Posted on Categories Forests, Habitats, Sustainable LivingTags ,

How to protect trees: Policy for a 21st century

Kimberly Burr, FOREST UNLIMITED

The County of Sonoma has long carried on its books a permissive policy that paves the way for developers broadly speaking to cut down trees – in small and in large numbers.

With the support, however of the three female County Supervisors – Zane, Gorin, and Hopkins, Forest Unlimited and its supporters have just achieved an important step towards properly valuing and protecting trees. The Update of the Tree Ordinance is now on the County’s Two Year Work Plan.

THE PROBLEM
As reported earlier, locally between 2007-13 approximately 950 – acres of Sonoma County were converted from woodlands to non woodlands. And there is no end in sight as new tree removal proposals are submitted virtually every week. Where cool breezes once emanated and where water was efficiently created, cleaned, and stored, there are now hot exposed soils, re-contoured hills that drive polluted water off the land into ditches and streams carrying dust, spray, fertilizers (sometimes called “nutrients”) into water bodies during the winter and feeding algae in the summer. As to whether there are more trees now that the climate has warmed up, the facts in Sonoma County are that the trees are still coming down at alarming rates.

Good rules on canopy cover are needed now to protect and enhance – as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends for trees and woodlands. (9.5 million km2 increase in forests by 2050 relative to 2010. (IPCC Summary for Policy Makers). Reforestation and afforestation are needed to take carbon out of atmosphere quickly.

True Measure of a Sustainable County
Sustaining natural systems through clear policy is the true measure of a sustainable county. We know from history that societies as a whole have sometimes failed to recognize and to implement changes when environmental destruction was occurring. Many societies over-extended, exhausted their resources, and starved to death. We know this challenge. It is not new. Today, science and reason empower good policy even in the face of entrenched interests. Hopefully those that benefit from tree removals will not stand in the way of rational measures needed to minimize our highly destructive development patterns especially relative to our trees and watersheds. Better yet, perhaps the industries will lead and drive positive change in the expedited manner that is necessary. Who will it be?

The informed public has the most vital position to play on the team and must not abandon the field. In order to prevent more damage to important canopy cover, we must demand timely action for effective positive protections.

As science tells us, the momentum now is toward rapid extinction. We have very little time to improve our practices and prevent even more tragic fires, droughts, biological declines, and disasters. We all must do as much as we can each day to turn the tide. Some folks are in a position to do more than others…namely politicians and industry leaders. We are confident that the vast majority of folks see the good sense in protecting mature trees especially in the 21st Century.

We know Sonoma County business leaders, agriculture, and people are capable of leading an advertising campaign, and we urge them to put at least that much time and talent towards educating the public and our representatives about the immediate challenges with which are faced like preserving the County’s tree canopy. It not only absorbs the green house gas carbon dioxide but protects us from direct solar heat.

How Do We Achieve Success?
We will only get one chance at this. We need to re-evaluate the true costs of tree removal to the community. What is an adequate mitigation for the destruction of a 200 year old oak or oak woodland? Do a few baby ornamental trees installed to take the place of the mature trees that once touched the sky, recharged the ground water, cooled the air, and absorbed vast amounts of green house gases do the best job in the short time we have left? Or do we protect the vast majority of the trees we have and plant even more? Do we continue to give free passes to large landowners to do whatever they think is best for them at the expense of the watersheds and climate we all rely upon? What timeline is relevant today? What trade-offs does science say make the most sense? What values should be attributed to trees and woodlands?

We must ask the question of ourselves, can we fulfill our dreams of success, richness, security, and happiness without large scale destruction of woodlands, forests, and mature trees? We need practical minds that will contribute practical and effective measures. Economic arguments are powerful and innately trigger certain responses, however unless economies works with nature, as we now know, we will fall far short of the actions needed. We need to grapple with whether all development is good development and if some development is exempted from common sense rules what effect does that have on our goals to restore, protect, and enhance our tree canopy?

We recognize, like many civilizations before us could not, that our area is rich in more ways than one. The question remains if whether our big brains and our collective will to survive is up to the task of using reason, cooperation, and problem solving, to stop the tragic destruction of our County’s important forests and woodlands.

