Everything you always wanted to know about “Preservation” Ranch and CalPERS but were afraid to ask

CalPERS postcard front

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:

  • Parcels totaling some 1600 or so acres of vineyards.
  • Some number of consolidated parcels comprising about 17,000 acres in timber production
  • Some 90 or so parcels in residential development with a total acreage of perhaps 400 acres.

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:

Where is “Preservation” Ranch?

Preservation Ranch

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:

What is the current status of the "Preservation" Ranch project?

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:

  • Redwood Chapter, Sierra Club meeting with Rob Feckner, Chairman of CalPERS Board of Administration, April 29, 2005 at Fountain Grove in Santa Rosa
  • Redwood Chapter, Sierra Club meeting with CalPERS and PPV on June 1, 2005 at CalPERS Offices, Sacramento

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
“Worse than a Clearcut.”
CalPERS should not destroy 1665 acres of forest for vineyards;
CalPERS should not destroy grassland for vineyards; and
CalPERS should not subdivide forests for 90 “vineyard estates.”
CalPERS should withdraw its financial support from the environmentally destructive
Preservation Ranch project.

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.
 
     "With the passage of the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 in California, climate protection strategies will become increasingly important in California, including forest conservation. The Nevada/California Regional Conservation Committee strongly supports the adoption of State laws and local ordinances, General Plan amendments, and zoning ordinances that prevent environmentally detrimental conversion of forestland, encourage carbon sequestering, and protect the State's waters, according to the best scientific practices."

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:

  • In late 2003 the  Redwood Chapter joined the Friends of the Gualala River for a legal challenge, with attorney Paul Carroll, to the approval of the 105 acre Artesa Vineyard Negative Declaration by the California Department of Forestry (CDF).  Before the suit was filed, Artesa withdrew their application in January 2004 and said they would subsequently develop a full EIR and resubmit to CDF.  They have not done this as yet.

  • Friends of the Gualala River then joined the Sierra Club in November, 2004, for a suit to strike down the CDF’s approvals of the Hansen/Whistler, Roessler and Martin conversion projects totaling 53 acres adjacent to Little Creek. After lengthy negotiations,  the court issued a stipulated judgment in November, 2006, setting aside CDF's approval of the projects. The court ruled that before CDF can consider these projects, it must prepare an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) so that potential adverse impacts can be considered, as California law requires. (Attorney Paul Carroll)

  • In June 2005 the Redwood Chapter and  Friends of the Gualala filed suit against CDF challenging another conversion approval with a Negative Declaration for the Campbell property. The petition to strike the approvals was subsequently denied by the Superior court in Sonoma County. This decision  was appealed, and in March, 2007, the First Appellate District Court ruled that “ ...there is substantial evidence to support a fair argument that the [Campbell] timberland conversion project may have a significant effect on the environment, thus requiring the preparation of an EIR”.  Mark Wolfe served as our attorney for both the Superior and Appeals court actions.   
What is the project's future? What is the goal of the Redwood Chapter with regards to the project?

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..

  • Big River and Salmon Creek Forests, CA  http://conservationfund.org/west/california/big_river
    "Through a partnership between The Conservation Fund, the State of California’s Water Resources Control Board, Coastal Conservancy and Wildlife Conservation Board, and with support from ACE Group and Dallas-based Centex, approximately 16,000 acres of redwood and Douglas fir forests surrounding Big River and Salmon Creek were permanently protected from fragmentation, development and conversion to non-forest uses."
  • "$65 million financing for Mendocino forest" (S.F. Chronicle, June 14, 2007) The Redwood Forest Foundation, a Mendocino non-profit, received $65,000,000 in financing from the Bank of America to purchase 50,000 acres of forest, with the objective being to let the land rest from timber harvesting for a time, then to sustainably manage it thereafter ."
  • Senate Bill 701, authored by Senator Patricia Wiggins (D.- Santa Rosa) would reenable the California Forest Legacy Program, which permits California to use federal funds for forestland conservation, using conservation easements and other mechanisms. This bill is supported by the Dept. of Forestry and will probably pass.

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

Published on October 29, 2005

© 2005- The Press Democrat
BYLINE:    JOAN RINGLER, Retired Public Employee, Chapter 32, Santa Rosa PAGE: B4

COLUMN: LET THE PUBLIC SPEAK

EDITOR: The Oct. 17 article, ``Timberland conversion compromise in works,'' informs that Farm Bureau Executive Director Lex McCorvey says he will oppose the compromise instituting land-use permitting because ``the state has done a good job of regulating timberland conversions.'' But at the present time, there are timberland conversion applications pending in the county for more acres than have ever been converted in the last 10 years. The largest request is from a Napa businessman whose company, Premier Pacific Vineyards, wants to convert more than 1,900 acres of timberland into vineyards in northwest Sonoma County on the Gualala River. With so many acres of bare land in Sonoma County there is no reason to destroy the ecological balance of nature in taking these trees down. PPV applied to have the California Public Employees Retirement Program fund its vineyard project which it amazingly titled ``Preservation Ranch.'' Many local CalPERS retirees wrote to the president of the Board of Administration in Sacramento to protest the proposed funding of such an environmental disaster.

JOAN RINGLER
Retired Public Employees, Chapter 32, Santa Rosa,

What can our members do?

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
c/o Sierra Club, Redwood Chapter
P.O. Box 466
Santa Rosa, CA 95402

CalPERS postcard back

See also: http://www.redwood.sierraclub.org/sonoma/Forest.html
For further information, contact:

Jay Halcomb
Vice-Chair, Redwood Chapter, Sierra Club
Chair, Forest Protection Committee, Redwood Chapter, Sierra Club
halcomb@sonic.net
707-869-3302

Margaret Pennington
Chair, Redwood Chapter, Sierra Club
penningt@sonic.net
707-479-6682