Similar movements are underway at the state and local levels to increase protections for oak woodlands by requiring removal plans and permits before axing the trees.
Assemblyman Kansen Chu, D-San Jose, has introduced Assembly Bill 2162, the Oak Woodlands Protection Act. It would have a local impact, given county officials have said that oak woodlands cover 32 percent of the county’s land.
“My read of it is it’s the state taking over the protection of oak woodlands,” county Supervisor Diane Dillon said at last week’s county Legislative Subcommittee meeting.
Meanwhile, local environmentalists are trying to qualify a watershed protection initiative for the November ballot that has similarities with the Chu bill.
“There are definite links between the two,” said Napa County resident Jim Wilson, who helped write the local initiative.
Wilson contacted the California Wildlife Foundation while working on the local initiative. The foundation, which includes the California Oaks project, worked with Chu on the proposed state legislation.
“They have been trying to find a sponsor for their statewide oak protection bill for a while now,” Wilson said.
The local initiative would affect people wanting to cut down oak woodlands on Napa County properties of 5 acres or larger with agricultural watershed zoning. It would require them in most cases to submit an oak woodland removal plan to the county director of Planning, Building and Environmental Services.
Permits would be required to remove any valley oak 5 inches or more in diameter or 10 or more oaks of any type 5 inches or more in diameter during a single year.
By comparison, the proposed state law also requires oak woodland removal plans to clear oaks from properties 5 acres or larger. The exception is for valley oaks, when the trigger is 1 acre. Removal plans would be submitted to the director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Permits would be needed for any valley oak 10 inches or more in diameter or 10 or more oaks of any species 10 inches or more in diameter.
Both the proposed state and local laws wouldn’t allow people to cut down more than 10 percent of the oak woodland canopy.
The state proposal would prohibit removing oak woodlands within 50 feet of a stream, lake or reservoir. The local proposal would establish timber removal buffer zones of 125 feet, 100 feet and 35 feet, depending on the type of stream.
The state proposal says violators would pay a fine of not more than $25,000, with half the money going to the state and half to the county where the case is prosecuted. Money would be used for fish and wildlife purposes.
While the local proposal doesn’t list a dollar amount, Wilson said the violation classification would yield a fine a fraction of the proposed state fine.
Both proposals remain just that – proposals. Chu’s bill would have to pass the Legislature and be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown to become law. The local initiative would have to garner 3,900 signatures from local voters to qualify for the November ballot and then win a majority vote.
For Wilson, the local initiative is about protecting water quality and quantity and combating climate change. Wine industry officials have expressed concern that it would add more regulations to what they see as an already highly regulated process for establishing hillside vineyards.
Dillon and Supervisor Mark Luce sit on the county’s Legislative Subcommittee. They didn’t recommend that the county take a position on Assembly Bill 2162 yet.
“I think we need to gather information,” Luce said at the March 21 meeting.
Nor was it clear at the meeting what would happen if both proposals become law.
Go to www.legislature.ca.gov/port-bilinfo.html and search for Assembly Bill 2162 to read the proposed state Oak Woodlands Protection Act.