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, Forests, Land UseTags , , , , , , ,

Napa County wineries, environmentalists clash over proposed land-use rules

KPIX

A land-use fight is brewing in Napa County pitting environmental activists on one side and winery owners on the other.

The county is considering new environmental rules that opponents say could make some properties impossible to build on. If approved, they would apply to every property of an acre or more in unincorporated parts of Napa County.

Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting was packed with people concerned about the proposed county ordinance to increase protection of trees and watershed throughout the county. Climate protection activists say it’s needed because winemakers are now expanding up into the hills and removing native trees to do it.

“The valley floor is largely planted out,” said Jim Wilson, a member of an activist group called Napa Climate Now. “A lot of times, a forest is on the land that they want to develop and removing that forest is just a matter of getting down to business.”

The ordinance would ban private property development on any land with a slope of more than 30 degrees. It would also prohibit development within 35 to 65 feet of creeks and require keeping 70 percent of trees on a parcel. If property owners do remove trees, they would have to set aside three times the area of those trees’ canopy as undeveloped, open space.

Read more at https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2019/02/21/napa-county-wineries-environmentalists-proposed-land-use-rules/

Posted on Categories Forests, Land Use, Local OrganizationsTags , ,

Judge: PG&E put profits over wildfire safety

A U.S. judge berated Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. on Wednesday, accusing the nation’s largest utility of enriching shareholders instead of clearing trees that can fall on its power lines and start fires and making “excuses” to avoid turning off electricity when fire risk is high.

Judge William Alsup in San Francisco did not immediately order PG&E to take any of the dramatic measures he has proposed to try to stop more wildfires.

But he warned that he was not ruling out at least some new requirements on the company if it did not come up with a plan to “solve” the problem of catastrophic wildfires in California.

“To my mind, there’s a very clear-cut pattern here: that PG&E is starting these fires,” Alsup said. “What do we do? Does the judge just turn a blind eye and say, ‘PG&E continue your business as usual. Kill more people by starting more fires.'”

Alsup is overseeing a criminal conviction against PG&E on pipeline safety charges stemming from a 2010 gas line explosion in the San Francisco Bay Area that killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

He proposed earlier this month as part of PG&E’s probation that it remove or trim all trees that could fall onto its power lines in high-wind conditions and shut off power when fire is a risk regardless of the inconvenience to customers or loss of profit.

Posted on Categories Local OrganizationsTags ,

PG&E cutting trees near power lines in high fire-risk areas

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PG&E is trimming and removing trees near a high-voltage transmission line along River Road west of Highway 101, an area the utility says has been plagued by outages because of falling trees.

The work, conducted by a PG&E contractor, will cover a 40-foot swath — 20 feet to each side of a 60,000-volt transmission line that runs along the road from PG&E’s Fulton substation to Forestville, said Deanna Contreras, a spokeswoman for the utility.

It comes as the utility, which serves 5.4 million electric customers from Bakersfield to Eureka, is engaged in an accelerated and expanded campaign to clear trees and brush away from overhead power lines.

Standards adopted by the state Public Utilities Commission in the wake of last year’s wildfires require power companies to maintain a minimum 4-foot vegetation clearance around their lines year-round in extreme fire-threat areas, said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman.

These areas, officially designated as Tier 3, cover a broad zone largely in the Mayacamas Mountains from Cloverdale to Sonoma, including the Mark West Creek area, Sugarloaf Ridge and Trione-Annadel state parks, as well as the west county wooded areas stretching nearly to the coast.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8866874-181/pge-cutting-trees-near-power

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , ,

PG&E trims or removes 30,000 fire-damaged trees in Northern and Central California

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has trimmed or cut down more than 30,000 damaged trees in 13 Northern and Central California counties, nearly completing a post-fire campaign to remove scorched trees that posed a threat to the utility’s power lines.
The effort is 99 percent complete in Sonoma and Napa counties, where contract tree-cutting crews dealt with about 10,500 and 13,400 trees, respectively, said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman.
The only work remaining in Sonoma County, where the October wildfires covered 137 square miles, is related to trees near temporary overhead power lines being erected in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park and Hidden Valley neighborhoods, she said.
In Mendocino County, about 4,400 trees were trimmed or felled, with about 130 in Lake County.
Overall, the work is about 96 percent complete, Contreras said, but affected landowners may still ask PG&E to cut down and remove burned wood from their property at no cost.
Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/local/7909403-181/pge-trims-or-removes-30000

