The Kenwood Press
: 04/15/2017

Foxes in the hen house?

by Linda Hale

Four weeks ago I walked out my back door and found myself being filmed for Channel 4 News. It turned out that they were not interested in me at all, but they did want to know if critters were after my chickens. Quinton Martins, Ph.D., and his team from Audubon Canyon Ranch at the Bouverie Preserve had just tracked a big cat, as in mountain lion, to my back door. Following signals to the property next door they found that it had killed a big buck, hidden it, and moved out of range to return later. Luckily, being married to an ex-contractor, I have the Fort Knox of chicken coops and I reassured the rolling cameras that there were no big cats, bob cats, or foxes in my hen house.

However, that may not be the case in the rest of Sonoma County.

On Feb. 7, the Press Democrat announced that the Sonoma County Vintners trade group had just hired a former Sonoma County official as their compliance manager. Ben Neuman is the former Code Enforcement Supervisor for the Sonoma County Code Enforcement Division that was created in 1995. Most of us know that code enforcement is complaint driven in Sonoma County, so Neuman fielded complaints from neighbors about winery activities, road traffic, and unpermitted events at wineries until he retired in 2015.

As a liaison between the public and the industry, he will now support the industry’s Community Connection Initiative.

This was launched by the Sonoma County Vintners in 2016 to address growing and very public concerns over the wine industry’s expansion. According to the Press Democrat, it is “designed to increase communication with neighbors, develop best practices education for the community and provide solutions to challenges that the county’s success and growth have created.” They went on to state that his tasks will include helping Vintners members with “use-permit education and compliance matters.” This seems to be at counter purposes to the original intent of the industry’s initiative to provide solutions to more growth. Of particular concern are processing facilities like the one being built near Oakmont and a proposed 150,000-case facility on 8th Street East in Sonoma .

Sustainability labeling in Sonoma County will also be an issue that Neuman will have to address.

SIP or Sustainability in Practice certification looks at the “3 ‘P’s of Sustainability: People, Planet, Prosperity” to determine if wineries meet the industry standards for certification. Those standards include “competitive wages, medical insurance, and training for employees.” They regularly monitor soils, plants, and water used during production to prevent waste. They also state that they create “wildlife corridors to traditional watering holes and food, helping to maintain biodiversity. All of which means you can enjoy wine that has been grown for the greater good,” according to

All of the SIP wines I could research are from small wineries and cost upwards of $60 a bottle. Industry-wide, the problem is that instead of working to meet the organic regulations established by California state law, the Wine Institute created a “sustainable” certification entirely under its control. They also employ their own auditors who work in the industry. The list of auditors is four pages long. These folks are paid to certify “wines with character” that help protect the environment.

Bryan Avila of Winecraft, LTD in Napa states that, “In order to maintain a high level of character in our wines, our grapes need to be grown in a manner that respects the land, water, air and all the creatures that live there.”

Another auditor on the list is Jeremy Cook from San Luis Obispo whose experience/credentials are “Over 12 years of experience consulting in sustainable resource management, environmental compliance, strategic business planning and green marketing.”

Green marketing without true sustainability will bring up issues of biodiversity, loss of open space and water usage. San Luis Obispo is now dealing with the growth of the wine industry in Paso Robles and their shrinking water table.

We also need to be aware of something called “regulatory capture.”

Government can fail us when agencies set up by the government or industry look-alikes fail to regulate in the public interest. They fall victim to commercial or political concerns of special interest groups that dominate an industry and the very entity charged with regulation can be influenced by high-stakes interests when setting policy. This leads to a net loss to society as a whole since natural resources are “captured” for private gain. Growth continues without looking at consequences to land and water resources. Napa is currently in a prolonged court battle to stop the cutting of hundreds of native oaks on a hillside above a protected watershed for the expansion of a single winery.

We know that wildlife does not traverse narrow, people-centered corridors. The birds, bees, big cats, and deer prefer open space and natural habitat. Join your neighbors to address these issues and to protect resources that should be held in common for the public good.

The next public meeting of VOTMA is Wednesday, April 19, 7 p.m. at the Kenwood Depot. Please come.