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Angwin's Pacific Union College sells conservation easement for forest

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Fire Safety meeting packed the Pacific Union College Church Fireside Room in Angwin

The agencies of Napa County sparked intense interest last March for members of the Angwin community to listen to presentations from the Napa County Sheriff, Napa County Fire Chief, Napa County Office of Emergency Services, and Angwin Volunteer Fire Department on making Angwin safe in the aftermath of October wildland fires.

On Dec. 20, Pacific Union College, the Land Trust of Napa County and CalFire agreed on a conservation easement on 864 acres of college-owned forest land in Angwin. The easement will permanently eliminate the potential for residential, commercial, and agricultural development of the property.

“PUC’s forest abuts both the 800-acre Las Posadas State Forest, and a Land Trust property,” said Peter Lecourt, forest manager for the college. “This easement will create over 1,750 acres of contiguous protected land.”

In recent years, PUC had considered selling their forest lands to generate funds to support their primary mission: education. The college changed course when it learned about the option of working with LTNC, the Wildlife Conservation Board, and CalFire to sell a conservation easement on those lands under the state’s Forest Legacy Program.

PUC’s Board of Trustees chose the conservation easement option to generate the much-needed funds while still maintaining the legacy of the forest. It sold the conservation easement for $7.1 million. The process also generated a clear management plan for the PUC forest, approved by the state, and a new focus for the college on their responsibility to manage the forest for long-term benefits for both the college and the community.

The PUC forest has been used by students, faculty and the community for more than 100 years, and the college wants to maintain and manage this use in the future, according to a press release. With conservation easement, the college will be able to ensure ongoing use of the forest for research, classes, and student projects.

“The PUC forest easement is a critical Forest Legacy project,” said Stewart McMorrow, CalFire deputy chief of forestry assistance. “We are protecting an important forest from the possible conversion to non-forest uses, and that is incredibly important for not only the college and the community, but for the local ecosystem as well.”

The Land Trust and the college have been working on the conservation easement for more than four years to garner the state grants and private donations needed to complete the acquisition. During that time the college has made major investments in professional forestry assistance to manage the forest in a sustainable and fire-safe manner. The college is also raising private funds and applying for state and federal grants to manage the forest in a way that will help meet these goals.

“The PUC demonstration and experimental forest is an integral part of the educational and student life experiences at Pacific Union College,” said Bob Cushman, PUC president. “I am very pleased to see this forest preserved and managed in perpetuity.”

Based on the successful outcome of these efforts, PUC’s board and administration is working with LTNC and other partners to add an additional 250-plus acres of forest lands into conservation over the next few years.

In addition, the college is raising funds and working with state and federal partners to complete nearly three miles of shaded fuel break along the top of a major ridge in the forest between Pope Valley and Angwin. This defense structure will help firefighters stop any major fire heading toward Angwin from the drier areas in Pope Valley.

A community-wide celebration of the conservation easement will take place in the spring and an announcement with details will be made closer to that time.

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