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February/March 2014

Artesa Forest

Court Rejects Artesa Environmental Impact Report

Late in 2013 everyone who loves our amazing coastal forests had good reason to join Redwood Chapter activists in rejoicing when Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Elliot Daum effectively rejected Artesa Winery’s plan to clearcut 154 acres of Gualala River watershed redwood forest in order to plant vineyards on the site. As related in previous editions of the Redwood Needles, the Chapter has contended that the permitting for this project has violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and in partnership with Friends of the Gualala River and Center for Biological Diversity we brought suit to overturn permitting based on faulty environmental review.

On December 6, 2013 the judge issued a ruling agreeing with our contention that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the “Fairfax” forest-to-vineyard conversion project fails to satisfy CEQA requirements, in part because it did not properly analyze alternatives less damaging to the environment, such as non-forested alternative sites. This judgment means that the project, funded by Spanish company Codorniu S.A., the owner of Napa Valley’s Artesa Winery, may not proceed unless the EIR, which was approved by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), can be revised to comply with state law.

“Clearcutting forests to plant vineyards is foolish and short-sighted,” said Justin Augustine, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Turning redwood stands into vineyards will increase greenhouse gas emissions and harm stream flows, water quality and habitat for wildlife, including endangered salmon and steelhead trout.”

We’re not done yet – an appeal is still possible, and as is true of all CEQA litigation this court decision doesn’t in itself permanently strike down the permit for the project. But it does make the regulatory path forward much more uncertain, slow and burdensome for the developer – so the Sierra Club, our partners, and all lovers of the forest have a genuine reason to celebrate.

As we move forward, there is still a lot of work to do. We have to continue our efforts to convince Artesa to find an environmentally suitable alternative location for their project, and to sell the current forested site to a conservation-oriented landowner.

To help persuade them to take an environmentally responsible course of action, we’re encouraging all members to add their name to an online petition being circulated by Friends of the Gualala. Visit the Redwood Chapter website, for a link to the petition.

Redwood Forest
Courtesy of National Park Service

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