Press Release: Ag + Open Space helps sustain West County creeks and marshland with conservation of 139-acre ranch outside Sebastopol

October 23, 2023

Posted in: Press Releases

SANTA ROSA, CA (October 23, 2023) – “We want to be a part of keeping West County’s character alive and flourishing,” said Lorri Duckworth who along with her husband, Oscar, helped purchase Gillis Ranch Preserve with their colleague, Greg Gillis. “We’re honored to be able to work with Greg to buy and conserve the ranch, ensuring it will be home to rich natural resources, thriving agriculture, and new opportunities to connect people to the land,” said Lorri.

Gillis Ranch Preserve is the latest conservation easement acquisition for Sonoma County Ag + Open Space, adding to the over 124,000 acres of natural and working lands we’ve already conserved. Nestled near our Nahmens easement (Duckworth Family Farm), the ranch has historically been home to dairy and grazing operations. The ranch houses the confluence of Blucher Creek, Volkerts Creek, and Cunningham Marsh, whose wetlands and riparian habitats are home to many native plants – including the state and federally endangered Pitkin marsh lily.

“Ag + Open Space was created by the voters to help preserve our communities’ agricultural and natural resources,” said Ag + Open Space Director David Rabbitt. “The Gillis Ranch project helps fulfill that vision and demonstrates preservation of our working county landscapes in perpetuity.”

The Duckworths and Gillis see this deal as a way to preserve our county’s rural and open space character, while also creating a new opportunity for regenerative grazing and other low-intensity agricultural operations that balance growing food with caring for and enhancing the diverse natural resources found on the ranch. Their vision for the ranch also includes expanding upon their commitment to connecting our communities to agriculture and the natural world through guided field trips and tours.

“My life partner, Ashley, and I want nothing more than to positively influence the young people of our communities,” said landowner Greg Gillis. “We want to create a place where children and adults together can learn about the natural landscapes that Sonoma County offers. So many young children lack access to the rural outdoors, and they need to see and feel first-hand the natural resources that surround them. We want to offer a place that makes getting into the outdoors possible, and is both educational and memorable to our future generations so they too can preserve these lands.”

“Connecting youth and families to conserved lands helps show why this work is so important,” said Ag + Open Space Director Lynda Hopkins. “With the conservation of Gillis Ranch Preserve, we’re seeing folks who have long been committed to connecting our communities to agricultural and open space lands expand their work, and we are truly grateful to the Duckworths and Gillis.”

With Gillis Ranch’s location near other conserved land, unique opportunities arise for restoration. Ag + Open Space, in partnership with the new landowners, is already helping to explore opportunities for collaboration with state agencies and local land conservation organizations that could support restoration projects in Cunningham Marsh and along Volkerts and Blucher creeks.

“Conservation of Gillis Ranch Preserve was an opportunity not to be missed. In this property, we see all of the values of natural and working lands that our organization was created to protect – natural resources, agriculture, scenic views, and a place where our community can explore, learn, and connect,” said Misti Arias, General Manager of Ag + Open Space.

This acquisition is also a strong example of what makes land conservation possible – collaboration. Conserving Gillis Ranch Preserve is possible because of the voters and taxpayers of Sonoma County who created and continue to sustain our organization. But it also takes the partnership of landowners – in this case the long-time landowners, the Riebli family, and the Duckworth and Gillis families – and the larger conservation community, who all work with us one property at a time to conserve land so that our work can do what it is meant to do – provide us with fresh food, clean air and water, room to adapt, and space to get outside.

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 agency is responsible for the conservation and perpetual stewardship of over 124,000 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