This last week Davis Estates began clearing 10 acres of Douglas fir and ponderosa pine forest on Howell Mountain in order to plant 13.6-acres of vineyard on a parcel immediately adjacent to Wild Lakes Land Trust.

The logging trucks, earthmovers, sprayers, and workers will all be driving through a narrow, low water crossing. The project is within the watershed of Bell Canyon Reservoir, already a troubled reservoir and a major water source for the City of St. Helena, which declared a state of water emergency last month.

The project was approved by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, which oversees commercial timber harvests and by Napa County Planning Commission. The Center for Biological Diversity challenged the decision by the Department of Forestry in Napa County Superior Court but lost.

What a tragedy. “Have the gods gone crazy?” The Napa County land use designation AWOS (Agriculture Watershed and Open Space), is failing us. Functionally, all land designated AWOS is simply in a holding pattern until a developer gets his vineyard plans approved.

What is the Answer?
We must bifurcate the AG from the WOS in the general plan. Deforestation for vineyard is not compatible with a functioning watershed. This antiquated land use designation in the County General Plan is bringing harm to the community of Angwin, and the cities of St. Helena and Napa by allowing continued vineyards development in our reservoirs’ watersheds.

At this time of a grape glut, no one in this county needs more wine grapes. They will be left hanging on the vine throughout the valley. Prices are falling, contracts broken. Precious resources wasted on them.

Napa County must change the policy so that our watersheds are protected. We must protect the drinking water for Angwin, St. Helena, and Napa, all of which begins here on Howell Mountain.

– Kellie Anderson