Jun 112014
 

two moon family farm raised beds sonoma mountain preservationIn 2009 we moved our family of 5 from suburban San Fernando Valley (Los Angeles County) to rural Glen Ellen. This was not ‘flight from the city’ but a home-coming; a chance to move back onto the property where my husband grew up, bordering the SDC and Asbury Creek, in the shadow of Sonoma Mountain. Our property has been in the Lee family closing-in on 40 years, but the history is rich here, and previous owners included Vallejo, Chauvet, and Pagani. As I sit watching the clouds lick at the ridge of the Sonoma Mountain to our west or look up from our orchard to see how the sun is playing off Mt. Hood to the north, I think about the other folks who have occupied this flank of the mountain, looking up from their work to those exact same views.

Our 5 acre parcel was once covered in vineyard, one of the oldest in the valley. If you ride on our mower you can still feel the undulating ghost of the grape rows under the blade. The vines are gone, but we are continuing the ag tradition from those early days of Chauvet and Pagani’s viticulture, morphing into vegetable gardening and animal husbandry passed down through my in-laws, and then expanded by our little family. What started as our ‘quaint’ desire to ‘get back to the land and grow our own food’, has blossomed over the past several years into a small family farm business. As Two Moon Family Farm, we sell eggs and produce to several local restaurants and at the farmer’s market (Kenwood Community Farmers Market). In addition we raise goats and the occasional turkeys and lamb for our own family. Our children understand where food comes from and we are carrying on the tradition of having a small homestead farm on the side of Sonoma Mountain.

It is amazing to live on an interface between the wilds of the mountain and the village of Glen Ellen. Our farm is surrounded by open, natural habitat. The wildlife we see every day is always a great form of entertainment for our long-time city friends when they come to visit ‘Camp Lee’. Out our window we’ve seen bobcats, jackrabbits, raccoons, quail, deer, skunk, ground squirrels, woodpeckers, turkey vultures, hawks, snakes, coyotes, etc… Currently we have three ‘families’ of wild turkeys wandering about- three hens with at least 10 chicks in tow. Steve has distinct memories of wild pig encounters while growing up here, although they have since been actively removed from the mountain. And, of course, there are mountain lions. Although we haven’t seen a cat directly, we know that they share this mountain with us, and we’ve seen the evidence of their behavior. Hikers on treks just up beyond our fence have reported them and we had a young goat taken by a lion early in our adventures, when we hadn’t yet fully secured our night-time penning situation. We love overlapping with the nature of this mountain even when predators ‘visit’ the farm.

It sometimes feels like a dream when I look up from my work in the garden to see the changing light on the hills and valleys on our side of the mountain. There is a sort of magic here. Just slightly up the hill to our north west is the ruin of Jack London’s Wolf House. I know he was drawn here by that same pulse. My husband knows almost every foot of this mountain, that he often refers to as ‘his backyard’. And it is…. but it is yours too…. with all of it’s history, wildlife, and magic.

Shannon and Steven Lee are trained marine scientists who have more recently taken on farming. They have numerous ‘jobs’ but are primarily science educators and researchers, respectively. They share the property with their three children, Steven’s parents, 10 goats, 20 hens, several roosters, and 2 barn cats.

Photography by Shannon Lee

This post is the first installment of the “Why I Love The Mountain” series of guest posts from local Sonoma residents on SonomaMountain.org – Thank you Shannon & Steven for your contribution and we encourage readers to like Two Moon Family Farm on Facebook and follow them on twitter at @TwoMoonFF

Jun 042014
 
Your Sonoma Valley Sonoma Mountain Preservation

Photo by Megan Clouse Photography

The Sonoma Valley is truly amazing for a variety of reasons, and in my opinion one the most significant reasons is the balance of small town modern life with the beauty of nature found throughout the valley.

I have been fortunate to call the Sonoma Valley home for the majority of my life. My grandparents moved to Sonoma in the 1940’s. My mom was born in the Sonoma Valley Hospital. My two boys were born and raised here as well and both graduated from Sonoma Valley High. The point of all that, I have seen some changes in the valley during my life. But no matter what those changes may have been, good or not so good, I could always look west and rely on the consistent strength and beauty of the mountain…Sonoma Mountain.

