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Monday, March 30, 2009

Mountaintop Vineyards Proposed to Replace Forests on One of the Largest Properties in Sonoma County at the Ironically-named "Preservation Ranch"

This nearly 20,000 acre overcut forest in the Gualala River watershed west of Santa Rosa was until 2004 owned by Coastal Forestlands Ltd. They sold out for $28 million to Premiere Pacific Vineyards of Napa County. Premiere Pacific now proposes to gouge the mountaintops in this forest and create 90 "vineyard estates"on 1860 acres while promising to set aside a forest preservation easement on the rest of the land and donate 220 acres for a county park.

An EIR is in the works, and a public notice requesting comments on Pre-EIR issues came out in July of 2008.

county notice requesting “early consultation from interested parties”: project applicant is operating under 4 named companies: Buckeye Ranch LLC, Fuller Mountain LLC, Hoover Ridge LLC, Bear Flat LLC


see 2/14/2009 letter to CalPERS board:

Note that site is currently green forest lands--not a lot of barren land there...

FROM THE DEVELOPER'S WEBSITE: “Sustainable agriculture on 1860 acres will pay for restoration and protection efforts on over 17,000 acres”

Preservation Ranch is a diverse landscape of 19,652 acres, with steep forested hills, streams, grasslands and oak woodlands whose rugged beauty is marred by many environmental and land use problems. for map of lands to be reforested Revitalized and Protected Forest--Preparing to plant over 1 million trees...Preservation Ranch will revitalize and protect its forest by planting over 1 million trees and by creating a One Forest management plan and conservation easement covering all 14,868 forested acres. Preservation Ranch will donate at least 220 acres to the County of Sonoma to expand the Soda Springs Reserve, an adjacent Sonoma County Park and will create a 5 mile long loop trail. Through permanent conservation easements, Preservation Ranch will create the 2,600 acre Windy Gap Preserve, a wildlife and habitat preserve consisting of Oak woodlands, mixed conifer and oak forests and miles of riparian. This is in addition to 29 miles of added stream protections and 1,800 acres of protections for large trees. Preservation Ranch is a significant portion (10%) of the 300 square mile Gualala River watershed, located in the south-westerly portion of Mendocino and the northwesterly part of Sonoma County, California. The entire river basin is mountainous and rugged, through which the river and numerous tributaries flow in gorge-like valleys with narrow bottom lands. In the Gualala River drainage, there are 75 miles of salmon and 178 miles of steelhead habitat. The timber resource is depleted. Over the last 60 years, the Property was aggressively over-harvested by previous owners leaving the productivity of the forest resources reduced. project application documents—Pre-EIR



on mitigation of impacts from vineyards projects

"Preservation" Ranch -- We Propose a Better Plan. The ironically named "Preservation" Ranch project is the 20,000 acre vineyard conversion project near Annapolis, Sonoma County. Among other environmental impacts, roughly 1700 acres of forest will be permanently converted to vineyards. The project materials are still being submitted to Sonoma County Permits and Resource Management Department, after which the EIR phase will begin. The Redwood Chapter has been following the progress of this project for several years. This Premier Pacific Vineyards investment in deforestation, funded by CalPERS, is being made to support a non-essential agriculture, the production of luxury, high-end wines. Furthermore, the investment bodes to become an exemplar of how our overlogged forests are treated in the future; it is precedent-setting since it is the largest-scale attempted conversion of forest in No. California. In the present political and financial times, when the public and the world are learning the 'inconvenient truths' about global warming and at the same time the world is threatened with grave financial collapses, we do not think CalPERS should be financing such work. Here is our latest letter to the CalPERS Board, in which we suggest that, rather than deforestation, there are other options for managing and restoring over-logged timberlands, such as those employed by the Nature Conservancy for their Garcia River Forest Climate Action Project.

More about "Preservation" Ranch can be found here .

for video on Youtube titled “Worse than a clearcut”

project includes 90 “Vineyard estates”



for list of documents

from 4/30/2008 document

The integrated land use plan establishes the following: (1) 1,861 acres of sustainable vineyards; (2) 14,868 acres of Sustainable Timber Management Area; (3) 2,702 acres of core wildlife habitat called Windy Gap Preserve; (4) a 221-acre expansion of the Soda Springs Reserve; (5) a 5-mile public trail easement; and (6) extinguishment of 97 legal parcels via voluntary merger.

The previous owner, Coastal Forestlands, Ltd. (“CFL”), submitted applications for 178 certificates of compliance (COCs) to the County. In a letter dated July 13, 1995, the County concluded that out of the 178 COCs applied for that 14 would be denied, one had already been issued, and 163 would be issued upon CFL’s request. Of the 163 COCs the County determined could be issued, 158 would be unconditional administrative COCs and five would be conditional COCs. Based upon research of Preservation Ranch’s existing ownership and the Coastal Forestland applications submitted to the County, Preservation Ranch has determined that approximately 160 COC’s are within its existing ownership

The Project proposes to convert 1,671 acres of “timberland” 6 to vineyards plus an additional 190 acres classified as “non-timberland,” i.e. grassland, for a total of 1,861 acres of vineyard. Only a small portion of the overall Property is suitable for high quality vineyards due to soil, slope, and microclimates constraints. Conversion areas are located to avoid environmentally sensitive resources to the greatest extent practicable, and represent the minimum vineyard acreage that is required if the array of public benefits are to be funded….

