The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Tuesday to adopt new guidelines designed to protect local native oak trees by closely regulating their removal.
Board members certified the final Environmental Impact Report for the county’s Oak Tree Protection and Regeneration Program (OTPRP) Tuesday, five years after 800 oak trees were bulldozed in order to clear land for the Kendall-Jackson Winery in the Los Alamos Valley in northern Santa Barbara County.
Alex Tuttle, county planner and the OTPRP project manager, said although everything the winery did at the time was completely legal, the incident made the county realize that oak trees are a natural resource, and that county officials possessed no legal means by which to protect them.
“The oak trees have habitat value, aesthetics and maintain the rural character of the county,” Tuttle said. “The guidelines regulate large-scale removals of deciduous oak trees.”
Mark Chaconas, staff assistant for 3rd District Supervisor Gail Marshall – who voted in favor of the new tree removal guidelines – said public outcry stemming from the winery’s destruction of so many trees prompted the board of supervisors to address the declining number of native oaks countywide.
Although the new oak tree protection regulations are representative of the combined interest of farmers, developers and environmentalists, Chaconas said the new guidelines might not please everybody.
“Gail worked on an agreement to get both sides to sit and develop a collaborative solution for reasonable oak protection,” Chaconas said. “Farmers might say the rules are too stringent, while environmentalists say there are too many giveaways.”
Tuttle said one more hearing, scheduled for April 22, is needed before the OTPRP guidelines can be formally adopted. There will be a 30-day implementation period following formal adoption before the new rules apply.
The OTPRP guidelines have been in the works for about the past five years and have undergone various changes before reaching their current form, Tuttle said.
According to a Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Dept. staff report, the OTPRP will be adopted in the form of amendments to the county’s comprehensive plan and is designed “to balance agricultural expansion with oak tree protection.”
The OTPRP adheres to goals set forth by the board of supervisors that include maintaining a high quality of life for all residents and maintaining a community that is economically vital and sustainable.
Throughout California and Santa Barbara, the report states that oaks have been declining for the past 200 years as a result of spreading development and agriculture. County valley oaks alone have declined 80 percent in acreage from about 62,000 acres to less than 10,000 acres since the 18th century.
In 1998, after the board of supervisors requested the planning and development dept. look into a way to regulate oak tree removal, the county initiated a collaborative process that included over 400 grape growers, vintners, farmers, ranchers and scientists. The group met in 16 public meetings over 14 months to develop the framework for the current OTPRP regulations.