I grew up spending large chunks of my childhood with my aunt and uncle who lived on Sonoma Mountain, just behind the Sonoma golf course. My cousin Erik and I would go for endless hikes imagining all that the mountain had to offer. We were pretty young and would always set out alone with our packed lunches, usually filled with chips, sodas and candy bars to keep us fueled for the miles and hours we would spend as we explored. We were pretty sure we would come across a dinosaur at some point, to our disappointment, after many years of hiking, that never happened.

Megan Clouse Photography

Photo by Megan Clouse Photography

Now that I’m slightly older I can see what makes this valley work so well, it’s called balance. On one hand you have the busy hustle and bustle of downtown Sonoma and the Hwy 12 corridor. Tourists from around the world making their way in droves up and down the valley sipping and exploring all of the world class wineries that the valley has to offer. To counter balance this activity we have the quite beauty of Sonoma Mountain watching it all, offering comfort and stability to the sometimes craziness of the valley floor. It’s a wonderful and integral piece of the Sonoma Valley and our home just wouldn’t be the same without the simplicity and natural beauty of the mountain.

I love the Sonoma Valley and all of the things that make this place so special. From epic July 4th parades around the Sonoma Plaza to the magical smell of crush as summer ends and fall begins.

But if I had to pick a favorite way to spend my mornings and evenings, it would without a doubt be with friends looking up at the mountain as the sun rises and sets on this beautiful place we call home.

Mike Clouse is the founder and managing editor at Your Sonoma Valley, a blog and media site dedicated to helping people live and enjoy the Sonoma Valley Lifestyle.


Photography by Megan Clouse Photography

This post is the first installment of the “Why I Love The Mountain” series of guest posts from local Sonoma residents on SonomaMountain.org –  Thank you Mike for your contribution and we encourage readers to like Your Sonoma Valley on Facebook and follow Mike on twitter at @mikeclouse

Apr 072014
 

For over 100 years the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) near Glen Ellen has provided a safe and secure place for the developmentally disabled. Now SDC faces certain closure by the State. The only question is how long the institution will remain open.

An impressive coalition of stakeholders is working proactively to preserve the 800 acres of undeveloped land and find creative ways to serve the remaining population. The coalition grew out of ongoing efforts by environmental groups to save the only remaining wildlife corridor left in the Valley, and by the parent group to ensure care for their family members.

What Is the Status of SDC?

A moratorium on admissions has reduced the population served at SDC approximately 500 people who are the most fragile or have multiple impairments. SDC is the largest employer in the Valley, including many workers with skills found nowhere else in the state.

SDC wildlands

SDC wildlands

SDC’s lands connect Sonoma Mountain and the Mayacamas Mountain Range on the eastern   slopes. SDC is the linchpin. Its valley floor lands are largely undeveloped. SDC covers 1000 acres, including the 200-acre footprint of buildings and 800-acre wildlands.

Some of the several hundred buildings in the footprint of SDC are architectural gems. Some are medical clinics and labs, Some are the resident’s homes. Some serve as schools, sheltered workshops, and recreational centers. SDC also includes a farm run for the clients, and two community-used fields for soccer and baseball. The area is laced with trails that have been used for a century by generations of Valley residents. Two lakes store water for irrigation and client use.

Future use of these buildings is a concern of the coalition. Numerous options for an expanded health facility for people with special needs are being discussed, and will be proposed to the State.

Who Is the Coalition?

Coalition members include the Sonoma Land Trust, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, the Sonoma Ecology Center, Sonoma County Regional Parks, Sonoma Mountain Preservation, the Parent Hospital Association, the County Economic Development Board, the Sonoma County Water Agency, Labor Representatives from the Center, a former Director at the Center, Medical personnel, Jack London Park representatives, Sonoma County Health Services, and District Representatives from the Offices of Senator Noreen Evans, Assembly member Yamada, and Representative Mike Thompson. First District Supervisor Susan Gorin leads the effort. The group meets monthly.

