Jeff Quackenbush, NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
The origins of a new public-private solution for the longstanding environmental quandary facing Sonoma County grape growers operating in critical habitat for the endangered California tiger salamander can be traced to recent reforms of county permits for erosion control on vineyard projects.
Under an agreement with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the North Bay Water District will oversee a program in which owners of participating vineyards that have adopted and implemented best practices to preserve or add salamander habitat can avoid being sued by third parties for “incidental take” of the rare amphibian under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The deal also offers participating growers assurance that vineyard operations can continue without additional permits.
The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the Sonoma County population of the salamander as endangered in March 2003. Shortly after, the agency designated a wide swath of the Santa Rosa Plain as critical habitat. That put in place a regulatory system requiring costly studies and special permits for farming and many other activities in the area.
The most affected properties were near the species’ breeding grounds in seasonal wetlands and existing ponds or reservoirs, along with surrounding areas at higher elevations.