Marcus has over 20 years of watershed, river, and wetland restoration
experience, working extensively in the watersheds of northern
and central California to restore fish and riparian habitat and
repair erosion sites. Marcus is the author of the Fish-Friendly
Farming Program, which she directs in the watersheds of the Russian,
Gualala, Navarro, and Napa Rivers.
environmental and agricultural organizations, elected officials,
and members of regulatory agencies gathered at Clos du Bois Winery
(Geyserville, CA) in August 2003 to celebrate the first group of
farms certified under the Fish-Friendly Farming (FFF) Program. The
20 newly certified properties encompass 10,000 acres in Mendocino
and Sonoma counties, including vineyards.
Fish-Friendly Farming provides third-party certification that documents
environmentally friendly land practices. The program addresses a
number of issues that concern grapegrowers:
- How to interpret
and comply with the maze of state and federal environmental regulations,
including the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act;
- How to manage their
lands using sustainable and environmentally beneficial practices;
- How to distinguish
themselves to the consumer and community as environmental land
In Sonoma and Mendocino
counties, FFF addresses a number of sensitive environmental issues.
Among them are the need to improve water quality affected by non-point
sources such as agriculture, and the need to restore the once famous
salmon and steelhead fisheries in places such as the Russian and
the Navarro rivers.
Agriculture, along with many other land uses, contributes to these
environmental problems. However, unlike the permanent problems created
by urban sprawl or large reservoirs, farms can change practices,
restore creeks, and directly participate in improving rivers and
The Fish-Friendly Farming program was developed and is currently
directed by this writers private firm Laurel Marcus
and Associates Guerneville, CA of natural resource planners
and scientists. The program has served more than 70 property owners
and land managers with workshops since its inception in 1999. Feedback
from participants has indicated their appreciation of the programs
flexible approach, solid scientific basis, and the fact that it
was developed specifically for farmers. At the request of agricultural
and environmental groups, the FFF program began in Napa Valley in
sign up for a series of four two-hour workshops held in January
through March. They receive the FFF program documents, which include
a thick binder of Beneficial Management Practices (BMPs), which
serves as a reference manual, and a Farm Conservation Plan template,
which is filled in and eventually certified for the property.
Each farmer receives a topographic map, custom color aerial photograph,
and soil map for their site. The workshops review the BMPs, which
are organized into elements designing a new vineyard, managing
the existing vineyard and replants, road repair and management,
creek and river corridor restoration, and others. Each farm plan
is different because it addresses the particular features of the
property, and any needed changes.
The farm plan follows a simple three-phase methodology:
- Inventory the property
and its current management regime;
- Apply BMPs as needed;
- Formulate an implementation
farmer, assisted by the program, completes a detailed inventory
of the natural and human-made features of the site. These include
vineyard areas, past land uses, steep slopes, soil types and erosion
hazards, existing erosion sites, all year-round roads (including
those from previous ranching or timber harvest activities), vegetation
types, the entire stream network from headwater creeks and hillside
swales to the main creek or river, and water storage facilities.
Land management practices are also inventoried: including soil
conservation practices, such as winterization with cover crops
and use of erosion control measures next to waterways; vineyard
road winterization and management; chemical use; water sources
and conservation; vineyard drainage systems and their potential
for eroding hillside creeks or need for upgrades in sizing; all
year-round roads, including the condition and management of ditches,
culverts, creek crossings, bridges and fords; and creek corridor
management, including vegetation removal for Pierces disease.
The entire property is inventoried in the farm plan, not just
the vineyard, because regulations cover the overall property.
This extensive inventory is completed by program scientists through
a one-on-one consultation with the grower or owner. Road and creek
assessments are technical in nature and too great a burden for
the grower to accomplish without assistance. However, due to the
need for management in most road systems, the grower takes part
in the assessment and in determining the BMPs and repair strategies
to be applied.
For each element or section of the farm plan, the inventory and
one-on-one field visit identify where the grower is currently
implementing the program BMPs and where improvements are needed.
An assortment of improvements may be called for from increased
winterization and erosion control in the vineyard area, to major
repair of old roads, to revegetation and restoration of hillside
swales or creek corridors. For major projects, the program provides
design and funding assistance and allows up to 10 years for implementation.
Funding for the program, including the implementation of larger
projects such as road repair and creek restoration, comes from
various state and federal sources such as the State Coastal Conservancy,
State Water Resources Control Board, Environmental Protection
Agency, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A completed farm plan is a comprehensive document that addresses
the particular needs that a property has to comply with the federal
Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, California Fish and Game
Code, and local ordinances. For new vineyards, the plan revises
the site designs to avoid impacts and costly mitigation that might
otherwise be required under regulatory processes and the California
Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
In addition to regulatory compliance, the BMPs reflect management
measures that are sustainable and benefit the vineyard over the
long-term. For example, vineyard development is discouraged on
slopes in excess of 30%, on soils with a high erosion hazard or
unstable areas. Integrated pest management, often incorporating
cover crops and native plants, and decreased-to-no use of high
toxicity chemicals is encouraged.
