Cooley Ranch is a 19,000 acre property in northern Sonoma County extending from the headwaters of Lake Sonoma to Southern Mendocino County. The property was protected by an easement with the Sonoma County Open Space District in 2001, but it is still privately held by the Cooley Family.
Crawford Cooley, the owner of the ranch, is a fifth generation Californian. His family came to California in 1845 from Coolville, OH. Cooley was born and raised in San Francisco.
Cooley’s father, a lawyer in San Francisco who was born in Cloverdale, originally purchased 4,000 acres – the first piece of what would eventually become the 19,000 acre ranch. His father continued to purchase property until the ranch reached its peak at 21,000 acres. Lake Sonoma was built beneath the property by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 80’s, and today the ranch has major subsidiaries running into Lake Sonoma.
Cooley remembers spending summers at the ranch with his sister when they were growing up. From the day they got out of school until the day it was back in session, the Cooleys could be found on the ranch.
Cooley said his father originally used the ranch as a hunting ranch, but it later became a real ranch. The ranch ran sheep, but with an abundant coyote population, the sheep ranch weren’t practical. The family switched to running cattle, which they still do today. The cattle are run by a tenant who leases a portion of the property.
Cooley’s main source of income never stemmed from the property. Cooley has had a successful career in the Bay Area as a venture capitalist. He is retired from the major capital company he used to work for but is still involved with venture capitalism.
A major change to the property occurred in 2001 when the development rights to the Cooley Ranch were purchased by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. Cooley said his interest in the land trust was to keep the property in one piece for future generations and the easement also had tax advantages. Today, the Cooley Ranch easement is still the largest single piece of property acquired by the Open Space District.
The ranch has always had a minimal cash flow until recently when the family planted a couple hundred acres of vineyard. Cooley has given most of the property to his children and is in the process of turning over the property management to his son, Bob Cooley.
Cooley expects the ranch to continue the way it is for the foreseeable future. He said the ranch is an ongoing business and a good use of the land.
Cooley has been a Farm Bureau member since 1986 and said Farm Bureau does a good job of representing farmers and ranchers in politics.
“Agriculture has always been an interest of mine,” said Cooley. “I’ve always had ranches whether I like it or not, but I like farming and I think it’s a worthy thing to do.”
Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the author and Sonoma County Farm Bureau when reprinting this item.