–VICTORIA BRANDON, REDWOOD CHAPTER CHAIR
When eight years ago, as newly elected Lake Group Chair, I paid my first visit to the Redwood Chapter Executive Committee, much of the discussion 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.
The year 2013 began with the expectation that a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) would soon be released for comment, followed by a grueling series of hearings topped off by a contentious debate before the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors. Depending on the decision of the Board, the possibility of extended litigation also loomed before us.
Now I am thrilled to be able to announce that none of those events will take place. Late in February 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 have concluded a deal to purchase the property for $24.5 million, with the intention of using it for sustainable timber production with a focus on forest health and wildlife habitat restoration. Some form of public recreational access is also a possibility, as is the generation of income from the sale of carbon credits. When the purchase is finalized in May the threat of commercial vineyard development and rural estate subdivision will have been taken off the table—permanently!
In the words of former Sonoma County Supervisor and seasoned conservation advocate Bill Kortum, “What better news is there to dance to?”