Environmental fight pits California redwoods vs. red wine

A little whine with dinner?

A coalition of environmental groups in California is fighting to stop a Spanish-owned winery from chopping down 154 acres of redwood trees and Douglas firs to make room for grapevines, NPR reports.

The fight, according to the report, is a global one, with a 2013 study finding climate change would profoundly impact ecosystems, with wine grape production being “a good test case for measuring indirect impacts mediated by changes in agriculture. . .”

In the California case, the groups, which filed suit in 2012, are charging that state officials violated California’s environmental protection laws when they approved the plan to clear the area, which is in the wine mecca of Sonoma County.

According to the NPR report, Artesa Vineyards and Winery, owned by the Spanish Codomiu Group, will spare two old-growth redwoods on the property. According to a company spokesman, most of the trees at the site are less than 100 feet tall. "There are no forests [on this site]," spokesman Sam Singer told the station.


Redwoods are among the biggest trees on Earth, and can stand more than 350 feet high. Some are more than 2,000 years old.

The redwoods at the center of the controversy are not the old-growth trees.

Still, thousands of trees slated for removal are between 50 and 80 feet high, according to Chris Poehlmann, president of a small organization called Friends of the Gualala River, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. He says the trees provide important habitat to local wildlife and guard the soil against erosion, which has been a significant challenge for streams in the area that once harbored salmon as well as steelhead trout.

Dennis Hall, a higher official with CalFire, says his department's approval of Artesa's project in 2012 came only after a lengthy review process found that it would not significantly damage the environment.

Still, Poehlmann feels CalFire has been too lenient on proposals by developers to level trees. "They are acting as if they are actually the 'department of deforestation,' " he told the station.

"But at least we'll have plenty of wine to drink," he quipped, "while we bemoan the fact that our forests are all used up."

Friends of the Gualala River and the Sierra Club's Redwood Chapter, another plaintiff in the current Artesa lawsuit, have tried several times over the past 10 years to successfully stop timberland conversion projects. Those projects, proposed by winery groups, also had been approved by the state. But from 1979 to 2006, 25 conversions of occurred in Sonoma County at an average rate of 21 acres per year, according to county officials, NPR reported.

Sara Cummings with the Sonoma Vintners, a wine industry trade group, tells the station that new vineyards are usually planted within what she calls the region's "agricultural footprint" — land that is already designated by county planners as "agricultural."

But critics of the proposed winemaking plan fear a future using land not previously farmed.

Click for the story from NPR.