Ag + Open Space Conserves 1,600-acre Forest in Northwest Sonoma County

October 15, 2018

Posted in: Press Releases

Sonoma County Ag + Open Space Conserves 1,600-acre Forest in Northwest Sonoma County

$5 million deal protects rare coast redwoods, includes future public trail

SANTA ROSA, CA (October 8, 2018) – The Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District (Ag + Open Space), a special district of the County dedicated to protecting our working and natural lands forever, has acquired a conservation easement covering 1,600 acres of forest land owned by Rip Goelet along the South Fork Gualala River in northwest Sonoma County. Ag + Open Space paid $4.25 million in local sales tax dollars toward the $5 million purchase price, with a $750,000 grant coming from the California Coastal Conservancy. Goelet donated a significant portion of the value of the conservation easement and also donated a trail easement to the County of Sonoma for future access along the river.

This extraordinary deal conserves second- and third-growth forest stands of redwood, Douglas-fir, and other hardwoods, which provide habitat for numerous threatened or endangered animals, and a section of the South Fork Gualala River and several headwater streams. The conservation easement also allows for residential use, grazing, limited cultivated agriculture, and sustainable timber harvesting.

“This project is such a win for our human and natural communities in this area,” said Lynda Hopkins, 5th District Supervisor and a member of the Ag + Open Space Board of Directors. “Not only will these trees continue to sequester carbon, but preserving this critical woodland adjacent to other protected lands maintains a contiguous stretch of healthy forests that will filter our water, clean our air, and provide habitat for fish and wildlife. The donated trail easement also means there is the potential for the public to explore the river environment on this spectacular property in the future.”

The property is located approximately two miles inland from the coast, off the scenic Stewarts Point-Skaggs Springs Road, where it fronts onto nearly two miles of the South Fork Gualala River. The largely forested property is surrounded by other high-priority privately-held forested properties, and is across the river from Stewarts Point Ranch, a property also protected with an Ag + Open Space easement. Historically, the property was used as a residence and for timber operations.

The property’s streams flow into the Gualala River watershed and the section of the river on the property is active spawning habitat for steelhead (federally listed as threatened and a state species of special concern) and historical habitat for Coho salmon (federally and state listed as endangered). The property provides habitat for a number of additional bird, mammal, and amphibian species listed as California Species of Special Concern by California Department of Fish and Wildlife, or as rare, threatened or endangered species under state or federal law, including bald eagles, golden eagles, great blue herons, great egrets, red tree voles, southern torrent salamanders, and Northern red-legged frogs.

The property is also registered as a Forest Carbon Project by the Climate Action Reserve, a non-profit organization that promotes the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions using credible market-based solutions. This carbon project is considered an Improved Forest Management project, as the type of forest management will maintain or increase the carbon stocks while providing other environmental benefits. While the approved carbon project ensures carbon sequestration in trees for 100 years, the conservation easement will ensure that the carbon stored in the trees is sequestered in perpetuity. Further, the easement allows for forest management that accelerates the natural transition into a mature, complex, native coastal redwood and Douglas fir ecosystem with distinct old-growth characteristics.

“I wanted to not only protect the trees but I also wanted to provide access to this incredible landscape so that people from all walks of life can experience nature and its peaceful beauty,” said Goelet, a successful real estate investor. David Katz, an early founder and Executive Director of the Sonoma Land Trust who worked with Goelet and long-time real estate professional Scott Murphy to broker the deal with Ag + Open Space added: “This was an opportunity to show how private landowners can conserve their lands in a way that is both cost-effective for them and for the public.”

In addition to offering a discount to the appraised value of the property, Goelet donated a trail easement to the County of Sonoma for future public access. The trail easement allows for access from Stewarts Point-Skaggs Springs Road to the South Fork Gualala River once the County has developed the trail and staging area. The trail easement includes an area for parking, picnic tables, and restrooms, and an approximate 1.2-mile trail that follows an old logging road along the South Fork Gualala River, with identified locations for access to the river itself. Regional Parks will undertake a Public Access Management Plan, which will further define the operation, management, and improvements for the trail once funding has been identified and high priority projects have been completed.

“We’re particularly proud and grateful to have been able to work with Rip to protect this healthy forest property,” said Ag + Open Space General Manager, Bill Keene. “Our easement ensures that this property will never be subdivided and developed, and that the forest will be managed in such a way that we can reduce fire risk, continue to provide quality habitat for endangered fish and wildlife, and help to mitigate the effects of climate change.”

About Sonoma County Ag + Open Space
Sonoma County Ag + Open Space permanently protects the diverse agricultural, natural resource and scenic open space lands of Sonoma County for future generations. The district is responsible for the perpetual protection of over 114,000 acres of land throughout our region. These agricultural and open space lands are protected through a quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1990 and reauthorized in 2006. For more information, please visit