Our county needs to take a step back and refocus. We are in a climate emergency. Yet business as usual reigns. Walt Ranch is only one example. Last newsletter we published an editorial on Walt Ranch (Craig and Kathryn Hall) by Sue Wagner, a worried Circle Oaks resident and activist. This week we talked to Jim Wilson about the Walt Ranch proposal for the GHG mitigation revisions. Following is our discussion.

Eyes on Napa (EON): As a climate activist, would you please give us your impression of the Walt Ranch proposal before David Morrison? He has promised to decide on the Hall Brambletree proposed mitigation on the vineyard erosion plan on October 1, 2021. We have until then for public comment.

Jim Wilson (JW): Our county has yet to get serious about the climate crisis. Walt Ranch proposes the mitigation to place 124 acres of developable woodlands in a conservation easement as mitigation for cutting some 14,281 trees, mostly oaks. Mitigation Measure 6.1 had required 248 acres. Hall contends that their new tree planting proposal will make up the difference. Given the superfast clock, planting seedlings to offset mature tree removal emissions partially, and promising not to destroy more of your forest to do the rest, won’t cut it for the kids.

In Napa, everything is geared toward fostering more development and more people coming. If that means causing GHG emissions to increase, so be it. If it damages the climate, they’ll excuse it if they can profit from it. We need leadership from elected leaders, businesses, and the public everywhere, to set firm dates on stopping doing wrong and focus on stabilizing the climate in the near term.

We don’t have time for 16,790 little seedlings to grow enough to replace the 14,281 mature trees the Halls want to cut. Incredibly, they postulate their tree planting mitigation amounts to a 2,509 increase in tree climate services. Not if you’re serious about averting climate tipping points!

Napa County has already warmed a dangerous 1.3°C. At 1.5° globally, we have a good chance of losing control as nonlinear, self-sustaining heating gathers unstoppable momentum. Why are we waiting? The science supports immediate, emergency action with a goal of net-zero climate pollution by 2030.

So there’s no time to build capacity for carbon drawdown by planting these 16,790 seedlings. Even at an improbable 80% survival rate, it will take those little oaks decades before significant CO2 sequestration begins to offset emissions from cutting 14,281 mature trees. Napa County RCD’s Acorns to Oaks program, where school children planted 5,525 acorns over eight years, found that 936 seedlings survived. That’s 17%. Altogether, those seedlings sequestered less CO2 than one old oak. Keep planting. But our best hope is to preserve the ancient trees, as they are crucial to our near-term climate stabilization efforts.

EON: The United Nations (UN) International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) has characterized the United States as being reactionary versus proactive on climate issues, waiting to clean up the damage after it occurs, not taking steps to avoid the worst of the climate breakdown.

JW: Last month, the UN Secretary-General called the Sixth Assessment Report “Code Red for Humanity.” What do you think of that? We have to keep the temperature rise below 1.5°C if we respect the right of our children to inherit habitable earth. Bringing this back to Walt Ranch, one of the most biodiverse spots in California, means preserving our native vegetation, not stripping it from the hillsides. Our Board of Supervisors will have to commit to land use practices that restore the climate, not make it worse. The General Plan is ready to help, as Conservation Element 65 calls for preserving and enhancing Napa County’s plant life for their carbon sequestration. Why not do it?

EON: What steps would you recommend with Walt Ranch?
JM: Recognize the importance of the iconic old-growth oak woodlands. Yes, the ranch burned, some of it twice, but old oaks, mainly, are fire resilient. Don’t kill the survivors. Avoided conversion immediately results in avoided climate pollution by definition.

Finally, recognize the importance of our children. Who will bear the cost of deforestation? Not the Halls. In a recent high school project, local students asked, Are we losing faster than we are gaining? We know the answer. The kids are the ones who will have to pay down our climate debt. They know the cost of cutting down one old oak. People who are in a position to make changes will not face the consequences of their inaction.

That’s not fair.

Jim Wilson, a board member of Napa Vision 2050 and retired quality assurance manager with Anheuser-Busch Inc., is grandfather, climate advocate, and community organizer. He serves as a member of Napa Climate NOW!, a board member of Forests Forever and Growers and Vintners for Responsible Agriculture, and co-chairs the Sierra Club Northern California Forest Committee Oak Working Group. He was a driving force behind the Oak Woodlands Protection Initiative for the 2018 election cycle.