NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

California Environment- alists Have Tricks To Thwart Vineyards

April 17, 2000

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution stipulates that "no person...shall be deprived of life, liberty or property...nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation." But so far that hasn't deterred California's powerful environmental lobby from trying to prevent vintners from developing wineries on their own lands.

  • The environmentalists have been successful in some areas in getting ordinances passed requiring landowners to get permits to cut down trees on their own properties.
  • They've been successful in enacting a "hillside vineyard" law to stop vintners from placing trellises on any hill with more than a 40-degree incline.
  • Rather than admire the attractive prospects of vineyards, the environmentalists are out to stigmatize the industry by fighting what they call "grapescape."
  • Now they are carrying on their vendetta, critics say, under the guise of protecting a critter called the California tiger salamander -- having enlisted the help of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which cooperated by giving it an emergency listing as an endangered species, meaning that anyone who "wounds, harms or harasses" it faces a $50,000 federal fine.

Environmental activists in other states are employing similar tactics. In a Florida case that the Supreme Court let stand this month, an owner was prohibited from building on his property because it might be home to the Lower Keyes marsh rabbit and the silver rice rat.

Then there's the Iowa Pleistocene snail, whose recovery plan suggests that affected landowners will have to abort all development until there's "a return to glacial conditions over the major part of the upper Midwest."

Critics point out that property owners whose land is put off limits to development stand little chance of receiving compensation for their losses. For the small property owner the hurdles are just too high -- given that he must go through battles at the local and state levels before he even gets to the federal level. Also, the Fish and Wildlife agency has a keen interest in avoiding any talk of compensation -- which might arouse taxpayers and Congress to question its decisions.

Source: Collin Levey, "The Salamander That Ate the Grapes," Wall Street Journal, April 17, 2000.


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