Posted on Categories ForestsTags , ,

PG&E aims to remove 25,000 fire-damaged trees near power lines across service region

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PG&E aims to cut down up to 25,000 fire-damaged trees in an urgent effort to protect power lines in 13 counties across Northern and Central California, including Sonoma, where last month’s wildfires scorched 137 square miles.
Residents in fire areas may have noticed bright green spray-painted marks at the base of trunks on trees near power lines. They were left by PG&E arborists and foresters who are assessing the trees’ post-fire condition, company representatives said.
Trees marked P1 are deemed dead or dying and designated for immediate removal to prevent damage to power lines, while those marked P2 have secondary priority.
Trees with an FP 1 or 2 mark will be trimmed.
The work is already underway by contract tree-cutting crews along roads and across private property and should be completed by the end of the year, said Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokeswoman.
The utility, which serves about 16 million people from Eureka to Bakersfield, has been faulted in multiple lawsuits alleging poorly maintained power lines were responsible for the series of fires that started Oct. 8. The cause of those fires remains under investigation by the state.
Read more at: PG&E aims to remove 25,000 fire-damaged trees near power lines across service region

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

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

Posted on Categories Forests, Land Use, WaterTags , , Leave a comment on Environmental damage from pot-growing near Cazadero

Environmental damage from pot-growing near Cazadero

Paul Payne, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Two Sonoma County men are accused of causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in environmental damage when they cleared about a half-acre of Boy Scout land in Cazadero to grow marijuana.
Nicholas Henderson, 30, and John Henry, 31, are charged with felony cultivation, possession for sale of marijuana and malicious mischief in connection with the garden, discovered in August at the 350-acre Camp Royaneh.

Deputies acting on a tip from neighbors found more than 100 trees sawed off chest-high with logs stacked between the stumps to create a terrace effect. Pot plants growing in burlap bags were irrigated by pipes leading from a neighboring house that also fed a large plastic storage tank.

A consultant estimated the cost to clean up the property and prevent erosion into nearby Austin Creek would be more than $280,000.

“They took a whole hillside and clear-cut the trees,” said Jason Lewis, a prosecution witness for the San Francisco Bay Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America.

Lewis said the plants went undiscovered because they were in a remote section of the 90-year-old camp. Each summer, the camp hosts about 1,500 children, he said.

Read more at: Men accused of secretly growing pot at Boy | The Press Democrat

Posted on Categories Agriculture/Food System, Land UseTags , , , , , Leave a comment on Hobbs vineyard conversion headed to court

Hobbs vineyard conversion headed to court

David Abbott, SONOMA WEST TIMES
Paul Hobbs is making news in the West County again, as, on the heels of a $100,000 settlement with Sonoma County over questionable vineyard conversion practices, a lawsuit filed against the winemaker and the county by a group of parents in the Twin Hills Union School District will head to court.
A hearing will take place on March 2 at 9 a.m. in department 17 at 3035 Cleveland Ave., Santa Rosa.
The lawsuit, filed in December 2013 by the Watertrough Children’s Alliance, alleges that the county failed in its oversight duties by issuing a permit for the transformation of a 48-acre apple orchard into 39 acres of grape vines.
“This is a major project and it should have a CEQA review. It’s a huge manipulation of the environment. Why shouldn’t it require CEQA?” WCA attorney Paul Carroll said. “It’s been applied to much smaller projects. Thirty-eight acres is a huge project right next to a school. Hobbs shouldn’t get a free ride.”
But the ride has not been exactly free for the internationally known vintner who has had his share of run-ins with regulatory agencies over several West County vineyard conversion projects.
On Feb. 2, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s office announced a $100,000 settlement with Hobbs over a civil environmental complaint filed on May 28, 2014, focused on conversion projects that took place from 2011 to 2013.
Read more via Hobbs conversion headed to court – Sonoma West Times and News: News.