Coalition members have been working closely with Department Directors in Sacramento, attending meetings, and keeping a close watch on developments. Senator Evans has introduced SB 1428, a bill to protect the wild lands. More bills are in the hopper.  Sonoma County Supervisors will soon receive a briefing on the ongoing developments.

Past Citizen Efforts Saved Open Space

In 2000, State plans to surplus some acres of old SDC orchard for a vineyard lease or certain sale to developers prompted a general meeting of citizens in Sonoma Valley. Led by SMP and other local groups, several hundred people with strong commitment to preserving SDC upper lands convinced then State Senator Mike Thompson to introduce a bill to ensure that the upper lands would be saved for open space. Over 600 acres of undeveloped lands at SDC were deeded between 2000 and 2002 to State Department of Parks and Recreation, which then added these acres to Jack London State Historic Park.

In the coming months there will be a community meeting to engage support for the efforts of the coalition. We invite you to join in the effort we know is to come!

By Diane (Mickey) Cooke  

Feb 272014
 

One night in 2009, a black bear was spotted by five different people near Adobe Creek in Petaluma. After being chased by a helicopter, the bear followed that creek back up and over Sonoma Mountain to return to Napa County from whence he or she had probably started.

It is likely that this adventurous ursine was using the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor to travel from Napa County through the Sonoma Valley and up and over Sonoma Mountain.

This bear didn’t just drop into Petaluma — he or she had been able to travel a long distance, safely and mostly unseen, through existing land and creek corridors. Such corridors are essential for wildlife passage — not just for large carnivores, like bear and mountain lion, but for the many smaller critters as well, like raccoon, fox and bobcat.

Sonoma Land Trust has embarked on a multi-year project to keep open a narrow pinch point in the high-priority Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor that is at serious risk of closing up. Five miles long and only three-quarters of a mile wide at its narrowest point—the “pinch point”—the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor stretches from Sonoma Mountain, across Sonoma Creek and the valley floor, and east to the top of the Mayacamas range. It is located within the “Marin Coast to Blue Ridge Critical Linkage” identified in the Bay Area Critical Linkages Project and Conservation Lands Network, both projects of the Bay Area Open Space Council.

wildlife corridor map

Because of the work of SLT, SMP, and others over the years, more than 8,000 acres of the corridor are already protected as natural land. It is the unprotected land at the heart of the wildlife corridor on which efforts are now focused.

Ensuring that wildlife can move safely through the landscape so their populations can persist in the face of development and climate change projections is the goal of this large-scale project. Acquiring new properties is only one way of accomplishing this.

“We can’t afford to buy the entire corridor, nor would we want to because collaborating with private landowners is a very effective conservation strategy,” says Wendy Eliot, Sonoma Land Trust’s conservation director. “So we are using a variety of land protection tools to protect and enhance the corridor’s permeability, such as deed restrictions and new types of conservation easements and neighbor agreements — along with purchasing at-risk parcels.” SLT staff is developing model conservation easement language, focused on “wildlife freedom of movement” that will be used by many conservation groups working to secure wildlife corridors.

coyoteSonMtn

To validate the theory that this area is operating as a functional wildlife corridor, SLT has placed wildlife cameras on Sonoma Mountain and up and down the valley to collect data on the animals who live there. Cameras have captured mountain lion, fox, dueling bucks, opossum, bobcat, skunk, coyote, turkey vultures, jackrabbits, squirrels, and more.

The role of SDC wildlands is crucial to preservation of the wildlife corridor. The SDC Coalition, of which SMP and SLT are a part, aims to create a scenario in which the clients’ needs are served while providing urgent environmental protections — for the wildlife corridor, watershed preservation and public access. Successful protection of the undeveloped portions of the SDC would directly link more than 9,000 acres of protected land and help ensure the continued movement of wildlife across the Sonoma Valley and beyond. There are no do-overs once land is developed.

Simple things landowners can do to improve wildlife movement:

• Remove unnecessary fencing
• Modify fencing for wildlife passage
• Turn off lights at night
• Don’t leave pets (or pet food) outside at night
• Reduce nighttime noise
• Eliminate or minimize pesticide and herbicide use
• Modify vegetation management: Protect your home from wildfire, but leave enough cover for wildlife.

