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

Measure C sparks debate over future of Napa County vineyards

Measure C sparks debate over future of Napa County vineyards

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

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Disputed Gualala logging plan earns second approval from state

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A controversial plan to log miles of Gualala River floodplain, including nearly century-old redwood trees just outside Gualala Point Regional Park, is back on track, setting the stage for a showdown in court or perhaps among the trees themselves.

Charll Stoneman, forest manager for Gualala Redwood Timber, which owns the land, said logging won’t begin until at least mid-May — after completion of final surveys required to ensure the absence of breeding Northern spotted owls, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

But Stoneman said he thinks the revised plan is “bulletproof,” given additions requested by Cal Fire, the state forestry agency, which eventually approved the document. If a judge intervenes, then “we wait for Cal Fire, and go on from there,” Stoneman said.

“Ultimately, the expectation is that, in time, we’ll harvest,” he said. “It’s just a matter of when.”

But opponents — after thwarting attempts to log the area once already by convincing a judge the timber harvest plan failed to analyze environmental impacts fully — sued Cal Fire again this month, just days after the agency renewed its approval.

There is quiet talk of civil disobedience to block operations in the 342-acre harvest area if a judge doesn’t stop it first. Critics already have staged monitors around the area at least twice since the plan was approved March 30 to listen for the sound of chainsaws that would signal logging had started.

“We were prepared to protest, if necessary,” said Charlie Ivor, president of Friends of the Gualala River, the chief plaintiff. “This is an egregiously organized timber harvest plan that is unprecedented, and it’s the community’s last chance to save these trees.”

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8205038-181/disputed-gualala-logging-plan-earns

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

Battle for Napa Valley’s future: Proposed curb on vineyards divides county

Esther Mobley, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

…the valley floor was planted to capacity long ago. The only land still available to plant is on the hillsides — essentially, in the agricultural watershed, the area that concerns Measure C.

Fifty years ago Monday, Napa County passed an ordinance that has defined the course of its history and, one could argue, determined the history of California wine.

The Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve, passed by the Board of Supervisors on April 9, 1968, resolved to protect the valley’s most precious resource: land.

Here, land holds an extraordinary potential for producing fine wine grapes, and Napa residents wanted to protect it from strip malls and subdivisions. Agriculture, which in Napa means viticulture, was declared the “highest and best use” of this unique, unmatched slice of earth.

Now, a half century later, Napa has arrived at another turning point, this time with a June ballot initiative that could alter the course of its history again.

Measure C, the Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative, on a mail-in ballot to be tallied June 5, seeks to curb further vineyard development to preserve the streams, oak trees and natural habitats on the Napa Valley hillsides. It’s a proposal that has bitterly divided the valley.

Its supporters, led by local environmentalists Mike Hackett and Jim Wilson, believe that after 50 years of unbridled success, the profit-hungry wine industry has brutally exploited the landscape. In the name of growing grapes, too many trees have been cut down, too much water contaminated. Measure C would mandate that vineyards have larger setbacks from streams and would set a hard limit on further deforestation.

Read more at https://www.sfchronicle.com/wine/article/The-battle-for-the-future-of-Napa-Valley-12816588.php?cmpid=gsa-sfgate-result

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Judge rules Napa County violated no California environmental laws in approving Walt Ranch

Kerana Todorov, WINEBUSINESS.COM

A judge has ruled Napa County violated no California environmental laws when it approved a hillside vineyard development east of Napa.

Environmentalist groups and a subdivision filed the lawsuits in January 2017, about a month after Napa County approved the development of 209 acres of vineyard on Walt Ranch. Craig and Kathryn Hall, owners of Hall Wines in St. Helena, have owned the 2,300-acre property for more than a decade.

The plaintiffs, who argued their case in separate lawsuits, included Living Rivers Council and the Center for Biological Diversity, two environmental groups, as well as Circle Oaks County Water District, a water district serving a subdivision adjacent to the Walt Ranch.

Napa County Superior Court Judge Thomas Warriner rejected the plaintiffs’ claims, including that the environmental impact report is deficient in analyzing and mitigating the impacts of the development on groundwater, endangered species protected under the Endangered Species Act or the effects or airborne drifts of pesticides.