Over time as new property owners purchase fee title to the individual parcels, they will do so with full knowledge that the area of their Property outside of the designated vineyard footprint is actively managed by the Forest Group. This group will hold the timber rights and manage the forest consistent with a conservation easement that ensures third party oversight of timber management practices to protect environmental resources. Benefits to the property owners include reduced fire risk, enhanced aesthetics and wildlife habitat, and reduced management costs….

The Project includes approximately 40 new 10- to 49-acre-foot water storage reservoirs on the Property. Figure 7 presents the proposed locations. All water for vineyard irrigation for this Project will be supplied by the reservoirs. The use of the reservoirs is intended to eliminate the need to use groundwater for vineyard irrigation. No groundwater or surface water from streams or rivers will be used to fill the reservoirs for irrigation. The vineyards will be irrigated by capturing a small percentage of the annual rainfall as it forms diffuse sheet flow on the vineyard footprint during large storm events (see below). The irrigation demand for the vineyards will be approximately 6 inches per acre per year. Sheet flow runoff from a portion of each vineyard site will be collected within the vineyard footprint in a drainage system that will flow by gravity and/or pumped to the reservoirs.

Timber Vs. Grapes-- Preservation Ranch project would include 1,800 acres of vineyards and promises to figure prominently in west Sonoma County supervisorial race

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT, Published: Saturday, August 23, 2008

For the past decade, environmentalists and property owners have looked at the forested hilltops of northwestern Sonoma County and considered from sharply differing viewpoints the land's transformation into terrain for premium wine grapes.

Now the wrangling has begun over upcoming environmental studies that could determine the fate of what would be the largest timberland conversion project in the county's history.

The proposed 19,650-acre Preservation Ranch project is backed by a noted Napa County vintner and a $200 million investment in his company by the state's public employee retirement system.

The proposal would include planting more than 1,800 acres of vineyards on hilltops scattered across 30 square miles outside Annapolis.

Already the project has consumed roughly $5 million for consultants' studies, even though the official environmental impact report has yet to get under way. That report is expected to cost an additional $1 million to $2 million and could take two years to complete...

"This is a good place to draw the line in the sand," said Jay Halcomb, chairman of the Sierra Club's Redwood Chapter...

The land in question was heavily logged in earlier decades, and project developers said the property has little timber value because it could be years before it could be harvested.

The recent history of plans for the vast expanse is noteworthy in part for the participation of former county officials.

In 1999, a former owner proposed planting up to 10,000 acres of grapes across an even greater swath of the area's timberland. A project consultant was former west county Supervisor Ernie Carpenter, now listed as a principal endorser of west county supervisorial candidate Rue Furch.

In 2004, Premier Pacific purchased the nearly 20,000 acres for $28.5 million. Among the consultants for Preservation Ranch is another former west county supervisor, Eric Koenigshofer, a leading supporter of west county supervisorial candidate Efren Carrillo.

Carrillo said the burden is on Premier Pacific to show a public benefit, and he won't make up his mind on Preservation Ranch before the environmental report is completed. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Carrillo won the election)...

Premier Pacific was created by longtime Napa vintner William Hill, who previously developed and sold William Hill Winery, and Bay Area real estate investment firm owner Richard Wollack.

Their company has focused on creating high-end vineyards, some 30 properties in three states. The company also has obtained the $200 million investment from CalPERS, the state workers' retirement system.

One of its projects is a 27-acre vineyard and reservoir within the Preservation Ranch boundaries. The pinot noir vineyard didn't require a similar county review, Adams said, because the land previously had been an orchard with old homesteads, not timberland.

For the past 18 months, Premier Pacific and the county have been making revisions and reviewing the development application. Last month, the county deemed the application complete and sent out notices to 20 state and federal agencies and three dozen community groups.

The groups have until Sept. 8 to provide initial input. After that, another round of discussions will begin on exactly what the environmental report should study.

The developers propose to manage 15,000 acres of forest lands after planting 1 million new redwoods, Douglas fir and sugar pines.

Sedimentation into the Gualala River from old logging roads and landslides would be reduced, Adams said. Fish and wildlife habitat would be enhanced, and a 2,700-acre preserve would be established.

Nearly 100 of the 163 potential home sites would be eliminated by merging parcels, he said. The project proposes building farmworker housing for 35 families, but has no development plans for the roughly 60 parcels where a home could be allowed.

By approving Preservation Ranch, Adams said, the county would be "basically giving up some marginal timber ground on the ridge tops" for vineyards. In return it would allow the land's restoration "so it becomes the forest that everyone wants to see."

Leaders of environmental groups dismiss the suggestion that a vineyard project is necessary to bring about the restoration of timberlands.

The proposal would "forever change the forest out here and destroy a lot of it," said Chris Poehlmann, vice president of the Friends of the Gualala River.

Critics maintain that adding the proposed vineyards would remove trees that hold carbon from the atmosphere, reduce the capacity of the land to slowly release water to streams in summer and remove water for grapes from the aquifer and streams. Some also question how the region's winding back roads could accommodate trucks carrying the grapes at crush time from 1,800 acres of vineyards.

The project will be judged according to the county's timberland conversion ordinance, which allows vineyards among forests if the developer sets aside other land in permanent conservation easements and if the county deems the development offers an adequate public benefit.

Mike Reilly, the retiring west county supervisor who is backing Furch, said he has "serious concerns" about the Preservation Ranch project, and the benefits needed for approval should be "pretty significant."

The basic question, Reilly said, is "are folks willing to trade off redwood forests for wine?"

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