By Chris Benz, Chair, Sierra Club Napa Group
Sierra Club has endorsed a ballot initiative to improve protections for Napa County’s watershed and oak woodlands. Voters will face the initiative in June, and, if passed, it will be a historic, precedent-setting measure that will set a limit on how many acres of oak woodlands can be permanently removed.
The Napa County Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative of 2018 focuses on land zoned for “Agriculture, Watershed, and Open Space,” which makes up the hillsides to the east and west as well as the southern Carneros region of Napa County. The eastern hillsides are a critical watershed area, where the county’s five domestic water reservoirs are located. The water flow from the hillsides is essential to feeding the streams and groundwater of the Napa Valley floor, supplying the needs of farms, residents and wildlife.
Napa residents and environmental groups have long been concerned about increasing development in the hillsides (primarily for vineyards) resulting in the loss of native oak woodlands—which provide vital eco-services such as carbon storage, native habitat, and soil stabilization—and the diversion of groundwater from rural residents and native habitat. This concern intensified with the County’s approval in December 2016 of the 209-acre Walt Ranch Vineyard Development, which will cut down 14,000 trees and sink new wells. (Sierra Club Napa Group is currently in litigation over the Walt Ranch Environmental Impact Report.)
In 2015, Napa residents led by Jim Wilson and Mike Hackett formed a committee to develop this initiative to protect the watersheds and woodlands. Though they collected enough signatures, an election code technicality kept it off the 2016 ballot. A partnership of leaders of the Napa Valley Vintners retooled the initiative for the 2018 ballot to include clearly defined protections and to align with the Napa County General Plan’s vineyard development allowances. These protections include increasing riparian buffer zones of native vegetation surrounding wetlands and streams in the watershed and requiring that three oak trees be replanted or preserved for every one removed. Napa Group Executive Committee members helped collect signatures for the initiative and will be active supporters during the campaign.
Sierra Club Napa Group salutes Jim Wilson and Mike Hackett (longtime members) and the leadership of the Napa Valley Vintners for building on Napa’s legacy of protecting rural lands that began 50 years ago with the creation of our Agricultural Preserve.
As global warming and its consequences wreak more havoc in our local environment, we recognize the critical need to keep our woodlands and watersheds healthy and fully functioning. The Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative of 2018 will help achieve that goal.