Frequently Asked Questions
The Preservation Ranch project is large in scope and consists of a number of environmental and land use components that are interdependent – they work together to provide economic return as well as meaningful benefits to the land’s resources and habitat and to the citizens of Sonoma County.
Q: What is being proposed?
A: The project consists of four elements: 1) restoration and permanent protection and management of over 15,000 acres of timberland , 2) farming about 1,800 acres of vineyards , 3) donation of about 220 acres to Sonoma County to expand the Soda Springs Reserve (an existing county park) and 4) creating a 2,700+ acre wildlife and habitat preserve.
Q: Why not just leave the place as it is?
A: There are two basic problems with the property; 1) the property was divided into more than 160 parcels beginning as long ago as the late 1800’s, 2) previous owners used aggressive logging practices, clear cutting the entire property at least twice.
Each of the existing 160+ parcels can be developed like any other legal parcel in Sonoma County. This means the potential for over 160 homes, outbuildings, wells, septic systems, and all the impacts associated with such development. Since these parcels were legally created, their full development can occur without further regulation or mitigation of impacts.
The history of aggressive logging by previous owners has left the property damaged from both a timber resource and natural habitat perspective. Correcting these problems calls for expensive remediation measures. Unless a portion of the property can be used in some way which adds significant value there is no source of funding for these remediation measures.
Q: What’s the problem with 160+ parcels scattered over nearly 20,000 acres?
A: There are two basic problems. First, this number of parcels results in fragmentation of the forest habitat and timber resource. That is, an array of 160+ parcels which are individually too small for long range timber resource management results in no management at all. Second, the parcels were created before modern environmental regulations, and property boundaries were defined without regard to natural features such as creeks and streams, steep slopes or other impacts on the environment.
The project proposes to reduce the number of parcels by nearly 100 (60% fewer) in order to create new, larger parcels suitable for proper timber management. The proposed new parcel configuration will allow for agriculture on less than 10% of the total acreage and also ensure permanently protected well managed forests using sustained yield harvest management practices.
Q: What needs to be done to repair damage from past logging?
A: The answer to this question varies with different areas of the property. The proposed project includes planting over 1 million seedlings. These would be Coast Redwood, Douglas fir and Sugar Pine, all native conifer trees. In some areas the biggest problem is dense, overgrown current vegetation which stymies healthy growth rates among young trees. In such areas thinning is called for. In other areas, after previous clear cutting by former owners, a surge in Tan Oak growth took place which now crowds out the Redwoods and Douglas fir. Here, reduction of the amount of Tan Oak will take place, intended to give room for the new seedlings and improve overall forest health and composition. Other improvements will include reduction of erosion by repairing, replacing or eliminating culverts and upgrading over 90 miles of the property’s improperly designed or maintained roads
Q: How was it determined where to locate the proposed vineyards?
A: Vineyards can’t go just anywhere. Proposed vineyard locations were determined after extensive study of soil types, drainage, slope and micro-climate. The conditions found on the property were studied for several years before final decisions were made regarding proposed vineyard sites. In no case are vineyards located anywhere near fish bearing streams.
Q: How much water will be used and where will it come from?
A: There will be no ground water wells developed for vineyard irrigation. Water for vineyard needs will be collected from excess runoff during peak winter rains and stored in agricultural ponds. This water will be available throughout the year for irrigation and frost protection.
Q: What watershed is the property in?
A: The entire property is in the Gualala /river watershed. The 19,652 acre property constitutes about 10% of this watershed.
Q: What is the condition of the habitat for fish, and which species reside in the watershed?
A: Within the Gualala River watershed and its tributaries, including the Preservation Ranch property, there are Steelhead trout and a limited number of Coho salmon. The condition of the Gualala River and her tributaries will benefit from various improvements in the project. These include reduction of sediment, improved shade cover to lower water temperatures and increased woody debris to provide additional safe haven for the fish when needed. The condition of the Gualala River watershed is being studied as part of the EIR. These issues will be revealed in greater detail during this process.
Q: Will there be an Environmental Impact Report?
A: Yes. There will be a full EIR as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The EIR will be conducted by a team of consultants and Sonoma County staff will oversee and control the process. The applicant has no control over selection of the EIR consultant or any of the work.
Q: How long will the EIR take to complete and how much will it cost?
A: It is anticipated that the EIR will take about 10 to 12 months to complete to Draft EIR form. At that time the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors will have public hearings on the Draft EIR. The cost of the complete EIR is expected to exceed $1,000,000, which does not include the many scientific studies that Preservation Ranch has completed to include in the EIR.
Q: Who pays for the EIR?
A: The entire cost of the EIR is paid by the applicant. This even includes the cost of time spent on the project by PRMD staff.
Q: What will be studied in the EIR?
A: The scope of the EIR is determined by County staff with input from many other sources including state and federal agencies, the general public (including interested individuals and organizations) and the applicant.
Q: How many houses are proposed?
A: There are no new parcels proposed for residential use. Because the proposal reduces the number of parcels by nearly 100 there will be a commensurate reduction in the number of homes. The only homes to be built will be on the agricultural parcels and the timber parcels. So, instead of a potential for 160+ homes on existing parcels there will be no more than 64 homes dispersed throughout the 19,711 acres. That’s an average of one home per 308 acres.
Q: What are the details of the proposed wildlife preserve?
A: An area of approximately 2,700 acres is proposed to be given to a public agency or a private not-for profit land trust as a wildlife preserve. The acreage includes magnificent Oak Woodlands habitat and miles of riparian corridor along the Buckeye and Redwood creeks. In addition to giving this acreage the proposal includes a set-aside of money as an endowment to guarantee a permanent source of funds to manage the wildlife preserve.
Q: How can the public be sure people who buy the parcels don’t just come back later and ask for more vineyards?
A: To prevent that, the project proposes that the county apply deed restrictions to the project which take away any potential for future lot splits, timber conversions or expansion of vineyard acreage. Once the project is approved the conditions will be “locked in” so future generations are guaranteed the benefits of the open space, views and habitat.
Q: How will the public know the timber resource will be protected?
A: The project proposes to apply a conservation easement over the entire 15,000+ acres of land zoned Timber Production. This land will be restricted so that it will only be usable for sustained yield forest resource (no clear cutting). The ownership of the easement will be held by a third party and there will be an endowment to underwrite the cost of enforcement of easement terms.