Finally, the FFF program offers a third-party certification by
three regulatory agencies National Marine Fisheries Service,
California Department of Fish and Game, and the Regional Water
Quality Control Board who have agreed to work cooperatively
in reviewing each farm plan and judging it for completeness, accuracy,
and a commitment to implement needed BMPs and projects.
Third-party certification from well-known agencies lends great
credibility to the FFF program. Certified growers receive a letter
from each agency recognizing their farm plan and actions as leading
to compliance with regulations. Growers also gain access to the
FFF trademark and marketing materials to distinguish their property
for its environmental stewardship. The certification requires
effort and a commitment by growers, and is recognized by environmental
Friends of the River supports the FFF program because of
the large environmental benefits gained from cooperation with
farmers and landowners in restoration projects and the comprehensive
nature and sound scientific basis for the program, says
Betsy Reifsnider, executive director of the statewide river conservation
As the marketing phase of the FFF program grows, it is hoped consumers
will also participate in environmental improvements through their
recognition of the FFF program and selection of certified wines.
Such wines will be distinguished through a combination of advertising,
tasting room information, the FFF website, and other winery communication
materials. There will be no FFF information on bottle labels.
Diverse initial group
The first group of growers certified under the FFF program is
diverse. Small vineyards to very large ranches are included. Golden
Vineyards in Redwood Valley and the King Ranch near Ukiah have
large property holdings of 800 to 1,000 acres with vineyards of
less than 80 acres. Small vineyards of five to 40 acres were also
Wineries that have certified vineyards include: Simi Winery (Healdsburg),
Clos du Bois Winery (Geyserville), Navarro, Greenwood Ridge, and
Husch wineries in the Anderson Valley, and two Fetzer vineyards
in Mendocino County. More vineyards owned by Fetzer and Bonterra
are enrolled for the next certification round.
For Fetzer Vineyards, the FFF program added new elements to its
ongoing commitment to organic farming and sustainability, The
Fish-Friendly Farming program rounded out our operation by bringing
erosion control practices on roads and environmental enhancement
and restoration projects to our streams, states Tom Piper,
Fetzer vineyard manager. Weve learned to go beyond
accepting what we have to enhance it for fish and wildlife.
An example of Fetzers environmental improvements is the
installation of a basin to catch road runoff and reduce sediment
in waterways within a new vineyard development.
Clos du Bois has completed restoration of Lytton Creek on its
property near Geyserville by removing several rows of vineyard
and replanting native riparian species, such as spicebush, box
elder, big leaf maple, and oaks.
Clos du Bois is also involved in removing Arundo donax, or giant
reed, an invasive grass that grows to 30 feet tall and has no
value to fish and wildlife. The Arundo has spread to many locations
on the main channel of the Russian River and requires several
years of removal and re-treatment.
Vineyard manager Keith Horn explains, Clos du Bois is starting
a project with a local non-profit organization, Circuit Rider
Productions Inc., to clear, chop, and compost the cut Arundo,
to greatly reduce the cost of the project.
Simi Winery has seeded several cover crop mixes, including California
brome, meadow barley, molate fescue, Zorro fescue, and yarrow,
to prevent soil erosion, and created a 350-foot-wide wildlife
corridor along one-half mile of Maacama Creek in Alexander Valley.
This area has one of the largest and most ecologically diverse
wildlife habitats, says Alberto Zamora, Simi vineyard manager.
Simi planted native trees and shrubs to replace invasive non-native
blue periwinkle and to enhance the creek for steelhead trout and
the corridor for other wildlife. Mountain lions, deer, raccoons,
and many types of birds have been observed in the creek corridor,
For wineries in the Anderson Valley, the FFF program brings another
benefit. While vineyards comprise only 5% of the drainage basin
of the Navarro River, local environmentalists frequently name
them as the prime cause of problems. Third-party certification
helps to distinguish growers for their environmental stewardship
Navarro Winery has rehabilitated a former sheep ranch and planted
thousands of redwoods on previously logged lands. Historic erosion
sites have been repaired and old roads upgraded and repaired,
while vineyards have been planted on less than 10% of its overall
property. The vineyards are each separately fenced to allow wildlife
access and movement to the restored forest and grasslands.
Greenwood Ridge Winery also has rehabilitated and revegetated
a large, heavily logged-over, hilly property to protect fish and
wildlife areas, while only 2% of the property is in winegrape
The Fish-Friendly Farming program represents a future blueprint
for agriculture in a California dominated by environmental concerns.
As more grapegrowers volunteer for this certification program,
they demonstrate the value the wine industry places on a healthy
environment, and its commitment to sustainability for both farms
and endangered fish.
For more information, contact: Laurel
To sign up for the program, contact: Sotoyome Resource
Conservation District Mendocino
and Sonoma counties, 707/569-1448; or Napa
County Resource Conservation District, 707/252-4188.