The Exploitation of the Napa Fires Has Begun — Already

A lot has been learned in a short time since the massive fires hit wine country. We learned just how completely a community can pull together. We’ve learned how generous neighbors can be. But I have to say, there was one lesson that was unexpected: It’s never too soon to exploit a tragedy for your own agenda.

In a recent Napa Register article concerning a very controversial proposed “Oak Woodland Initiative”, one of the authors of the initiative thought it was a good idea to capitalize on the recent disaster to push an agenda:

“We see the watershed has taken a serious hit … why postpone it (signature gathering for the initiative)? We understand it is urgent to protect the trees we have remaining. We propose to help with the recovery of the health of the watershed”

Nope. Never too early to exploit a tragedy and human grief.

The backers of the initiative will try to tell us that their Initiative is meant to protect the environment. They shouldn’t be believed for a second. The initiative is their first step in a serious attempt to roll back the wine industry, roll back visitors to the valley and, in the end, destroy the jobs and the economy built around farming, winemaking and tasting rooms. But…Hey….The fire demands it!

It’s not enough that the authors of the Oak Woodlands Initiative are willing to hide their agenda. No. A small group of unhinged alarmists must now exploit death, destruction, and devastation in order to advance their radical, anti-farming, anti-wine agenda.

If their Oak Woodlands Initiative passes, there will be essentially no more new vineyards anywhere in the foothills surrounding Napa, nor in Carneros. Permits will be needed to remove any oak tree five inches in diameter. Why? Because, they claim, wineries and the visitors to the Valley that they attract are destroying the agricultural watershed. Hogwash.

The fact is, there are already such numerous laws and regulations in place that protect trees, streams, the watershed, hillsides and everything else that it often takes years to a decade to obtain approval to plant a vineyard in Napa County—a “right to farm” county.

The unhinged contingent will soon stand out in front of the grocery stores in Napa and claim there is “deforestation” happening. Yet anyone who drives up the Valley knows that isn’t true. They will claim that wineries and tourists cause all the traffic. But studies have shown that’s not true. They will tell shoppers that wineries are destroying the environment. Yet there isn’t an industry in California that operates in a more sustainable way. And of course, now it is clear they’ll tell those looking for some cheese and milk that the recent fires make their effort all the more necessary.

But here’s a fact that anyone can verify by, again, driving around Napa Valley and Carneros: Had the vineyards not been in place to work as firebreaks the inferno would have likely been far more devastating.

Anyone following the report and discussion of the Oak Woodlands Initiative prior to the Napa fires knew these kinds of erroneous claims were going to be made in support of an unneeded and poorly thought out initiative. But it was hard to predict that the exploitation of tragedy would happen so quickly.


It appears that a member of the unhinged found my email address and just had to write…anonymously:

SUBSCRIBE TO FERMENTATION over there on the right.

7 Responses

  1. Clark Smith - October 29, 2017

    Well said, Tom. Vineyards are firebreaks. They don’t burn, because they contain little fuel. If affected areas had had more vineyards and fewer unbroken, untended “natural” forests, containment would have ensued more quickly.

    • Tom Wark - October 30, 2017

      Thank you, Clark. It’s so true. Now, this is no reason to wipe the hills clean and put in vineyards obviously. But it certainly puts vineyards in a new light.

  2. Stuart Smith - October 30, 2017


    Great post, you’re spot on. Our recent fires provide proof, once again, that vineyards act as fire breaks and limit the intensity of the fires thus helping to save lives, property and the environment. Overgrown watersheds with enormous fuel loads will continue to be a fact of life here, so these devastating wildland fires will continue. Only mountain vineyards checkerboarding our watershed can economically mitigate these fires and help reduce the resulting soil erosion to the watershed.

    When will The Sierra Club and Vision 2050 recognize mountain vineyards as being beneficial to the long-term health of the watershed, the environment and the economy.

    Stu Smith

  3. Patricia Stefanowicz MW - October 30, 2017

    Quite right to try to hold the Oak Initiative crowd at bay. I’m all in favour of protecting the environment. But ‘Sustainable’ isn’t only about forests, grasslands and so forth; sustainability is all resources, people and well-being, and finance. Sustainability is about getting the balance correctly.

  4. Kathy Simpson - October 30, 2017

    I view the Woodland Oaks Initiative as something conceived by two people living on Howell Mountain for the purpose of halting development in their area. It (perhaps even unintentionally) has far-reaching effect on the remainder of the valley. They market the Initiative as based on the Napa County General Plan when it appears to alter it. How two people can use an Initiative process to modify the 30-year Plan, mandated by the people, surely should be questioned.

    Even in last year’s iteration of this Initiative, it was marketed as “don’t you want clean water?”. Erroneous claims, indeed. We already have some of the strictest regulations in place (supported by the people who have to follow them) to ensure the water supply is safe. It again leads me back to viewing this as an anti-development initiative and not about clean water or saving trees.

    • Tom Wark - October 30, 2017

      Kathy, yet after it receives enough signatures (because who doesn’t want clean water) it’s an initiative of the people. But of course, it’s not what it says it is and it’s going to take a lot of effort to explain that. Thanks for commenting!

  5. Bob Henry - October 31, 2017

    Purportedly, Winston Churchill said in reference to World War Two:

    “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

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