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I’m reading that developers who want to convert watershed forests into vineyards are claiming it is their property rights to do as they please with their land and they shouldn’t be prevented from deforesting the hills.

Property rights are not absolute and never have been. The principal constraint on what you can do is what harm that activity might visit upon your neighbors. If what you do on your land harms the value of others’ property or causes them harm, then you can’t do it. The logic and reason are simple to appreciate, and it protects us all.

You cannot take your rural property, pile wood on it, and create a bonfire in dry, windy weather. You’d be hauled off to jail if your neighbors didn’t get to you first. You don’t have a right to risk the safety of your neighbors, whether directly adjacent or miles downwind, by lighting a fire. Burns are regulated. You really cannot do whatever your please on your rural land.

When we clear-cut forests on watershed woodlands, we are directly harming the ability of the land to provide clean water. We are reducing the water resource of immediate neighbors who might be tapping into the same aquifer, and to cities and towns that use the runoff stored in reservoirs. Deforesting watershed woodlands does harm to neighbors just as clearly as lighting fires on windy days does. It’s less visible, but just as impactful.

I support the watershed and oak woodlands initiative; it protects the value and use of neighbors’ properties, and the water supply for the residents adjacent to the properties as well as towns and cities downstream.

Frank Hawkins