Map, infrared camera photo, and information courtesy of Sonoma Land Trust

Dec 282013
 

On Saturday, November 2, 2013 the Sonoma Trails Council with a volunteer work party of 40 sponsored by REI  spent time readying the East Slope trail for final work in March 2014 when the trail will be constructed. After a morning clearing brush the volunteers were rewarded for their hard work with burritos provided by Chipolte.  Thank you to everyone who came out and to the wonderful businesses that supported the effort.

sonoma mountain trail volunteer
sonoma mountain volunteer work day
sonoma mountain trail restoration
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sonoma mountain preservation work trail
sonoma mountain volunteer work day rei chipotle
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Dec 092013
 

sonoma developmental center trail jack london sonoma mountainSonoma Developmental Center (SDC) is the oldest facility in California established specifically to serve individuals with developmental disabilities. It opened to 148 residents on November 24, 1891, culminating a ten-year project by two northern California women who had children with developmental disabilities, then referred to as feeble-minded. Private owners donated the land for that purpose.

Since then the facility at Eldridge has undergone four name changes and has expanded several times. As anyone who has hiked southeast from Jack London State Historic Park will know, you can now clamber down through the orchard once used by and for SDC clients. But it almost wasn’t so.

In the mid-90s the state decided that the farm on the upper acres could no longer benefit the increasingly infirm residents, so the old orchard and other upper wooded areas, reaching to the ridgeline of Sonoma Mountain were declared surplus property to be sold for any purpose. One local vineyard owner sought the land for grape growing with some proceeds dedicated to support the disabled.

In February 1996, over 200 citizens attended a meeting chaired by then state senator Mike Thompson and organized by SMP. A strong majority of attendees supported keeping the lands in its current state and adding them to adjacent Jack London Park.

For the next five years local and state agencies planned, re-planned and re-thought options for the more than 600 acres. In addition to Thompson’s office and SMP, the county Open Space District got involved. Eventually the state moved from advocating the sale for vineyard use to sale for multiple purposes (including housing) to, ultimately, transfer of the entire acreage to the state Parks Department for expanding Jack London Park. SMP veterans advocated vigorously throughout this time for the open space option.

In 2001, thanks largely to then Assembly member Pat Wiggins, negotiations between state agencies got underway and reached conclusion with SMP members, among others, at the table.

Isn’t it time to take a walk?

Dec 092012
 

sonoma mountain oak tree What does it take to build the kind of trail Bill Kortum envisions for his grandson? Mainly, it takes access to land and permission of property owners. The more property owners, the most challenging it may be to assemble a pathway for future generations, to let them experience the majesty of the mountain and be inspired to care for it.

Right now nine owners hold parcels of 600 acres or more each within SMP area of interest on Sonoma Mountain. Altogether they own approximately 8500 acres, mainly for agriculture. In some cases the owners may want to retain title and current uses in perpetuity; in others, as people age and consider their options, land will change hands, be divided up, and options for more development will be exploited.

Landowners who place conservation easements on large swaths of their land can protect it for watershed, habitat and recreation. Maintaining critical wildlife corridors will help ensure that we do our share to protect at-risk and endangered species that need the mountain to survive, and to give young Willy a place to hike.

Dec 092012
 

sonoma mountain petaluma hiking trailThe scene is October 2020 and young Willie and a friend have started on a fifteen-mile hike from downtown Petaluma with the goal of reaching Glen Ellen by crossing Sonoma Mountain. His imagination has been stirred by his reading of Jack London, on horseback, having ascended from his Beauty Ranch to the top of the mountain, shading his eyes to witness the Pacific Ocean to the west.

Willie’s grandfather had told him about a Petaluma tradition: a hike to legendary Whitney Falls on the Sonoma side, lunch in hand, and returning fourteen hours later to Petaluma the same day. No questions asked by property owners in his grandfather’s youth. Willie envied the freedom to roam in the countryside in those days.

