Dennis Bowker
Resource Conservationist, Napa County Resource Conservation District
Napa County, California

Dennis Bowker, an award winner in the Outstanding Wetlands Program Development category, is a Resource Conservationist with the Napa County Resource Conservation District. Over the last ten years, he has been involved in a variety of projects to help grape growers throughout Napa Valley improve their conservation practices. Throughout his work, Bowker has consistently fought the notion that business people and regulators must be at odds with one another. He has worked to educate private landowners and government agencies alike about the advantages of working cooperatively. Bowker’s approach has successfully changed land management practices throughout Napa County and significantly enhanced the wetlands of the northern San Francisco Bay. Specifically, Bowker has worked to write conservation regulations for Napa County that require review and approval of an erosion control plan for new development projects on slopes.

He was also the principal author and editor of the Hillside Vineyard Development Manual for the Napa County Resource Conservation District. In 1988, Bowker established a model program for resource management with the Huichica Creek Land Stewardship project, a watershed res toration effort in a small tributary of the Napa Marshes, a large wetland area in northern San Francisco Bay. The project p romoted voluntary efforts by growers to protect biodiversity, reduce nonpoint source runoff, and grow better grapes. The components of the plan included: demonstrations of alternative farming practices, an irrigation study, a plan for streambank stabilization and revegetation, and creation of an overall plan to enhance the health of the stream and the entire watershed. Bowker has also developed similar watershed enhancement plans for the Fagan Creek and Sheehy Creek watersheds. His message is that alternative agricultural practices can reduce erosion and improve both water quality and profitability.

One of his current projects is the Napa River Watershed Integrated Resource Management Plan. This plan seeks to increase biological diver sity, increase the long-term health of agricultural and open-space lands, enhance and protect fisheries, promote public education programs about urban stormwater pollution, and enhance wildlife habitat throughout the Napa River Watershed. Bowker is also currently providing leadership in an interagency effort, called the North Bay initiative, to develop a wetlands resource management plan for the lower portions of the Napa River,, Sonoma Creek, and Petaluma River watershed. This area, known as the San Pablo Bay, encompasses more than 50,000 acres of former baylands and marshes, most of which are now agricultural. Bowker has helped to insure that farmers and other landowners are incorporated fully into resource planning efforts by hosting a series of workshops with local government officials and the general public. This initiative has the potential to increase the overall wetlands resource base in California by more than 10 percent.

Bowker’s watershed projects have included such major wineries as the Robert Mondavi Winery, Buena Vista Vineyards, Comaine Chandon, and the Sterling Winery, as well as the Carñieros Quality Alliance. The No rth Bay Initiative includes formal participation by over ten federal, state, and local conservation agencies. Dennis Bowker has demonstrated that conservation and enhancement of fish and wildlife are not only compatible with agricultural practices, but that alternative agricultural practices can be more cost effective than conventional practices. Bowker has persevered and it has paid off handsomely. Bowker himself explained, “Ten years ago, growers thought I was a lunatic. Now I’m part of the mainstream.” That mainstream will be flowing faster and cleaner in the future thanks to the considerable efforts of Dennis Bowker.

--Amy Zimpfer, U.S. EPA Region 9