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Sonoma: growers vs greens

Sonoma growers are fighting a pitched battle with environmentalists trying to restrict their rights to plant alongside the Russian River.

Draft revisions to what is known as the county’s ‘general plan’ also include limits on grazing, fencing and construction within 100 feet of streams and 200 feet of the Russian River.

There would also be more general limits on clearing vegetation near streams – a practice which would limit flooding and save endangered habitats, according to environmentalists.

‘Segments of the wine industry have increasingly been targeting forestland in Western Sonoma County to convert the land to wine production,’ claims the website of the Sierra Club’s Sonoma Chapter, for example, which backs current reform efforts. ‘But it is not as though Sonoma County doesn’t already have a goodly number of vineyards, and plenty of other suitable, non-forested agricultural land available on which to develop more.’

But vintners and grape growers told decanter.com that the proposals go too far.

They risk ‘severely limiting agricultural activity in the county, and will have a direct negative impact on the economic viability of the county’s $8.1bn wine industry,’ said Honore Comfort, executive director of Sonoma County Vintners, which represents over 150 wineries.

‘The proposals risk making Sonoma County growers and vintners less competitive, and less efficient, in an increasingly competitive global wine marketplace,’ she said.

Furthermore, the ‘extremely vague’ nature of the new proposals – which would increase by 600% the amount of protected county acreage – might even create the opposite effect, with growers and farmers ignoring the rules because they would be too onerous, she added.

‘Growers and farmers are stewards of their land, and want more than anyone to preserve this land,’ Comfort said. ‘But the wording increases the risk that open space will not be protected, because of the resulting demands for mitigation and expensive assessments that will be prohibitive to most Sonoma County landowners.’

‘It’s the historic battle in this county between urbanites, agriculture and conservationists,’ Sonoma County Planning Commission Dick Fogg told the Press Democrat.

Written by Panos Kakaviatos

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