SKAGGS ISLAND -- A large puzzle piece in the patchwork of North Bay marsh restoration sites fell into place Friday with the acquisition of a longtime hay farm at the northern end of Skaggs Island.

Following years of negotiations, the Sonoma Land Trust announced it had bought Haire Ranch, which will lead to the restoration of up to 4,400 acres of wetlands west of Vallejo.

"It's our holiday gift to the public and to the fish and birds and the clean water," said Wendy Eliot, land trust conservation director.

The ranch, along Highway 37, is a long-sought-after piece of land that environmentalists have wanted so that the entire island, once home to a U.S. Navy base and spy station, can be flooded and restored to tidal marshes.

Immediately following purchase, the land trust transferred the 1,100-acre Haire Ranch to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates the nearby San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

The project fits in with the big-picture effort to restore tens of thousands of wetlands acres around the bay. Eliot called the purchase the "holy grail" of conservation projects.

"For more than a decade, the government has been waiting to restore Skaggs Island to tidal marsh," she said. "But Haire Ranch stood in the way, just out of reach."