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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

sonoma mountain preservation journal

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Nov 012011
 

Consuming and serving local food has become the latest hallmark of good living. Here on Sonoma Mountain many of us take pride in knowing the names of the farmers we buy from. Growing numbers of consumers belong to CSAs (community supported agriculture organizations) and many more buy from farmers’ markets.

How affordable and sustainable is this locavore trend? Is it profitable for the farmers and ranchers? What is the future of locally produced commercial commodities from the mountain in our own backyard?

Many factors contribute to the viability of local food production in our region, especially on the mountain itself, but one tops the list.

Rose Ranch CSA Baylan“The high value of land is the most restricting factor for people to get started in small scale, diverse ag,” observed Balyn Rose, founder of Wild Rose Ranch, near Jacobs Ranch on the north west slope of the mountain. “There are other land-based challenges,” he added, “but with commitment and perseverance anyone could successfully farm on the mountain.”

Balyn and his partner Elli Hilmer live with his uncle on nine acres. They tend a one-acre garden, keep 59 chickens and two pigs. They plan to expand to mixed orchard, more garden and intensively managed livestock rotations. Balyn said, “We started this business with our passion for farming and a love of this land which has been in my family for three generations. Our goal is to create an economically viable farming business, providing nourishing food for the local community while respecting the health and beauty of the mountain.”

He added that they have been successful in the past four years but prospects for the future look challenging.

Their operation provides a sharp contrast to the majority of large scale farming operations on the mountain, which tend to be monocultures, usually vineyards, operated on an industrial scale, which can take advantage of the mineral-rich volcanic soils of the mountain and the still relatively high value of wine grapes.

rose ranch csa sonoma mountain preservation

According to another small farmer, Nick Rupiper, who raises rabbits, laying hens and pigs to the west of the mountain, regarding the future of his type of operation: “I would like to think that it will grow, but as vineyards get bigger and dairies dry up, it’s hard to imagine that this style of ag production will flourish in Sonoma. There is a demand in the Bay Area for good, clean food but Sonoma is too wine oriented to become the next Yolo or Capay Valley (where there are many small farms, many organic/ sustainable). In general though, I do think that consumers are becoming more concerned where there food comes from, thus creating a demand for smaller farms. If the diseases and pollution of factory farms keep making headlines more and more people will turn to their local farmer.”

The Williamson Act, which provides property tax relief for owners who farm their land, has been placed on moratorium due to the state funding crisis. (The county distributes the tax relief, but depends on reimbursement from the state to manage the program.) The tax break contributes greatly to larger holdings. Grazing for cattle, sheep and goats takes up at least a few thousand acres of the mountain and helps to meet the demand for locally raised, grass-fed meat.

Dr. Gene Harlan, a veterinarian who leases 200 acres on the mountain for grazing, estimates he sells 20 to 30 percent of his annual beef production for local consumption. He too, expressed cautious optimism for the future. “A big concern is the Williamson Act. I’m growing and improving my stock; I have a long term plan.

My children and I do all the work on the herd. But will my children be able to rent this land and continue this tradition? It’s a big concern.”

As it is for all of us who want to see diversified agriculture remain a part of our life on the mountain.

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Nov 012011
 

Have you recently heard the roar of a tractor or the clanking of a cement mixer in a nearby wooded area where you know no houses exist? Do you suspect that something is going on there without a permit from the county Planning and Resource Management Department (PRMD)?

Here’s how to check it out. You will need either the address of the property or the APN number.
Then go on line to the Sonoma County PRMD, click on Permit History, write in the address or APN number where indicated to find out if the property owner has applied for and received a permit. Some permits may have been issued in the past and are either closed out (project completed) or are timed out and no longer valid.

If you discover that work is going on without a permit, call PRMD (565-1900), choose #5 from the menu for Code Enforcement and leave your name and contact telephone number. If you prefer not to have the owner whom you suspect of doing work without a permit know that you have looked into the project you can explain your concern on the phone to PRMD.

Should you fail to get assistance from PRMD, call your District 1 Supervisor Valerie Brown for the east side of Sonoma Mountain or District 2 Supervisor David Rabbit for the the west side of the mountain and describe the problem. Both can be reached at 565-2241. PRMD has less funding now than in the past and even then enforcement did not get the attention some of us would like.

In meetings with PRMD management, SMP has brought violations to their attention, and attempted to support the agency in any way appropriate for a volunteer group.

You can help, too, by staying vigilant and observing development that seems inappropriate, for example over scale, or being done without a permit visible on the property. Preserving a mountain takes all of us.

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Nov 012011
 

sonoma mountain horse fence Home owners, farmers and wild life cohabitate on our mountain, but not always congenially.
Old barbed wire fences, new deer fences, wooden fences built for privacy: all of these can have negative and often lethal effects on wild animals. Animals need to travel, to find food, water, and mates, and to escape predators, diseases, and fire.

All of these factors shift their location over time, and the animals must shift in response.
Many, if not most, parcels on Sonoma Mountain have fences that block wildlife unnecessarily. You don’t need an eight-foot fence to delineate property boundaries; a privacy fence can be built to let small animals pass under it.

Before you build, study your property and identify the plants, wetlands, meadows, and waterways. Learn which creatures pass through. Search the web for “wildlife friendly fencing.”

Allen Buckman, an upland biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game, provided these suggestions for wildlife-friendly fencing:

  • Try to keep most of your property as a natural habitat. Use deer-proof fences only around gardens, vineyards, or other deer-sensitive areas.
  • Native habitats, and particularly streams, should only be fenced with open fencing that allows animal passage.
  • Graduated or field fencing should only be used around cow-calf operations, dog runs, and other areas where the young cannot escape through the fence. Such enclosures should be located away from streams and not encompass large areas of native habitat.
  • When deer try to jump fences, they frequently pick up the top wire with their hind foot, becoming hamstrung. To alleviate this, place any two fencing wires a minimum of 10 inches apart. Use smooth top and bottom wires. Allow 12 to 18 inches above the ground so fawns and other small mammals can pass.
  • Place gates in corners so animals can be driven out. Deer will run past an open gate in the middle of a wall!
  • Work with your neighbors to provide corridors of 100 feet minimum for wildlife.

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