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Local environmental certification program wins award from governor

An environmental certification program that began with a Santa Rosa ecologist and grape growers in the Russian River watershed has been recognized by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Fish Friendly Farming, a certification program for agricultural properties, won a 2011 Governor's Environmental and Economic Leadership Award. The program helps farmers alter their practices to restore habitat for endangered coho salmon and steelhead trout in Northern California rivers. Participants work with experts to create a farm conservation plan that addresses such issues as soil and water conservation, sediment reduction and chemical use.

"It's a pretty robust certification program," said Laurel Marcus, executive director of the California Land Stewardship Institute, which runs the program. "But we have a lot of people that really like it, because it's a great feeling of accomplishment when they finish it."

About 300 wineries and vineyards are certified through the program, with 33 located in Sonoma County and 20 in Mendocino County. Wineries in Napa, Solano and El Dorado County also participate.

"Our vintners and growers in Sonoma County are committed to sustainable farming and stewardship, and participate in several voluntary programs, including Fish Friendly Farming," said Honore Comfort, executive director of Sonoma County Vintners. "It is gratifying to see recognition of our commitment to sustainability through recognition of this program."

To become certified, three agencies must sign off: the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the County Agricultural Commissioner.

The program does not current set standards for frost protection practices, the process of spraying vines to lock in a stable temperature when the weather dips below freezing in the spring. But it may develop standards because a number of growers and wineries have asked, Marcus said.

"This program is an excellent example of a voluntary program for growers to improve fish habitat and sustainability, which is a principle broadly embraced by the grower and winery community in Sonoma County," said Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission.


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