Did St. Michael's Abbey Cut Down Historic Orchard on Holtz Ranch Without Permits? Yes and No

Categories: Environment

Sherry Meddick
Father on a tractor!
What's with priests in the canyon wanting to cut down trees and kill wildlife? Isn't that like, a part of God's natural kingdom, and stuff? According to activists in Silverado Canyon, The Norbertine Fathers of St. Michael's Abbey don't seem to think so.

Last month, St. Michael's chopped down a whole orchard of avocado, walnut, and various other fruits trees on Holtz Ranch--and critics say they did it without obtaining necessary permits from the county. But the truth, as Jeremiah said, is always more interesting.

The Abbey is currently in the process of establishing their new monastery on the property, off on Silverado Canyon Road. St. Michael's purchased the pristine, 124-acre property a couple of years ago, a transaction that stirred up much controversy in the local community. When the Abbey purchased the property they planned to make it into what Silverado resident Sherry Meddick calls "Vatican West," with a prep school, dorms, athletic field, and cemetery. Oddly enough, this all seems to go against the point of purchasing Holtz Ranch. The Abbey website states that the move will allow "the Fathers to conduct their mission at a more suitable rural and pastoral location." Lack of adequate funding eventually forced them to scale back their plan.

Yet on Presidents Weekend of this year, canyon residents noticed that the holy men were chopping the orchard down. "We have a perennial problem with this kind of stuff in the canyon," says Ray Chandos of the Rural Canyons Conversation Fund. "A hallmark is that they start on a weekend or holiday and wait until the county is closed."

When Chandos found out, he complained to Code Enforcement and received a call from Supervisor Todd Spitzer in return. "He called me back, after a while, and agreed that I was right about the orchard trees," he says. Spitzer told Chandos that The Abbey would now need a tree restoration plan to make up for the graded orchard.

It's not just about the vegetation though. No tree trimming or maintenance is supposed to go beyond March 15th of every year because of nesting season. But Meddick, an avid bird watcher, says that birds have begun nesting early this year to due our "winter" ending so soon. Cutting down trees at this time of year could be in violation of the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prohibits the destruction of trees that are inhabited by nesting birds.

Provided by Ray Chandos
A portion of the orchard after stumping

St. Michael's, however, told the Weekly that all is well. Even though Chandos says that community members have been keeping a watchful eye on permitting, Father Gregory Dick ensured us that code was followed--mostly. The Abbey said that they found no bird nests and were able to complete their grading before the March 15th deadline. And as far as stumping without a permit goes? Father Gregory says they're guilty of taking down only two trees that they shouldn't have.

"We intended to save at least 41 trees," Father Gregory explains, "When I was marking the trees for removal, I accidentally identified two walnut trees on the north side of the old orchard that we did not want to remove. They were taken down to the stump, so now there are 39 trees in that area. When I walked the site with the County, I recognized my oversight." Father Gregory also added that many of the trees in the orchard were "malnourished or diseased" and that the Abbey will plant many more new trees.

Canyon residents may overly scrutinize St. Michael's every move, but that doesn't make them pretentious nimbys. The only reason our canyon country still exists is because of these scrupulous folks. We'll just have to wait and see what the new Abbey actually becomes.

Email: lphastings@ocweekly.com.
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I agree with whateveryousay. They bought the land and should be allowed to do what they want with it. If all of you "Tree-Huggers" want to keep the land as it was you should level your houses, plant the trees back, and leave the canyons!


The litle picture is Father Gregory plowing down an historic orchard . The bigger picture is that the good Father is destroying a natural wildlife corridor  that leads into the Cleveland National Forest.  I live here and all residents get  patronizing mailers

from St. Micahels on how great this project will be.  If this is the start ...Father Gregory go to the confessionall you need some guidance!

whateveryousay topcommenter

Oh no! They cut down trees on their own property......


Trvr Brgr
Trvr Brgr

Pour some beer on the ground for the fallen produce.



It's not about that. It's about whether or not they followed the very conditions of approval which they agreed to abide by when receiving permission for their project.

They didn't.

And worse, they were specifically prohibited in brushing and grubbing prior to receiving a grading permit.  They still don't have a grading permit.

And all of this during nesting season. Some birds, including local year-around resident birds that build nests and/or cavity nesting birds, use those trees. Well useD those trees. 

If you don't care about wildlife, then you don't. But I do and I live here.

whateveryousay topcommenter

@canycany @whateveryousay  Sounds like they took down two trees by mistake.  If they finished the grading before March 15 as they said then what should be done? The canyon residents witnessed them cutting trees in February, which is clearly stated in the article.  Maybe they should plant a couple trees in good faith. All of this rage against the Abbey and all they did was take down two trees in error.  

If people wanted the land kept open they should have   purchased it themselves  An orchard is a tool of a farm, it is not historic.    

I lived in Portola there for 9 years.  We would here the cows from our home up there.  

NIMBYS tend to think that since they have their home there nobody else can.  

Next time you go and do something on your property (assuming you own it) go and ask everybody their permission, hold town hall meetings about it and then hopefully you'll realize how ludicrous that is. 

whateveryousay topcommenter

@canycany @whateveryousay  Measure M funds?  How in hell were you going to use tax dollars to purchase land that was not for road use?  

You clearly didn't have the funds to purchase the property when the owner wanted to sell it.  You were a day late and a tax-dollar short.

The County was out and walked the property with them and the article makes it pretty clear that only two trees were removed without a permit.  

So what should be done?  Should they be sent to prison?  

You all have this anger towards them when all they wanted to do was put up a school and cemetery.  

As far as permits go, I would love to see the County walk the homes out there and see who has permits for what.


@whateveryousay @canycany  

We were in the pipeline to purchase the property with Measure M funds LONG BEFORE St. Michae's bought the land.

AND, it isn't about the "two trees".  It's about them proceeding wtihout permits, as required under their conditions of approval for the project.

And you are wrong; there are classifications for historical orchards.

Perhaps you need to know a little more and assume a little less.

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