Jeffrey W. Holtzman, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sonoma County General Plan’s promise of protection for the Atascadero Marsh is one step closer as county officials consider measures to help make the promise a reality. The challenge is whether we as a community have the foresight and political will to protect one of our most sensitive wetlands against the intense wave of vineyard and winery development while still maintaining a healthy and hearty wine industry.
Sonoma County has the capability to meet this challenge because there are tens of thousands of acres appropriate for growing grapes that are not in sensitive wetlands and we have a community commitment to an environmental ethos that values sustainability and sound planning.
The wetlands zone emanating along either bank of Atascadero Creek in the Sebastopol and Graton area is one of only a handful of freshwater marshes recognized in the general plan as important biotic zones. Wetlands are essential in order to manage floods, reduce pollution, recharge aquifers, and to provide a habitat for the flora and fauna that so enriches the lives of all Sonoma County residents and visitors.
Of particular significance is the prospect of restoring historical populations of endangered salmon and to encourage and nurture new nurseries in a habitat well suited for this purpose. Countless public and private organizations have spent millions of dollars and undertaken Herculean efforts to stave off the extinction of salmon in Sonoma County. Enacting the proposed changes to establish a Biotic Habitat zone in the Atascadero Marsh will support and strengthen community efforts to protect salmon rather than continuing to allow development that undermines these efforts.
The time to act is now, as a series of unfortunate, ill advised and sometimes illegal activities — driven primarily by intense pressure to develop the area into vineyards and wineries, have acted to degrade the Marsh. A permit granted here, an exemption granted there, and soon you have death by a thousand paper cuts unless action is taken.