Now he knows of a designated trail over the summit. Up Adobe Creek traversing Lafferty Ranch, through the Mitsui property to the top of the mountain on the publicly owned Sonoma Mountain Ranch, the trail will bring him to the borders of Jack London Park, the state part that recently added Whitney Falls at its border.

Unlike his grandfather’s description of a tired hiker, having ascended a 2100-foot climb in seven hours to gain the spectacular sigh of the Falls, only to face a seven hour return to Petaluma, Willie will descend on a trail through Beauty Ranch to Glen Ellen and pick up a bus ride back to Petaluma.

Everyone likes to climb to the top of a mountain, like a bear, “to see what he could see,” particularly a mountain that is every present in your daily life. Willie’s grandfather claimed that Sonoma Mountain was the last Bay Area peak amongst a circle of peaks around the Bay that now provided public access.

Willie wonders whether the lunch his mother packed will be enough.

Dec 012012
 

sonoma mountain sonoma developmental center SDCIt’s no secret that the Sonoma Developmental Center – one of only four such large residential care facilities left in the state – may close down in the not too distant future. SDC’s website shows 523 clients now live there; the state has been shuttering these facilities when the populations drop below 500. Families of residents want the facility to stay open so their relatives don’t have toe leave the bucolic and relatively safe environs. But the state may be forced to hut SDC down and relocate remaining clients to comply with the 1969 Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act.

Local Sonoma residents have expressed concern, not only for the sake of these clients, but also for the welfare of the lands that SDC encompasses. What will the state decide to do with the property when it no longer serves SDC’s needs?

At a recent gathering at the Sonoma Ecology Center, which rents space on the SDC campus, a dozen individuals and representatives of organizations, including the Ecology Center, Sonoma Land Trust, the county Agriculture and Open Space District, SMP, county parks and state parks, talked about this critical property.

Why is it critical? SDC sits on the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, a vital connection identified and described by the Sonoma Ecology Center. Some of the last available open space for endangered and at-risk species to migrate from Sonoma Mountain east to the Mayacamas crosses Sonoma Valley through and adjacent to the state-owned facility. Recently, the Bay Area Critical Linkages project (sponsored by the Bay Area Open Space Council) identified this habitat corridor as a top priority wildlife link in the Bay Area.

When the state decides it can no longer maintain SDC in its current configuration and at its current cost, the land may be declared surplus property and potentially sold or leased for development. Family members of SDC clients have begun to explore options for an alternative development that would meet the requirements of the Lanterman Act, enable clients to remain on the land, and provide revenue to the state by adding a variety of marketable components.

Creating a scenario in which the clients’ needs are served while providing urgent environmental protections – for a wildlife corridor, watershed preservation, traffic mitigation, and public access – would be the optimal outcome as these and potentially other concerned groups begin to grapple with the future of this keystone property.

Nov 012011
 

For over a decade the slopes of Sonoma and Taylor mountains have been covered, not only in homes and fields and woods, but by a set of development guidelines that restrict the visual impact of new residences. IN 2011 the county Board of Supervisors unanimously approved revisions to the design guidelines and extended them to include the southern slopes of the Mayacamas.

The guidelines apply to single family dwellings, appurtenant structures such as garages, guest houses, storage buildings, etc. and to related roadways, grading sites and utilities. They do not apply to agricultural structures or uses nor to structures that do not require a building permit.

They are intended to reduce the visual impact of development. Guidelines include site planning, architectural and landscaping elements. Site planning constraints include, for example, locating structures so they are screened by existing vegetation or topographic features when viewed from a public road. Architectural guidelines address exterior color, glazing (non-reflective) and night lighting, while landscaping guidelines cover plant species, re-vegetation scale and density.

SMP had a major role in getting county approval and implementation of the initial guidelines and, this time with the assistance of land planning consultant Nancy Dakin, again pushed for approval of the revised and expanded requirements.

This coming year SMP will produce and distribute the guidelines in an easy-to-understand pamphlet which will be available through real estate offices as well as the PRMD office.

For more information, in the meantime, contact
PRMD
22550 Ventura Ave., Santa Rosa, 95403,
707-565-1900
www.sonoma-county.org/prmd.

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