Lake Berryessa easement

The Land Trust of Napa and the state have teamed to secure a conservation easement to protect the 732-acre Webber Ranch along Lake Berryessa from being developed.

The Land Trust of Napa County and the state of California have preserved another 722 acres along east Lake Berryessa, bringing the total amount of protected land there by this partnership in two years to more than 6,700 acres.

A conservation easement will keep the Webber Ranch in private ownership while stripping it of development rights. A state grant of $330,000 is paying for the easement from owner Pete Craig, according to the state Department of Conservation.

“He gave up a lot of value,” Land Trust CEO Doug Parker said. “He sold (the easement) for below the appraised value, quite a bit below.”

Webber Ranch has grasslands, oak woodlands and mixed manzanita chaparral. It extends from a federal strip of land along U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Lake Berryessa reservoir east to the ridge that forms the Napa/Yolo counties line, to Bureau of Land Management land that is part of Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument.

Napa County is famous for grapes, but also has cattle ranches, particularly in the east county. Livestock is listed second in value to fruit-and-nut crops in the 2017 Napa County crop report, though a distant second – the fruit-and-nut crops category that includes grapes had a $751 million value and livestock $3.4 million.

Parker said the Webber Ranch easement and the other three easements the Land Trust has secured along the eastern lake are contiguous. The land is part of a wildlife corridor that extends north to the Oregon border.

Webber Ranch is in a remote area away from well-traveled roads along the massive federal reservoir. The Greenbelt Alliance rates this part of the county at low risk for development. Still, the Land Trust and state officials say eastern Lake Berryessa could be attractive for ranchettes, estate homes and recreational homes.

The state funding came from the Sustainable Agricultural Lands Conservation Program, which uses state cap-and-trade money for projects deemed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, preserve farmland and support the state’s food security.

Keeping the Webber Ranch in ranching will prevent the property from having greenhouse gas emissions associated with housing developments, said a press release from the state and Land Trust. It will protect trees that sequester carbon. It will protect scenic views for Lake Berryessa visitors and a watershed that feeds the reservoir.

Last year, Craig, along with vintners Robin and Michelle Baggett of Alpha Omega winery, put a conservation easement on the 4,461-acre Monticello Ranch along eastern Lake Berryessa. A state grant paid $2 million for an easement valued at $2.7 million.

In 2016, the Land Trust worked with the state Department of Conservation and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to secure easements on the 840-acre Smitty Ranch and 716-acre Gunn Ranch along eastern Lake Berryessa.

In 42 years, the Land Trust has protected more than 70,000 acres of land – more than 109 square miles – and last year protected an organization record of 12,300 acres for one year.

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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.