Lake Berryessa ranches

View from the hills of the of 1,558 acres of newly protected land along eastern Lake Berryessa. The Land Trust of Napa County worked to obtain conservation easements that will keep the Gunn Ranch and Smitty Ranch under private ownership, but without development rights.

A deal coordinated by the Land Trust of Napa County will preserve 1,558 acres of ranch land — 2.4 square miles — along the remote, eastern side of Lake Berryessa, with perhaps more to come.

The Land Trust worked with two owners to establish conservation easements on the Gunn Ranch and adjacent Smitty Ranch. That means the ranches will remain as private property and closed to the public, but no longer have development rights.

Amy Gunn said that seeing the stars over Lake Berryessa while growing up on the Gunn Ranch helped motivate her to preserve the family’s land.

“When I was little, in bed at night, the view from my room looked out to the west side of the lake,” Gunn said. “My early memories are of complete wilderness. But the nighttime view has changed dramatically in 50 years, with home lights now visible in large groups in several areas.”

Acting now to protect the east side of Lake Berryessa will keep the lake from becoming a circle of lights in 50 years, she said in a press release issued by the Land Trust and state Department of Conservation.

The Land Trust raised the $955,000 to pay for the conservation easements on the two ranches from the Department of Conservation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, according to state officials. Of the total, $545,000 went to the 840-acre Gunn Ranch and $410,000 to the 716-acre Smitty Ranch.

This state money is the first using cap-and-trade money under the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program. To compete successfully for the grant, the Land Trust had to show how protecting the land will help reduce greenhouse gases and combat global warming.

Eastern Lake Berryessa has the potential to be developed for ranchettes, recreational homes and estate houses, Land Trust Executive Director Doug Parker said last week. More homes would mean more people driving to the area, creating more greenhouse gases.

Also, development could lead to oak woodlands being cut down, he said. Oak trees sequester carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas.

The 1,558 acres extends from grasslands into steep hills with oaks, Parker said. The land is between the shoreline owned by the Bureau of Reclamation and ridgeline owned by the Bureau of Land Management, both federal agencies.

Parker expressed hope that the Land Trust can work with more property owners on the east side of Lake Berryessa and secure more conservation easements. The goal is to protect 14,000 acres there – about 22 square miles.

Eastern Lake Berryessa is a large, undeveloped area surrounded by lands that are already protected, Parker said. Protecting still more land, combined with the areas already protected, could someday create a contiguous area of 57,000 acres for wildlife corridors and for plants and animals to adjust to climate change.

“There aren’t many places in Napa County where you can work on that scale,” Parker said.

The Land Trust of Napa County over 40 years has protected more than 58,000 acres, ranging from vineyards to watersheds.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.