Press release: Sweeping West County ranches conserved for agricultural heritage and diverse natural resources

November 16, 2023

Posted in: Press Releases

SANTA ROSA, CA (November 15, 2023) – Sonoma County Ag + Open Space is proud to announce two projects that will together conserve nearly 700 acres between Forestville and Santa Rosa for habitat restoration, flood control, agriculture, and the scenic character of the county. By conserving the entirety of the 489-acre Denner Ranch and 187 acres of the neighboring Lafranchi property, the possibilities for restoration work increase significantly within the historical footprint of the Laguna de Santa Rosa – one of the most critical watersheds in our county.

To make this landscape-scale conservation possible, Ag + Open Space worked with the Denner family and Ken Lafranchi – two ranching families that have lived and worked in west county for over a century. Denner Ranch was officially conserved on November 9, while the Lafranchi project goes before the Ag + Open Space Board of Directors on December 5. In total, the purchase of these two conservation easements will be $15.9 million.

“This is a huge win for West County, and everyone who calls Sonoma County home,” says Director Lynda Hopkins. “Denner and Lafranchi ranches are examples of so much of what makes our county so unique and special – vibrant agriculture, diverse ecosystems, and awe-inspiring landscapes. These were critical conservation projects to support the resiliency of our human and natural communities, and we are grateful to the Denner and Lafranchi families for working with us.”

Denner Ranch currently hosts a variety of crops, a farm stand, and livestock grazing. In addition to its rich habitat within the Laguna, the ranch includes 91 acres of federally designated critical habitat for California tiger salamander, as well as significant stands of large valley oak trees. Mark West and Hartman creeks run through the property, and the property is also home to remnants of Ballard Lake. Conservation of Denner Ranch, along with neighboring properties, will help make the restoration of key habitats such as Ballard Lake possible, through partnerships with the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation and other conservation partners.

The Lafranchi property has been owned and operated by the family for three generations, and the proposed conservation easement will cover 187 acres of the 263-acre property, striking a balance between protecting areas key for natural resource conservation and the family’s personal uses on the rest of the property. The entire property lies in the 100-year floodplain of the Laguna, and also has stretches of three priority streams running across the property – Hartman, Olivet, and Mark West. The property’s marshlands, wetlands, riparian habitat, and oak woodlands offer significant opportunities for restoration.

Ag + Open Space already holds a conservation easement over the neighboring Indian Valley property, and all together these three easements will create a significant block of contiguous land in the Laguna de Santa Rosa that will now be protected forever. Protecting large stretches of riparian lands preserves continuous wildlife corridors between pockets of high-value habitat, while also protecting significant portions of the watershed from pollutants.

Leading the restoration planning in the area is Sonoma Water, whose long-planned wetlands restoration and flood control work in the area can now be developed in earnest. These plans will focus on restoring the historical channel for Laguna de Santa Rosa and its associated tributaries, while also focusing on restoration of historic habitats like mixed riparian forest, wet meadows, valley freshwater marsh, willow-forested wetlands, and oak savanna.

“Connectivity in land conservation is key,” says Misti Arias, General Manager of Ag + Open Space. “When we conserve neighboring properties in a priority area, you can significantly strengthen ecosystems. With the conservation of Denner and Lafranchi ranches, we’re helping to sustain a critical watershed and its habitats, while also preserving our county’s agricultural tradition and the beauty of our natural landscapes.”

The Denners and Ken Lafranchi see these deals as a way to prepare the land for future generations, while also supporting the entire Sonoma County community by continuing to care for its dynamic natural resources. Ag + Open Space is grateful to these two families, and to all of our landowners, for their hand in conserving over 12% of our county.