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When Ed and Elva Pryor bought a big swath of woodland in the hills southwest of their Healdsburg home in 1946, there were few structures or other signs of civilization on the surrounding landscape.

That has changed in past decades, but the Pryors' 1,509-acre retreat east of Armstrong Woods off Sweetwater Springs Road has remained much the same.

The family hoped it would stay that way and a deal with Sonoma County's open space district aims to ensure it.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors, which oversees the taxpayer-supported district, is set to approve the purchase of a conservation easement over the Pryor ranch.

The $2.4 million deal amounts to a sale of development rights and would shield the property against subdivision.

Family members have been working with the county for nine years and said the deal marks a final wish come true for their late relatives.

Ed Pryor, especially, "thought it was the most beautiful property around," said Kim Thompson, a grandson. "The intention was always to keep it open. So it's a good feeling to know that's how it's going to stay."

The spread was once part of Rancho Sotoyome, the 49,000-acre Mexican land grant that sprawled across much of northern Sonoma County.

Sizable tracts of second-growth Douglas fir, coast redwood and oak forests cover the Pryor ranch, as well as grasslands and ridges that can be seen from miles away. Limited timber and grazing operations would be allowed to continue under the deal, one of only a few for the county that focus on timberland protection.

Four creeks cross the property and feed into Porter Creek, a tributary to the Russian River. Several of the streams support steehead trout runs and likely serve as habitat for endangered coho salmon, Thompson and county officials said.

Resident and migratory birds and raptors, deer, bobcats, mountain lions and coyotes also use the property.

Thompson, a Healdsburg-based battalion chief with Cal Fire, the state fire agency, has in the past opened the property for firefighter skill classes and controlled-burn training.

"I like to have the people driving the fire engines know where it is," he joked.

The family has a cabin on the property and would be allowed to build two houses plus associated outbuildings in designated areas.

The family donated about 10 percent of the value of the easement to the county, a typical number for most easement deals, officials said.

The deal is the largest yet out of the district's 2011-2012 budget of $18.9 million for land acquisition and conservation easements. The money comes from a dedicated quarter-cent sales tax first approved by voters in 1990.

At about $1,600 per acre, the easement is far less expensive than other county conservation deals, which have gone for as much as $15,000 to $20,000 an acre, county officials said.

"From the standpoint of protecting the watershed of the Russian River ... this is a pretty important tract of land," said Bill Keene, manager of the Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.

Since its formation, the district has protected more than 85,000 acres, including about 33,000 acres of agricultural land and an additional 50,000 acres of open space for recreation, natural resources and education.

Contact Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.