists, Jim Wilson and Mike Hackett, were visiting a property of several dozen acres that the owners plan to clear and replant with grapes, the county’s principal crop. The project is one of many like it that are now pending approval by Napa County officials, who rarely reject a vineyard conversion project in the Napa Valley, a fertile strip that runs northward from the shores of San Francisco Bay.
In Napa County, neighboring Sonoma County, and farther to the north in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, concern is growing among some residents, environmentalists, and scientists about the expansion of vineyards into forested regions and the impacts on watersheds and biodiversity. In Napa, an aerial view reveals a carpet of vines on the valley floor, which is why winemakers hoping to plant new vines increasingly turn to land in the county’s wooded uplands. At these higher elevations, “about the only thing standing in the way of winemakers are the trees,” says Hackett.
Read more at: In Napa Valley, Vineyards and Conservationists Battle for the Hills – Yale E360
Ann M. Simmons, LOS ANGELES TIMES
They cover a third of the world’s landmass, help to regulate the atmosphere, and offer shelter, sustenance and survival to millions of people, plants and animals.
But despite some progress, the planet’s woodlands continue to disappear on a dramatic scale.
Since 1990 the world has lost the equivalent of 1,000 football fields of forests every hour, according to World Bank development indicators from last year. That’s 1.3 million square kilometers of forest, an area larger than South Africa, according to the international financial institution.
With the observance of Earth Day on Saturday, conservationists seek to drive home the message that protection of forests is more critical than ever.
“The situation is dire,” said Orion Cruz, deputy director of forest and climate policy for Earth Day Network, an organization that grew out of the first Earth Day in 1970. “Forests are being eliminated at a very rapid rate and collectively we need to address this problem as quickly as possible. There’s still time to do this, but that time is quickly running out.”
Tropical regions are seeing the fastest loss of forests.
Indonesia, with its thriving paper and palm oil industries, is losing more forest than any other country. Despite a forest development moratorium, the Southeast Asian nation has lost at least 39 million acres since the last century, according to research from the University of Maryland and the World Resources Institute.
Brazil, Thailand, Congo and parts of Eastern Europe also have significant deforestation, according to United Nations data.
Read more at: Status of forests is ‘dire’ as world marks 2017 Earth Day – LA Times
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
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
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
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.
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.