Deforestation Storm in Napa County: Denied Appeal of Walt Ranch

Deforestation Storm in Napa County: Denied Appeal of Walt Ranch.

We are in a deforestation storm in Napa County, and it has only begun.

And yet, the sun rose at 7:15 this morning, the trees in the west glowing orange against the storm clouds moving in. It was one of those moments of grace when I am derailed — opened to the magnificent beauty of Presence. The valley oaks’ tall and gentle forms caught the rays. They still have their leaves, but the next storm may well finish them off. The grass’s golden green almost hurt my eyes.

And then sun slipped up under cloud cover. They say rain by 1 pm, and that it will last for several days, welcome rain we need.

This sunrise was a gift. I am aware of how easy it is to ignore golden light in the midst of the many storms we are facing, some, weather related, some, of human greed or passion. Yesterday we endured the storm at the Board of Supervisors when they denied the appeals of five appellant groups after two days of hearings and comment. Walt Ranch, a large, 2300 acre plot of land with 209 acres of vineyard and 316 acres of disturbed area, has been permitted. This involves 35 lots, all which can be developed as residences and wineries. The EIR (environmental impact report) was being questioned by very credible experts, whose arguments were dismissed. Walt Ranch is in one of the remaining biological “hotspots” of Napa County.

The fight may well not be over. Most of us know Nature needs an attorney. But sitting in the cold and drafty overflow room of the lobby to the County administration building, the sliding door to the outside sticking open as people came in and out to pay their property taxes, I felt sickened. Sound arguments by the appellants’ expert witnesses and attorneys were dismissed as each supervisor expressed opinions before their vote. In fact, the supervisor of my district, Diane Dillon, scorned commenters and appellants, characterizing comments made by opponents as “post-truth”… more based on emotion than on fact. She said that some people just don’t want more vineyards planted in Napa County. And she is correct, but for the wrong reasons.

Other supervisors’ comments were no less disappointing. Supervisor Luce made the confounding statement, “I’m very confident the environment will actually be in better shape after this project.” And while acknowledging that under regulatory standards, the project receives greenhouse gas credits for not cutting woodlands to offset the clear cutting of 14,000 mature trees, and wishing the Board would consider this further, Supervisor Wagenknecht still voted to deny the appeal. All agreed that Hall Brambletree, the applicant, followed the rules and should get the permit.

Whether Hall Brambletree followed the rules is not the issue. The issue is far more serious than vineyards and whether Hall’s get to expand their operations. Deforestation impacts climate change big time. Supervisors Dillon and Caldwell traveled to Porto Portugal to attend the Great Wine Capitals Conference this last month, but perhaps the money could have been better spent in attending a deforestation climate change educational conference. In 2014, the United Nations set a goal to stop deforestation by 2030.

“Forests are essential to our future. … Forests support up to 80% of terrestrial biodiversity and play a vital role in safeguarding the climate by naturally sequestering carbon. The conversion of forests for the production of commodities – such as soy, palm oil, beef and paper – accounts for roughly half of global deforestation,”

To this, in our county, we might add “the production of commodity of wine”.

So there is so much work to be done.

Still, this morning, the Spirit of our Earth visits in the beauty of the sunrise. I rest in that, recovering, before the next onslaught.