January 27, 2012
Coalition of conservation organizations asks California Public Employee Retirement System (CalPERS) to disinvest and withdraw "Preservation Ranch" vineyard deforestation project to spare the public financial and environmental harm
Gualala, California - Following a national on-line petition with over 91,000 signatures opposing the mass destruction of California coastal redwood forest to convert them to vineyards, Friends of the Gualala River (FoGR), in alliance with a broad coalition of local, state, and national environmental organizations, is directly requesting CalPERS (California Public Employee Retirement System) directors, which own the majority of the struggling 20,000 acre Preservation Ranch forest-to-vineyard conversion project, to withdraw the stalled project and reinvest in alternatives.
In October, 2011, CalPERS surprised both critics and supporters of the controversial Preservation Ranch project by "severing ties" with Premier Pacific Vineyards (PPV), the Napa-based vineyard development company that conceived and proposed the project, backed financially by CalPERS investment of $200 million.
CalPERS dismissal of PPV left the fate of the project hanging after delay in publication of its draft Environmental Impact Report for over a year. The stalled project has not moved closer to any government agency approvals since the official environmental review process was initiated by Sonoma County in 2008.
FoGR appealed to CalPERS to re-evaluate the current financial and environmental prospects and risks for project, in view of escalating public opposition, extreme slow progress of environmental review, risks of legal challenge, exposing the investment to excessive risk of failing to provide a reasonable and timely return on public employee investments at great environmental cost.
FoGR and allies encouraged CalPERS to consider keeping the project lands forested, either selling off the forestry assets and reinvesting, or managing them sustainably. Preservation Ranch posted major losses (nearly 40%) in the value its CalPERS investments.
Friends of the Gualala River (FoGR) is a small local all-volunteer grassroots conservation advocacy group from California's north coast (GualalaRiver.org). The unprecedented oversize Preservation Ranch project began its official environmental review and permit process in 2008, but has yet to advance one step in the permit process since, while national and international notoriety and opposition to the project has mounted following intensive national media coverage in summer-fall 2011 by the Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and New York Times as well as regional coverage in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, North Bay Bohemian, North Bay Biz, and Anderson Valley Advertiser.
PPV originally promoted its proposed deforestation of nearly 1,800 acres for vineyards as an environmental public benefit, "in order to make possible the preservation and restoration" of what it called "wounded lands." The proposal's environmental "preservation and restoration" conceit was received with responses from the conservation community ranging from disbelief to outrage.
The proposal also drew skepticism from environmental scientists who doubted the premise that over-fragmentation and deforestation of 1,600 acres of forest, with 90 miles of permanent roads (built in an area with 1,700 active slope failures), 85 miles of wildlife fences, 40 reservoirs, reopened rock quarries distributed over 20,000 acres of remote, inaccessible northwestern Sonoma County, were actually offset by "restoration" consisting mostly of thinning tanoaks (already devastated by sudden oak death) and planting conifer seedlings (conventional industrial forestry practices) in forestland that already met or exceeded tree stocking standards in over 70% of the project area even in 2006. (see: Into the Woods, North Bay Biz)
For more information, go to the Friends of the Gualala River website at: GualalaRiver.org.
Contact: Chris Poehlmann, President, Friends of the Gualala River, 707-886-5182, or contact@GualalaRiver.org
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