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Pacific Union College forest

Pacific Union College is working with the Land Trust of Napa County and Cal Fire to create a conservation easement that would preserve its 856-acre forest in the mountains near Angwin.

An 856-acre forest with redwoods in Angwin could soon gain protections that will keep it a forest for the foreseeable future, immune to the possibility of bulldozers making room for luxury homes or vineyards.

The Wildlife Conservation Board voted Thursday to spend $3.5 million on the Angwin forest. That’s the last funding piece needed to purchase a $7.1 million conservation easement from Pacific Union College, the owner of the land.

Pacific Union College (PUC) will continue to own the forest once the deal is wrapped up, perhaps in a few months if all goes as planned. But development rights would be retired through an easement held by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“The biodiversity of our forest presents incredible opportunities for education, research and recreation,” PUC President Robert Cushman said. “This will ensure that it can be enjoyed by those at the college and in the surrounding community for generations to come.”

This forest has qualities that set it apart.

“It has some of the interior-most stands of redwood in the entire range of redwoods,” said Doug Parker, CEO for the Land Trust of Napa County.

Moore Creek starts in this area, he said. Moore Creek drains into Lake Hennessey reservoir, a major water supply for the city of Napa.

The forest ranges from 860 feet to 1,885 feet above sea level. Protecting it is part of an effort to preserve a wildlife corridor extending through Napa County used by black bear, deer and mountain lions, a Wildlife Conservation Board report said.

Spotted owls, the California red-legged frog, the ringtail cat, the pallid bat and the northwestern pond turtle find habitat in the forest. The land is core habitat for the Napa false indigo, a rare plant found in only five Northern California counties, the report said.

The development threat is significant, the report said. Napa County has some of the highest agricultural land values in the nation and the site has more than 200 acres of potential, prime vineyard land. Zoning allows subdivision into three residential properties.

“The property owner is under great pressure to sell off parcels from the forest to raise funds to further its educational mission,” the report said.

Parker praised PUC for accepting $1.5 million less than the fair market value for the conservation easement. Unlike most land owners, PUC can’t take a tax deduction for the discount because it is a nonprofit.

Although the forest is, and will remain, private property, PUC has allowed the public to use trails there. The college’s forest manager, Peter Lecourt, said the plan is to continue this practice and add such features as a parking lot, kiosk and brochure.

“Our forest is the primary way PUC relates to the wider community,” Lecourt said.

The Land Trust will monitor the conservation easement, with Cal Fire holding the easement because of its forest management expertise and because it owns the adjacent Las Posadas State Forest, Parker said.

Lecourt said PUC signed a deal with Cal Fire to work together on forest management as neighbors.

“This is a new relationship and bond we’re forming here,” Lecourt said.

Contributors to the $7.1 million funding deal are the Wildlife Conservation Board at $3.5 million, a Cal Fire state forest legacy grant at $2.85 million and the Land Trust of Napa County at $750,000.

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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.