A ranch west of Petaluma is being preserved for agriculture, adding another 600 acres to a growing belt of rural land near the city where development is restricted.

The Marin Agricultural Land Trust announced last week it is protecting the Furlong Ranch by purchasing a $2.6 million easement on the 609-acre property near Marshall. Half of the funding is coming from the Marin County Board of Supervisors.

The sheep and cattle ranch off Highway 1 was at high risk of being sold for homes. Elderly owner Donna Furlong’s sons Kevin, Greg and Kirk faced putting it on the market to pay for her long-term care. Hoping to hold on to the ranch their parents have owned since 1956, the sons approached MALT instead.

“We would dearly like to keep the ranch,” Greg Furlong said.

Under the easement, the Furlong family continues to own the ranch and MALT retires the development rights to it. The easement, expected to be finalized in early February 2018, will protect the land’s natural resources as well as its agricultural use.

“Every ranch protected is one more step toward a permanent, sustainable agricultural community,” said Jamison Watts, Executive Director of Marin Agricultural Land Trust, in a statement. “Furlong Ranch will continue to produce food and provide benefit to our water, our wildlife and our farming community. I’m proud to protect the land that the Furlong family has taken such pride in owning and stewarding.”

Furlong Ranch is ecologically diverse and part of a wildlife corridor stretching from the Marin-Sonoma coast to Mount St. Helena. The ranch borders state park land to the west and adds 609 acres to an existing 8,562-acre block of MALT-protected land at the southeast end of Tomales Bay.

Last year, MALT purchased an agricultural easement on a 491-acre Chileno Valley ranch, part of a 12,000-acre protected corridor on Petaluma’s western flank.

The Marin County funds will come from a voter-approved farmland preservation program, which is dedicated to protecting and preserving working farms and ranches at risk of subdivision and development.

“The transaction basically means the family that is farming the land stays and they are retiring the rights to use the property for anything other than agriculture,” said Craig Richardson, Marin County parks senior open space planner, in a statement. “The Farmland Preservation Program is a cornerstone of Measure A. With these funds, we’re doing what we can to maintain family farms, boost our ag economy and preserve open land.”

The ranch is the last piece of land in the Millerton Gulch Creek watershed to be protected. MALT is planning a stream restoration project with the goal of bringing steelhead trout back to the watershed.

“This is the first time MALT has had the opportunity to protect and work to restore an entire watershed,” said Jeff Stump, MALT director of conservation. “We hope to remove a fish barrier on a downstream section of Millerton Gulch Creek, on an adjacent ranch MALT owns, and provide fish access to healthy spawning habitat on the Furlong Ranch. It’s a great example of how protecting farmland allows us to achieve larger conservation goals.”

(Contact Matt Brown at matt.brown@arguscourier.com.)