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The Napa County Oak Woodland Watershed Protection Initiative of 2018

The Napa County Oak Woodland Watershed Protection Initiative of 2018

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I am not a member of any local environmental organizations nor a grape grower, but I am a concerned resident of Napa County. I have lived in the county for 48 years, so I have had an opportunity to observe the many changes which have taken place during that period. Bit by bit, I have seen the vineyards, wineries and mansions creeping up the sides of the watersheds. This flagrant disregard for the protection of the watershed has to stop.

Some members of the wine community feel that maintaining the sustainability of our forests, watersheds, rivers and streams can be done voluntarily. This is a nice concept but unrealistic in the overall view.

What would Highway 29 be like if there were voluntary traffic regulations? A few of us have the common sense and self-discipline to voluntarily curb our natural impulses, but the majority of us would press the pedal more firmly verifying that old saying that speed kills. Hence the need for the boundaries set by the Napa County Oak Woodland Protection Initiative of 2018.

Other members of the wine community, as typified by the letters of Andy Beckstoffer and Patricia Damery, recognize the fragility of our natural resources and urge citizens to sign now and vote later for the Napa County Oak Woodland Protection Initiative of 2018.

It has been suggested by some members of the opposition that zoned for agriculture is and has been sufficient protection for our watersheds and forests. Consider the supervisor's approval of the Walt Ranch proposition with 17,000 trees to be felled for yet another vineyard and its accompanying maintenance roads. Consider the approval of the extensions to the Mountain Peak Winery on Soda Canyon Road. I think the wildfire has tragically proven the opposition correct on that one.

In the 1970s, an ordinance called the Riparian Watercourse Ordinance was passed by the board of supervisors, establishing setbacks on the Napa River of 50 feet, with setbacks of 25 feet on 20-plus tributaries. Existing vineyards and orchards could be maintained as usual.

But that was not enough to satisfy the opposition. The hum of the chainsaw could be heard on a daily basis. A large percentage of trees and understory along the Napa River and designated tributaries disappeared. Sections of the Napa River began to erode, resulting in siltation and eutrophication.

Many of the banks of the river and streams were completely denuded. No longer did wild roses bloom on the banks of some tributaries, no longer did turtles bask in the sun, and no longer did great blue herons flap off with a fish in the beak. The Napa River was designated by the state as an endangered river - unsuitable for steelhead migration and other problems.

Since then restorative efforts have been made but the river and streams still bear the scars of previous abuse. It is often difficult to restore what human activity has altered or destroyed, though the RCD and Rutherford Dust Group should be commended for their efforts.

Some concern has been expressed about the 795-acre limit in the new initiative. This limit is based upon the 2008 general plan forecast that between 2005 and 2030 there will be 10,000 acres of new vineyards developed. It is felt that 14 percent of the remaining vineyard development will require the removal of oak woodlands.

After the 795-acre threshold is reached, watershed vineyards would be allowed only with special permits.

Assuming sufficient signatures have been gathered and the initiative makes it to the June ballot, our watersheds and oak forests can begin the recovery process, so that they will function as nature intended - helping to keep our air clean and our water pure.

Vote yes for the Napa County Oak Woodlands Protection Initiative of 2018.

Nadean Bissiri


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