Paso Robles winery criticized for deforestation - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

Paso Robles winery criticized for deforestation

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Farmers in Paso Robles are outraged after a local winery cut hundreds of oak trees to plant more vineyards.

The deforestation by Justin Vineyards is being done to make way for additional grape fields and an irrigation pond.

"It can only be described as a crime against nature," said Neil Heaton, a farmer in Paso Robles.

More than 100 concerned residents came out to discuss the situation in a meeting held Monday. Residents say they have been watching trucks full of logs leave the nearly 400-acre property off Willow Creek Road in Paso Robles throughout the month.

The project is temporarily halted for an investigation.

"We found them in violation of grading without a permit on slopes," said San Luis Obispo County Code Enforcement Officer R. Moore.

While removing oak trees isn't illegal within the county, approval is needed.

"We recognize the beauty and importance of our natural resources, and as part of this process, beginning this fall and throughout 2017, we will plant 5,000 oak trees across our properties," The Wonderful Company Associate Director for Corporate Communications Mark Carmel said in a statement on behalf of the winery. "As a leading employer in the area and major contributor to the local economy, JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery is proud of both its long-standing commitment to the Paso Robles community and responsible environmental stewardship."

Farmers below the land say too much damage has already been done, not only for the wildlife that once lived there, but for what a rainy season could bring.

"Looking at the hills, they are totally erased from any kind of vegetation that might keep erosion from occurring on those steep slopes," said Heaton.

Now the community is having talks of an ordinance to prevent future deforestation and mass water pumping in order to stop not only this project, but others like it.

"Nobody wants crazy restrictions on our properties, but if we don't do something about a situation like this, then nobody is going to have property worth protecting their rights for," said Mark Adams, a farmer in Paso Robles.

Similar ordinances have been defeated in the past. San Luis Obispo County supervisors say it will take a change of mindset from the agricultural community to agree on one.

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