COUNTY'S VINEYARD VS. FOREST DEBATE ESCALATES: SUPERVISORS DECIDING
ON WHAT TYPES OF RESTRICTIONS NEEDED, IF ANY, FOR CONVERTING
TIMBERLANDS TO GRAPES
on August 21, 2005
By KERRY BENEFIELD
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
proposal to place greater restrictions on conversion of forests
to vineyards is being called the most-watched issue to come
before Sonoma County officials in almost a decade.
Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider seven options
-- ranging from no action to an outright ban -- on how to address
the practice of clear-cutting timberlands and planting grapevines.
Environmentalists contend the practice is becoming increasingly
common, but opponents of more government intervention say the
practice is limited and any action by the board would be unnecessary
The California Department of Forestry, the agency that oversees
forest conversion applications, is remaining neutral until the
county chooses its course.
Supervisor Mike Reilly, who in June successfully lobbied the
rest of the board to consider the proposal quickly, is backing
a plan that would ban conversions unless a public benefit can
be established. More people have called, written and e-mailed
him on this issue than any other in his nine years on the board,
But the county is mindful of not overreaching its authority
and interfering with state agencies, he said.
``Of course, turf is always a consideration,'' Reilly said.
``Our attorneys have been very careful to try to craft opinions
that are clearly within the county's authority.''
From 1989 to 2001, the California Department of Forestry approved
the conversion of 721 acres of timberland, less than 0.5 percent
of the county's commercial forests, which are largely concentrated
in the northwestern parts of the county.
But proponents of stricter regulations say the number of applications
is on the rise and the board must act to protect the county's
230,000 acres of commercial timberland.
``We feel there is plenty of ag land in the county for folks
who want to grow grapes. There is no real reason to convert
forest land,'' said Mike Sandler of Town Hall Coalition, a 2,000-member
environmental advocacy group based in Sebastopol.
``There is a lot of feeling among environmental groups that
the Department of Forestry is not properly regulating timber
conversion,'' he said.
Untrue, said Lex McCorvey, executive director of the 3,000-member
Sonoma County Farm Bureau. Although the bureau has no official
position on the timber conversion debate, McCorvey said the
state's review process is ``rigorous'' and there is concern
among landowners about the potential for over-regulation. ``We
don't need another layer of government to make things more complicated,''
Supervisor Paul Kelley, the lone dissenting vote in the board's
decision last June to move quickly on the proposal, said involving
the county would add ``another layer of bureaucracy.''
``All timber harvest plans go through an environmental process,
they are all regulated by the state Board of Forestry, so I
don't see a necessity for local regulation,'' he said. After
a series of hearings before packed houses, the Planning Commission
voted 3-2 in June to make no changes to local regulations.
The board is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
You can reach Staff Writer Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or email@example.com.
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