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Climate change makes headlines daily, and everyone wants to know what they can do to effect positive change through their own lives. This readiness to personally reckon with global forces means reevaluating our individual actions, and also our actions as a society.

In Napa, policy about our forested hillsides is front and center in the local news. There seem to be plenty of opinions, but few facts about what proposed policies might bring. Dr. Amber Manfree has researched existing conditions and analyzed potential outcomes to clarify what these policies mean.

The following article is the first in a three-part column from the Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture (GVfRA), an environmental coalition dedicated to sustaining the agricultural and environmental integrity of Napa Valley.

Sustaining life and the connections we have with our natural environment must be our first priority. In addition to the intrinsic value of all living things, humans require functioning natural systems for support. We need clean water to drink and predictable weather to grow food. Natural disasters are expensive and dangerous. The good news is that addressing global climate change and biodiversity loss is something we can work on at home.

Napa Valley is a place without parallel. A flourishing premium wine industry adjoins scenic wild places filled with native plants and animals. This national treasure deserves to be stewarded with great care, and must be protected from forces that would push past its limits of sustainability.

Over the last several years, thousands of activists, most of whom go unrecognized, have taken up the environmental movement here in Napa Valley. A few recurring concerns include trends in hillside vineyard development, Upvalley event center wineries, and remote wineries. These issues are inextricably tied to social issues like traffic, income inequality, and cost of living, as well as environmental issues.

The goal of GVfRA is for Napa Valley agriculture to persist long into the future, which means it must strike a balance with natural systems. In order to deliver premium wine, we need to regularly recharge aquifers, avoid erosion of valuable topsoil, and prevent the conversion of agricultural land to urban uses. If we can find that sweet spot, we will also succeed in retaining the high quality of life that draws so many people here.

As members of the community, GVfRA endeavors to sustain the best aspects of Napa Valley with our ability to communicate, educate, and inspire others who live here. Durable social change results from connecting deeply with people and supplying credible information that can move conversations forward.

GVfRA has commissioned an in-depth, parcel-by-parcel analysis comparing existing conditions to possible changes from a variety of conservation proposals. The analysis was completed by Dr. Amber Manfree, a geographer specializing in Geographic Information Systems and landscape change. She has coauthored UC Press books on Suisun Marsh and Floodplain ecology, and was involved in the Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative Impact Analysis commissioned by the Napa Valley Vintners in 2017.

Her report provides perspective, as well as specifics. The big picture is that Napa County has more than 50,000 acres of productive agricultural land, mostly planted in premium wine grapes. The floor of the valley has been essentially built-out and social and economic pressures are driving conversion of hillside wildlands to vineyard. Thousands of acres of forested land still exist that could be converted to vineyards under existing rules.

When this process is all said and done, will new policy prevent all new vineyard development, as some feared? Will it save vast swaths of trees from being cut, locking up carbon to help combat global warming and preserving biodiversity, as others hoped?

Over the next several editions of this column, GVfRA will answer the questions above by providing an overview of Dr. Manfree’s analysis of proposed policies with commentary on global context, impacts to Napa residents, and the local environment.

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