Saddle up, suit up!
By Linda Hale, Valley of the Moon Alliance
Valley of the Moon Alliance (VOTMA)
There’s no disputing that progress has been good to all of us. But we have had to learn how to regulate some forms of consumption that proved harmful: the pure food and drug legislation at the turn of the century, railroad regulation when the robber barons ran amuck, and conservation measures to preserve open spaces and unique terrain come to mind. Some people, however, would still argue that, if left alone, the free market could regulate the use of resources and then things that consumers don’t need, use, or buy would not be produced. Sadly, this does not hold true for our natural resources, which are held in common and are often vulnerable to exploitation.
Our national parks in their early days are a good example. Despite the fact that Congress and President Abraham Lincoln put Yosemite under the protection of California during the Civil War, private commercial interests began to move in. Ranchers and sheepherders grazed their herds there. Hotels, railroads, and sawmills saw large potential profits in their futures. Advertising created billboards and posters to showcase the beautiful falls and magnificent vistas. Tour companies brought in the first cars and tourists. A dance hall and an ice extraction company set up shop near Mirror Lake on the Valley floor. There was no enforcement, despite certain posted restrictions – until people became concerned. The Federal government finally had to send in troops.
Despite U.S. troops saddling up to round up law breakers, there was still a guiding belief that park resources such as water and lumber could be “well-managed” to serve “the greatest good for the greatest number.” Although practical sounding, this ideology of Gifford Pinchot’s, the first Chief of the United States Forest Service in 1905, led to future clear cutting on thousands of acres in Oregon and Washington by the U. S. Forest Service which sold the lumber to private companies, and to the eventual damming of Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley to provide water to San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. Given the fact that Pinchot had pioneered the early forestry conservation methods and harvesting cycles, he was appalled when he saw the devastation.
So what does all this have to do with Sonoma Valley today? Two current issues come to mind: the assumptions that arise with the term “well-managed,” and the ongoing power of advertising. Local farmers and producers are selling more organic produce and products than ever before. Labeling helps us to identify what’s natural versus organic, for example, but not necessarily what is sustainable and what that label actually means. Sonoma County’s main crop is grapes, and the wine industry has recently published full page ads touting sustainability as their goal for 100 percent of the 58,280 acres planted in vines. They plan to label and market wines from Sonoma County as “Sustainable.” Local wineries have already hung out shingles saying that they are certified. According to a Jan. 21 Press Democrat article, “forty-eight percent of the County’s vineyards have already been certified as sustainable by a third-party auditor.” It was also reported that the Sonoma County Winegrowers trade group was recently awarded California’s “highest environmental honor for its work to make all of the county’s vineyards sustainable.”
But at the recent Sonoma County Permit Resource Management Department public workshop on the growth of wineries and winery-related events, folks asked for a definition of “sustainable.” Are we talking about water drawdown in our identified aquifers that already have issues, the use of pesticides and Roundup, and the cumulative impacts of large wineries and event centers? Are we talking about the health of the soil and protecting recharge areas? Or are we talking about labeling and marketing? The award to the Sonoma County Winegrowers trade group was actually made for using “sustainable business practices to save energy, reduce waste, or prevent pollution while helping the local economy,” according to the article.
It may be that the California EPA, the government agency that gave the award, might want to check their definition of “sustainable.” As we have seen in the past, government agencies need to be held accountable and it takes an aware and engaged public to protect the natural resources that we all share. Sustainable means that we need to seek a balance between growth and the depletion of these resources. We need to protect our watersheds and open space.
After John Muir’s death, other folks stepped up to continue to promote preservation, and to do that they asked Congress for federal management that would promote the protection of our National Parks and their natural resources for all people for all time. Millionaire industrialists and titans of industry as well as school children and newspapers were part of that campaign. It may have been a romantic ideal, but just remember: no one is mining the Grand Canyon today. “The best way to predict the future is to create it,” said Abraham Lincoln.
Even if you don’t ride a horse or wear a suit, join us to plan for our future. You can find us on the web at www.votma.org. Our next general meeting will be April 20 at the Kenwood Depot at 7 p.m.
The Valley of the Moon Alliance was formed to promote the preservation, protection and maintenance of the agricultural character, natural resources and rural beauty of Sonoma Valley. We are committed to providing a forum for research, information, education and recommendations on projects that affect the environmental qualities of the valley communities.
Visit our webite at votma.org.