Over the past ten years the Redwood Chapter has focused on a campaign to protect a vast acreage of coastal forest and rolling oak woodlands near Annapolis from a project ironically called “Preservation Ranch.” This development proposal, the largest forest-to-agriculture conversion in modern California history, would have resulted in nearly 2,000 acres of the 20,000 acre property being cleared for vineyards, augmented by scattered luxury housing. In an added irony, vineyard development on this massive scale was also predicted to have adverse effects on Sonoma County’s small family-owned winegrowers.
Genuine —not ironic—preservation of our forests, woodlands, and coastal rivers lies at the heart of the Chapter’s conservation mission, and both the scale of this project and the dismal precedents it would establish have made Preservation Ranch our number one priority throughout the intervening years. While readying ourselves to participate in the dialog surrounding its environmental review, we did all we could to raise public awareness of the issues involved (including the filming of a trenchant video under the direction of former Forestry Committee chair Jay Halcomb) and also tried to persuade its primary funder—CalPERS, California’s giant state workers pension fund—that its resources would be more responsibly invested elsewhere.
On May 31 these efforts came to fruition in a very positive way, with purchase of the property by a consortium of conservation buyers led by the Virginia-based Conservation Fund in partnership with the California Coastal Conservancy, Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, and Sonoma Land Trust. The $24.5 million deal will result in the use of the land for sustainable timber production with a focus on forest health and wildlife habitat restoration, possibly including some public recreational access and the generation of income from the sale of carbon credits. The threat of commercial vineyard development and rural estate subdivision has been taken off the table—permanently!
In the words of Redwood Chapter legal chair Keith Kaulum, “it is like having a huge weight lifted from our shoulders. I think that our persistence over the years, along with other groups, is the only reason that the developer of PR, continued to delay their final proposal to the county for years. They know we were waiting for them with legal and political guns at the ready.”