CLOSE TO SETTING TIMBERLAND RULES: STRICTEST STANDARDS IN STATE
WOULD LIMIT CONVERSION TO VINEYARDS, ORCHARDS ON ABOUT 200,000
By BLEYS W. ROSE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Timberland conversion rules -- possibly the strictest in California
-- cleared a major hurdle Tuesday when Sonoma County supervisors
tentatively approved regulations that will limit development
of vineyards and orchards on about 200,000 woodland acres.
know this is not perfect for everybody, but these will, in fact,
be the most stringent regulations on timber conversion,'' said
Supervisor Mike Reilly, chief advocate for tough conversion
rules on the board.
chief opponent, Supervisor Paul Kelley, said he remains opposed,
but conceded, ``the fact that everybody is not happy with it''
indicates a compromise has been reached between environmentalists
and property owners.
After hearing 90 minutes of testimony from environmentalists,
property owners, forestry experts and developers, the five-member
board decided to solicit views from its planning commissioners
and then bring the rules back for a board vote Feb. 7. The supervisors'
decision settles a running dispute between environmentalists
alarmed at the pace of vineyard conversions in northern Sonoma
County and property owners who see better profits from wine
grapes than wood.
rules impose the county use permit process on landowners who
want to convert timberland into ``noncompatible'' uses such
as vineyards or orchards. And they set standards for mitigation,
setback areas and restoration payments that must be followed
when developers receive approval for agricultural uses on nontimberland
in timber production zones.
registered foresters told supervisors that the proposed rules
would present an economic drag on future projects. Conversions
are occurring on sloping land that is not suitable for timber
production but is economically attractive to landowners putting
in vineyards, one said.
is a bad solution to a nonexistent problem and it is already
overregulated by the state,'' said Philip Lowell, a forester
who has advised several conversions in Sonoma and Napa counties.
He said the proposed rules ``are duplicative, counterproductive
of the Sierra Club, the Community Clean Water Initiative and
the Town Hall Forum called for higher mitigation ratios, for
wider setbacks and more timberland acreage in protected zones.
For the most part, their proposals were rejected by the majority
you make it too easy, you may get something you may not be too
happy with,'' said Sierra Club official Keith Kaulum, who argued
that supervisors should broaden the classifications of timberland
in which conversions will be banned.
proposed rules were endorsed by Richard Wollack, chief executive
of Premier Pacific Vineyards. The company owns 20,000 timberland
acres in northwestern Sonoma County and is considering vineyard
development on a tenth of the property.
``We endorse this approach. This may be the most rigorous in
the state,'' Wollack said, adding that his company's Preservation
Ranch project will likely be proposed in the spring.
can reach Staff Writer Bleys W. Rose at 521-5431 or email@example.com.
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