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Conservation deal reached to protect 3,400-acre ranch near Lake Sonoma

A rugged sweep of landscape spanning nearly 3,400 acres along Rockpile Road near Lake Sonoma is to be preserved forever under a $5 million conservation deal set to be finalized this week.

Creased with steep canyons, tree-lined creeks and the headwaters of the Wheatfield Fork of the Gualala River, the Gloeckner-Turner Ranch features forested ridgelines, diverse plant communities and an array of wildlife habitat that will now be spared subdivision and development.

“There are multiple benefits – protecting the trees, water, wildlife – and the property is highly scenic, all along Rockpile Road, so we’re preserving a scenic corridor,” said Louisa Morris, acquisition specialist for the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. “It really hits on all the things that Ag and Open Space wants to do.”

The deal, funded mainly by the taxpayer supported Open Space District, with an assist from the private Sonoma Land Trust, will provide the district with a conservation easement over the one-time sheep ranch, a swath of terrain surrounded by other protected lands.

The deal ensures that 29 parcels on the property will remain undeveloped, with future building allowed only in four areas along the road where utilities and vehicle access already exist, Morris and Sonoma Land Trust Conservation Director Wendy Eliot said.

The arrangement also allows for 53 acres now planted in vineyard to remain, though about three times that much land is deemed suitable for growing wine grapes. Cattle grazing will continue but any commercial timber harvesting that might otherwise have been pursued will be prohibited.

“It’s a spectacular place - the sweep of the landscape, and the view,” Eliot said. “Just the scale of it.”

But beyond its breathtaking beauty, protecting the property also prevents future erosion in the watershed that contributes to Lake Sonoma, a key water supply, while also assuring continued carbon sequestration in the forests, and allowing for greater resiliency among plant and animal species that may need to move as the climate warms, Morris and Eliot said.

The land, which will remain in private hands, fit into a mosaic of about 40,000 acres of public and protected lands in the immediate vicinity that help protect biological diversity wildlife corridors that allow animals to move around the North Bay.

The deal additionally helps safeguard the Gualala River, home to steelhead trout and, historically, coho salmon, both of which are imperiled in the watershed.

“There’s something about making a difference at a landscape scale that just feels so rewarding for everyone involved,” Eliot said.

The property has been owned since the 1970s by the Gloeckner family of Sebastopol and was inherited by twins Rob Gloeckner and Jean Turner, now in their 70s, who still live near one another in Sebastopol.

Each has three children, who share ownership through one limited liability corporation. Their parents are partners in Gloeckner-Turner Vineyards, having planted grapes on the ranch after first grazing sheep and, later, cattle.

The property has also provided a spot for family getaways and recreation, a place to hunt and horseback ride over the years.

“It has a lot of personal value” - value that has become clearer with age, Rob Gloeckner said.

He said the family’s decision to approach the Open Space District in 2012 reflected a desire to keeping the ranch whole and working while protecting it into the future and keeping it in family hands.

The negotiations took years to work through, and Rob Gloeckner credited county Supervisor Lynda Hopkins with intervening when talks had bogged down in 2017, helping the family to agree on concessions “to make the deal work” and adjusting the county’s perspective, as well, he said.

In the end, the family agreed to discount the appraised $9.5 million value of the easement by about $4.44 million, the Open Space District said.

The district paid $4.5 million, while the Sonoma Land Trust provided $500,000 in gap funding, half from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and half from the land trust’s donors. Sonoma Water, the county agency, also put in $15,000 and will be permitted to lead up to four annual school tours on the property to educate students about the impact of land use on water quality for salmon, fire, fuel reduction and climate change, an agency spokesman said.

The family, meanwhile, will be allowed to continue its stewardship of the land, including farming, while also paying property taxes. The family, with three Gloeckner sons in fire service, also will coordinate with Cal Fire on forest and fuels management and prescribed burning.

“We’re getting significant land protection, because the landowners are still invested in doing that work,” Eliot said.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

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