Dozens of environmental activists adorned with branches and dressed like fluffy redwood trees demonstrated outside the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday to protest a proposal to convert nearly 1,800 acres of coastal forests to vineyards.
A man costumed as an eight-foot tall bottle of "Pinot Egrigio" labeled "Chainsaw Wine" wielded a fake chainsaw before the animated trees.
"It's a Sonoma County vintage," said Dave Jordan, volunteer with Friends of Gualala River, a group that carpooled down from Gualala to Santa Rosa to attend the meeting. "It's not against wine. It's not against vineyards. It's about cutting down redwood forests to plant grapes."
The group brought a petition they said had 90,000 signatures from people around the country who oppose Preservation Ranch, a project connected to the California Public Employees Retirement System. The petitioners gathered signatures online through the website Change.org.
"This is an issue that everyone responds to when they hear about it, and the petition touches on that," said Chris Poehlman, president of Friends of the Gualala River. "This project has broad negative appeal."
Included in the Preservation Ranch project is a plan to clear up to 1,769 acres of forest for wine grapes on nearly 20,000 acres in northwest Sonoma County. The project would set aside 15,000 acres for timber operations, dedicate 2,700 acres for private wildlife preserve, and donate 220 acres for public park expansion.
"It affects waterways, it affects wildlife preservation, and it would worsen greenhouse emissions, because trees absorb many of the greenhouse gases," said Anne Seeley, a Santa Rosa resident and member of the Sonoma County Water Coalition.
Last week, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors placed a four-month moratorium on new hillside and ridgetop vineyard projects requiring tree removal, a change that would apply to Preservation Ranch.
"As a project, it's the largest forest land conversion project in the history of California and it's going to be coming in front of you," Poehlman said to the Board during the public comments period of the meeting.
As Poehlman spoke, Jordan unfurled a giant scroll of 20,000 of the signatures to the Board of Supervisors during its meeting Tuesday afternoon.