Everything you always wanted to know about “Preservation” Ranch and CalPERS but were afraid to ask
Deforestation is the second leading contributor to human-induced global climate change worldwide . It has been estimated that in California from 25,000 acres to as many as 60,000 acres of timberland are lost each year from conversion. Sonoma County had more timberland conversion applications in 2005 than in the previous 10 years combined.What is the “Preservation” Ranch project and what is its significance?
A public relations piece, “Preservation Ranch - Wise Plan for a Wounded Land”, was given out at a meeting between William Hill of PPV (Premier Pacific Vineyards) and environmental groups gathered in Santa Rosa approximately four years ago. During the interim, the scope and totals on acreage affected have risen and fallen, but the project encompasses some 19,000 acres of land. The project was named “Preservation Ranch” by its proponents to disguise its essential nature as a speculative for-profit venture which targets the steep, undeveloped redwood and oak woodlands of coastal Sonoma county. Presently the information we have is that the project has changed from focusing upon vineyards into a project which also incorporates many units of residential development in addition to the vineyards proposed initially. We understand that the development now includes:
Because of its size and environmental impacts, “Preservation” Ranch is going to set a precedent for how all of our badly overlogged forests are managed in the future.What are the objections of the Redwood Chapter to the project?
Conversion of forests, woodlands and other natural wildlife communities to vineyards poses a serious ecological threat within the Sierra Club Redwood Chapter geographical area. . Sierra Club supports preservation of forest and natural ecosystems and opposes their fragmentation. We support the conservation of existing low-intensity-use agricultural lands such as rangelands, as these are more compatible with wildlife, and soil and water conservation values, than is high intensity vineyard use. Sierra Club opposes the water diversions and impoundments associated with vineyard conversions. The "Preservation Ranch" project will jeopardize the water table. Because all North Coast rivers and many streams including the Gualala River are on the EPA's 303(d) list of impaired waterbodies, current (or even higher flows) should be maintained to sustain viable and healthy fish habitats
For more information:
Online maps and images: both Google Earth and Microsoft Live have good aerials of the "Preservation" Ranch area. Below are links to the Evans Ridge installation, recently completed, which involved the conversion to a vineyard of existing orchard land (not forested). In these views one can zoom in and out to see the whole "Preservation" Ranch area:
The project was initially submitted by Premier Pacific Vineyards (PPV) to the Sonoma County Permits and Resource Management Department (PRMD) in November, 2006. PRMD will be the lead agency overseeing the project, under the new Sonoma County Timberland Ordinance. PRMD rejected the initial submission as being incomplete, with a 9-page letter. The proponents are working now to resubmit the project, which could happen at any time. When and if a submission is accepted for review, it will undergo full CEQA EIR review, with scoping sessions, etc. The California Department of Forestry will be reviewing the conversion permits needed for the project. The project is calling for 1665 acres of permanent deforestation (conversion to vineyards), and the development of some 90 "vineyard estates". Much of the project's land will requiring rezoning out of Timber Production Zone, under the new County Ordinance. This will require a 4/5 vote of the Board of Supervisors.What is the project's history?
For the history and condition of Premier Pacific's land (what happened to the property on CDF's watch? It was overlogged.) see the Press coverage, 2001-2007. (10,000 words, 17 pages, Press Democrat and Associated Press)
What is CalPERS' role? CalPERS is funding the project. The Redwood Chapter had conducted an ongoing dialogue with both Premier Pacific Vineyards and with CalPERs, including:
See the Redwood Chapter's questions of CalPERS. The Redwood Chapter does not support the use of the retirement funds of public employees for projects that convert forests to intensive agricultural use.
The Preservation Ranch project, funded by CalPERS, will permanently destroy close to 2000 acres of Sonoma County forests. Forest conversions strip not just the timber above the ground, but the capacity for the forest to ever recover. The results of forest conversion are truly
The Sonoma County Timberland Ordinance. In 2002, Sonoma County began the process of adopting a County Timberland Ordinance, as a response to the increasing pressures for forestland conversion. The final result was the adoption of an Ordinance in February, 2006. This ordinance was subsequently amended in December, 2006, following a suggestion of Supervisor Reilly and the Sierra Club. For details, see http://www.sonoma-county.org/prmd/timber/reports.htm and also http://www.redwood.sierraclub.org/sonoma/Forest.html
Forest Conversion Resolution. After having been previously adopted by the Redwood Chapter, the following version of the Chapter's Forest Conversion Resolution was approved by the Nevada/California Regional Conservation Committee on March 11, 2007.
Successful Redwood Chapter legal actions re forestland to vineyard conversions. In March, 2003, the Redwood Chapter adopted a policy of legally challenging the inadequate negative declarations which were habitually issued by the California Department of Forestry on forestland to vineyard conversions in Sonoma County. We did this in order to ensure the use of EIRs on projects clearly requiring them. Subsequently the courts have upheld our viewpoint:
The Chapter objects to the permanent loss of more than 1600 acres of forest to vineyards within "Preservation" Ranch, and to the development of its "vineyard estates". We do approve, however, of the project's goals of forest restoration and management for sustainable timber harvesting. We would like to see the vineyard and development aspects of the project dropped,while retaining the objectives of reforestation and sustainable timber management.
While Sonoma County's timberland ordinance requires that some of the "Preservation" Ranch lands be set aside in conservation easements, there are also prospects of other, better forms of public or non-profit acquisition. e.g., through the Conservation Fund, or Federal or state funds..
Other legislation which is being considered as a result of the threat of conversion projects like "Preservation" Ranch is Senate Bill 466, authored by Senator Steinberg ( D. - Sacramento) would direct the Board of Forestry to propose rules which "would authorize a longer-term, watershed-based timber harvesting plan that is designed to reduce the timber harvesting plan regulatory compliance costs of landowners and provide more comprehensive environmental information to regulatory agencies and the public." It would also authorize the California Department of Forestry to regulate the climate change effects of forest conversions (which destroy a land's ability to sequester carbon in forest) by requiring "full mitgation" through offsetting conservation easements or other mechanisms. However, this bill has presented diffculties in the language and has been suspended for the time being.
Active Groups. Environmental groups who have been actively interested in Premier Pacific Vineyard's “Preservation” Ranch project, besides the Redwood Chapter of the Sierra Club include: Coast Action Group, Friends of the Gualala River http://www.gualalariver.org , Sonoma County Conservation Action http://www.conservationaction.org, Community Clean Water Institute http://www.ccwi.org, Town Hall Coalition http://www.townhallcoalition.org. Also, members of the Retired Public Employees Ass'n (#32) have commented. See, for instance:ECOLOGICAL DISASTER
on October 29, 2005
The Redwood Chapter does not support the use of the retirement funds of public employees for projects that convert forests to intensive agricultural use. Please express your concern and write the CalPERS Board of Administration, vie the Sierra Club we will deliver your message. Address your message to:
CalPERS Board of Administration
See also: http://www.redwood.sierraclub.org/sonoma/Forest.html