Ag + Open Space Protects Scenic West Petaluma Ranch

December 11, 2019

Posted in: Press Releases

Ag + Open Space Protects Scenic
West Petaluma Ranch

Long-time ranchers, Walter & Arleen Jacobsen, conserve 127-acre ranch

SANTA ROSA, CA (December 10, 2019) – Today the Board of Directors for the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District (Ag + Open Space) approved up to $2.95 million in public funds to acquire a conservation easement over Jacobsen Ranch – a nearly 127-acre property located along Spring Hill Road and Chapman Lane, just west of the City of Petaluma. Walter and Arleen Jacobsen, two long-time ranchers in the coastal agricultural belt of Sonoma and Marin counties, own the property.

The easement will protect the highly visible scenic hillsides, rock outcroppings, rolling grasslands, and oak woodlands on the property, as well as Gibson Creek and 10 acres of a major groundwater basin. The easement also allows for continued grazing over the entirety of property and the cultivation of food crops in the flats near Chapman Lane. It will protect theses natural and agricultural resources and scenic values by prohibiting separate sale or further subdivision, limiting uses in the natural areas, and capping development at its current level.

“Safeguarding our agricultural lands from development and helping long-time farming families stay in business are two of the primary reasons our residents created Ag + Open Space nearly 30 years ago,” says David Rabbitt, Second District Supervisor and Chair of Ag + Open Space’s Board of Directors. “As a Board, we welcome these projects that maintain our rural character, support our local economy, and help protect the environment too.”

The ranch is one of the first open spaces one sees heading west out of the City of Petaluma, making it an important greenbelt property and a critical buffer against encroaching development. It is also home to a prominent chert rock outcrop, sometimes called Cathedral Rock, which is popular with photographers and plein air painters, and is highly visible from the well-traveled Spring Hill Road. The Conservation Lands Network, a regional conservation strategy for the Bay Area, considers 87 acres in the south part of the ranch “Essential” for conservation, and the ranch is within an identified critical habitat linkage connecting lands from western Marin County to Lake Sonoma. The chert outcrop area also hosts a highly diverse native plant community.

“The beauty of our work is that we often achieve multiple benefits with a single project,” says Ag + Open Space General Manager, Bill Keene. “By working with Arleen and Walt to conserve their ranch, we’ve helped to support their grazing operation, we’ve prevented future subdivision along the urban edge, we’ve maintained a beloved scenic landscape along a well-traveled road, and we’re helping to retain natural areas that are important for the health of our residents and our wildlife.”

Portions of the ranch have been in the Jacobsen family for more than 100 years and have been used as a dairy, slaughterhouse, and for grazing beef cattle. Walter and Arleen Jacobsen are in their nineties and fear that if the property is not protected with a conservation easement, a future owner could divide the ranch and develop it. Thus, the sale of the conservation easement is part of the Jacobsen’s broader estate planning to preserve their legacy of stewarding these important working lands on the urban edge. They have already protected their nearby 491-acre Marin County ranch with a conservation easement from Marin Agricultural Land Trust (MALT).

“This land has always been a chicken and cattle property, and it’s been in our family for almost 100 years,” said Walt and Arleen Jacobsen. “Many people stop and take pictures or paint the property, so we are thrilled to work with Ag + Open Space to preserve this land for years to come. We would also like to thank the Board of Supervisors for their support of this program.”

“In addition to keeping this land in agriculture and helping to support a long-time farming family that contributes to our local economy, the protection of this ranch also helps the county become more resilient to climate change,” adds Rabbitt, whose district includes Jacobsen Ranch. “The open pasture sequesters carbon from the air and greenhouse gas emissions that come from residential development and associated car trips are avoided.”

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 118,000 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