Inverness landowner preserves Sonoma redwoods

12/06/2018

A deal between an Inverness resident and three public agencies has conserved over 1,600 acres of redwood forest in northwestern Sonoma County. 

The agreement, which took five years to come to fruition, will preserve the property—known as Rip’s Redwoods—both through a carbon credit project and a conservation easement. Sonoma County Parks, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, and the California Coastal Conservancy all contributed to the project, which the conservancy says is part of a larger effort to preserve an “intact transition zone” between temperate coniferous forests and shrub and woodlands in the northern Sonoma coast and southern Mendocino area. 

Owner Rip Goelet purchased the land in 2013 with the intention of saving its 30 million board feet of redwoods. After spending an afternoon on the property—which was introduced to him by his longtime friend Scott Murphy, a real estate broker with family ties to Point Reyes—he made up his mind to purchase and conserve it. “I just wanted to save the trees—it’s that simple,” Mr. Goelet said. 

The easement, which will be held by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, prohibits development and the growing of intensive crops like vineyards in order to preserve grasslands. It also restricts timber harvest, helping “create an old-growth forest, which is what we’re trying to do: trying to get the trees back to what they were 1,000 years ago,” Mr. Goelet said. “We won’t be here to see it, but hopefully someone else will.” 

Mr. Goelet hopes to use the land for educational purposes, as well as build out a garden and existing orchard. He also intends to use part of the site for green burials, which use compostable caskets that are easily absorbed by the earth. 

In addition to its redwood, Douglas fir and various hardwood trees, the land also contains a section of the south fork of the Gualala River and several headwater streams that help spawn steelhead trout and coho salmon. Mr. Goelet donated a parcel along the river for public trail access; this will be converted into a 1.2-mile trail complete with a parking lot, restrooms and picnic tables. 

The effort was made possible by the development of a carbon credit project on the property. Under California’s Cap and Trade program, companies can mitigate their carbon footprint by buying carbon credits to offset the pollution they create each year. The Climate Action Reserve’s Forest Carbon Project allows landowners to develop and sell those carbon credits (each credit is equivalent to one metric ton of emissions reduced or sequestered by forest growth). 

Lisa Ames, a project manager at the Coastal Conservancy, said “if you’re talking about value for the landowner, a carbon project is a way for landowners to realize some profit from their property without cutting it.” The dual-pronged approach—obtaining an easement and registering the land as a carbon credit project—“is a great example for landowners for how they can maintain these working lands as protected forests and produce income that can contribute to conserving the place without having to develop all the resources, said David Katz, a former executive director of the Sonoma Land Trust who aided Mr. Goelet in his efforts.” 

Inverness forester Tom Gaman, who consulted on the project, said the initiative is considered an “improved forest management” project, ensuring carbon sequestration in the trees in perpetuity. 

Mr. Katz pointed out that preserving land is an expensive enterprise. “Landowners are under pressure to subdivide or sell or develop—to produce income,” he said. “By combining the easement with monies from the carbon project, it produces enough income to make the whole thing viable.”