Read more at https://www.winebusiness.com/news/?go=getArticle&dataid=196658

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Op-Ed: A stark reminder of the importance of controlled burning

Jim Doerksen,  THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

My wife and I live on a beautiful LandPaths property on St. Helena Road in northeast Sonoma County. For more than 50 years, we have managed the property for timber production of about 50 percent Douglas firs and 50 percent redwoods and includes many native heritage specimens of hardwood trees. We have managed this forest to be as fire resistant as possible by pruning lower branches, thinning the trees, and burning brush piles.

One very important issue that seems to have been overlooked is the part played by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. This is the agency that notifies the public when it is a “spare the air day.” The rules and regulations are daunting and virtually impossible to adhere to, especially in forest management.

This is an excerpt from an e-mail I sent to the air quality district in June 2016 in which we expressed our concern that air quality district standards were having an adverse effect on forestry cleanup “and will probably result in a mass uncontrollable fire” in Sonoma County.

“Not enough is being done about cleaning up all the brush and dying and fallen trees. To make matters worse, we have had a huge outbreak of bark beetle and sudden oak death. To add insult to injury, PG&E, in its great wisdom, has cut thousands of trees under the transmission lines and has left them to decay or burn.”

The analysis post-fire from CalFire agrees with our opinion as being correct. The fires have done a thorough job of cleaning up the forest floor, but frequent fires are necessary to prevent build-up of tree debris, weeds and brush.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/opinion/7972381-181/close-to-home-a-stark

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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

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Sudden oak death rampant in Sonoma County after two wet winters, raising longterm fire risks

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Rejuvenated by two straight wet winters, the insidious pathogen that has killed more than 3 million trees in Central and Northern California in the past two decades reached a record level of infection this year, including major gains in Sonoma County.

The spread of sudden oak death could further transform North Coast forests already ravaged by drought and altered by climate change, increasing their vulnerability to catastrophic fire.

The lethal pathogen is spread largely by wind-blown water droplets and resides in bay laurel trees without harm but can infect and ultimately kill four species of oaks, the fire-resistant native hardwoods that cover coastal ranges and inland valleys and hillsides. Their displacement, in favor of bay trees and conifers, could raise fire risks across the region.

“If you’ve had sudden oak death for 20 years, my guess is the forests will be worse off,” said Matteo Garbelotto, director of the forest pathology and mycology laboratory at UC Berkeley, which oversees the annual sudden oak death survey.

Results of the latest survey showed a 10-fold increase over 2015 — from 3.8 percent to 37 percent this year — in the sudden oak death infection rate in an area that includes Healdsburg, Santa Rosa, Sonoma and Petaluma. That level of infection, which stunned researchers, was matched or exceeded in only three other parts of the 17-county survey area.

The infection rate doubled north of Healdsburg and increased slightly less west of Highway 101, where the infection is already rampant in the hills west of Sebastopol.

Read more at: Sudden oak death rampant in Sonoma County after two wet winters, raising longterm fire risks

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Arborists: Charred trees may still regrow

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Danny and Sky Matula have tied bright green ribbons near the base of about 50 charred Douglas fir trees standing behind the ruins of their home in the rolling hills west of Kenwood.

“They’re just toast,” Sky Matula said, as light rain fell on the ashen remains of the home his father built on the wooded 10-acre parcel adjoining Trione-Annadel State Park.

The black, denuded firs — including two that stand about 150 feet tall — are almost certainly dead, and stand far too close for comfort to the once and future family home.

The green ribbons mark them for removal by one means or another.

But like countless other homeowners, the Matulas are stuck in an uncomfortable dilemma regarding the fate of fire-scarred trees, including stout oaks and tall, slender firs, that impart majesty to their property.

Like California’s iconic redwoods, oaks are cloaked in thick, protective bark that enables several of their species to survive all but the worst wildfires, experts say.

And as homeowners begin to plot their post-fire recovery, tree advocates are urging restraint in removing burned trees and shrubs in favor of waiting at least until spring to see if fresh green growth emerges from vegetation that has adapted to survive fire.

Read more at: Burned trees in North Coast fire areas pose dilemma for homeowners

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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

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How California’s most destructive wildfire spread, hour by hour 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

An analysis by The New York Times of satellite images, combined with on-the-ground surveys, provides a more complete picture of the origin, spread and devastation of the fire that killed at least 22 people in and around the city.

The Tubbs fire destroyed at least 5,200 homes and structures, shown on the map below, making it the most destructive wildfire in state history, as well as one of the deadliest. The Times analysis also shows how quickly the fire spread in the crucial initial hours.

Read more at: How California’s Most Destructive Wildfire Spread, Hour by Hour – The New York Times