Want to stop a project from being built? Go buy the property. Otherwise, keep your opinions to yourself.

How many times have opponents of developments heard that one? Of course, one doesn't have to be rich to be able to afford an opinion. Nonetheless, those concerned about seeing forest lands converted to vineyards have reason to smile these days. Opponents of Preservation Ranch, a controversial forest-to-vineyards conversion project that was on the verge of becoming a major North Coast land-use battle, appear to have found a way to stop it.

They're buying it.

As reported by Brett Wilkison on Wednesday, a collection of conservancy groups, led by the Conservation Fund based in Virginia, have pooled their resources and have worked a tentative deal to buy the nearly 20,000 acres of timberlands in northwestern Sonoma County for $24.5 million. The purchase, which is expected to be completed at the end of May, <CF101>would block the controversial CalPERS-backed proposal which included conversion of 1,769 acres to vineyards.<NO1><NO>

</CF>In addition to the $6 million provided by The Conservation Fund, the partners include the California Coastal Conservancy, which could contribute up to $10 million, Sonoma County's Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, which could add up to $4 million to the deal, and the Sonoma Land Trust.

Granted, it's a tentative deal, and questions remain. For example, it's not clear as yet the extent to which the public will have access to the property. Nonetheless, one would be hard-pressed to imagine a better outcome. By acreage, this purchase would represent that largest acquisition of property for conservation purposes in county history. It assures that a major swath of North Coast land will remain undeveloped. And it spares the county from another costly and divisive land-use battle.

Kudos to those who were instrumental in putting this together. We can't think of a better way to preserve a ranch.