Dec 292015
 

Five of the “community separators” set to expire at the end of 2016 surround Sonoma Mountain. Some of them are linked directly to wildlife corridors that allow travel from the Mayacamas to the mountain and beyond.

Twenty years ago, voters countywide adopted an initiative to preserve these sorts of green places between Sonoma’s towns and cities. The County Board of Supervisors is now developing a ballot measure to renew voter protections.

The community separators have prevented housing tracts and shopping malls from sprawling into these open space buffers, ensuring that significant stretches of natural and working lands between our communities continue to thrive and grow. See Maps of Sonoma County Community Separators.

Sonoma County’s community separator policy prevents county leaders from approving major housing, commercial, and industrial development in designated lands between towns and cities. These popular voter-backed protections passed with more than 70% of the vote. Greenbelt Alliance is leading the way to renew and strengthen the voter mandate that protects community separators from Petaluma and Sonoma to Windsor and Healdsburg.

The purpose of community separators is three-fold—they serve as green buffers between cities and towns, contain urban development, and preserve the rural charm of Sonoma County’s landscape. The county’s eight community separators cover 17,000 acres of natural and farm lands. These policies complement the cities’ urban growth boundaries, which designate where a city can and cannot develop, by safeguarding adjacent unincorporated lands.

In addition to protecting green zones between communities from sprawl, community separators preserve farmlands, waterways, drinking water, groundwater recharge areas, wildlife corridors, water quality, hillsides, woodlands, and much more.

Greenbelt Alliance and other conservation organizations are advocating for enhancement and strengthening of our community separators, reminding us that. urgent needs for housing can be met within the footprint of our towns and cities.

Thanks to Greenbelt Alliance’s blog for sharing this article! If you’d like to get involved in the campaign, contact Teri Shore at tshore@greenbelt.org

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.

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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

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 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
 

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.

sonoma mountain logo

Nov 092010
 

jack london sonoma moutain visitRecreation on the mountain can include wine tasting, visiting Morton’s Warm Springs, attending a retreat at the Westerbeke Ranch, or, as most visitors and residents do, heading to a park, principally Jack London State Historic Park.

To reach Jack London State Historic Park, take London Ranch Road south out of Glen Ellen and follow it to the end. Parking costs $7/day. No dogs are allowed out of the historic section of the park, which is near the entrance. Bikes are restricted to designated fire roads and several trails. Cyclists need to watch for sign at trailheads and observe season restrictions.

First time visitors often start by touring the historic buildings, including the burned-out Wolf House, the summer cottage and museum, and the barn and must-see Pig Palace.

Then on to the hikes.

Major trails inside Jack London State Historic Park include the Mountain Trail, a six-mile round trip, which starts at the parking lot and climbs past London Lake to the top of Sonoma Mountain, via either the Summit Trail or the Hayfields Loop.

Signage along the way makes sense and can easily be followed. The Sonoma Ridge Trail, a 10-mile loop, begins about two miles from the parking lot, leaves the Mountain Trail to the left and rises along a ridge to afford great views of Sonoma Valley, Mt. Diablo, Mt. Tamalpais, Mt. St. Helena and much of the Bay Area.

Shorter trails take off from the Mountain Trail around London Lake, including Fallen Bridge trail (yes, there is a fallen bridge) which follows Asbury Creek canyon into the old London Ranch orchards and some old growth redwoods. For the adventurous, several steep trails lead down to the Sonoma Development Center’s peaceful Fern Lake.

Trails also wander through the old Jack London Beauty Ranch orchard (pear trail, apple trail, etc.) and circle the historical buildings, including the Wolf House ruins.

New Trails

Two lengthy new trails are in the works. The first, called the North Slope Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail, currently under construction, will run 4.25 miles, connecting on the east with the Hayfields Loop in JLSHP and the west with a new public parking/trail staging area at Jacobs Ranch, about three miles up Sonoma Mt. Road, going east from the fire station on Bennett Valley Rd. The trail will end at one of the highest points in JLSHP. Rising along the north slope of the mountain, it will afford view of the Mayacamas Range and Sonoma Valley to the east and Santa Rosa to the west. It will also, eventually, comprise a section of the Bay Area Ridge Trail.

Jacobs Ranch, an Open Space District preserve, may be open for short hikes, depending on conditions of access roads. Check with Sonoma County Open Space District before trying to enter.

Another ambitious undertaking, the South Slope Trail, with a planned ground breaking in April 2011, will add about four miles to the Sonoma Ridge Trail (see above). It will provide a 140miles round trip from the JLSHP parking lot. Watch our website for news on this major feature.

To get started exploring the mountain, you can enjoy organized hikes with trained and knowledgeable leaders. Contact the non-profit LandPaths and/or state parks volunteers Bill Meyers or Dave Chalk at (707) 539-8847 or to the website for State or Regional Parks.

Dave and Bill offer monthly hikes at 10 a.m. on Saturdays. Most hikes average about 40 participants and are as much social event as hiking exercise. Hikes are called moderately strenuous, but the do end with a tailgate party in the parking log.

Horses

You can bring you own horses to Jack London State Historic Park, parking your trailer in the upper parking lot at the far west end. Horses must stay on designated fire roads and trails. Guided trail rides can arranged by calling Triple Creek Horse Outfit in Glen Ellen (707) 887-8700 or go the their website.

Retreat to the Mountain

For a romantic, low-key, somewhat rustic getaway, redolent with history and steeped in the culture of the mountain, few places compare with Westerbeke Ranch, off Grove Street, west of Arnold Drive in Sonoma. The property that is now Westerbeke Ranch was purchased by long time residents Richard and Muriel Van Hoosear as a vacation retreat for themselves and their three daughters. The buildings and grounds developed as their family grew. Richard and Muriel loved to travel and on each trip to Mexico or Spain they returned with new architectural ideas and decorations.

In the late 1960’s the ranch was transformed into the conference center it is today. The Westerbeke family invites visitors to enjoy their home and workplace. To make an appointment for a tour, for more information about weddings or other events at the ranch, or for additional information, go to their web site www.westranch.com.

Stop and View the Flowers

Another Van Hoosear family contribution to the region consists of the 163-acre preserve at the foot of Sonoma Mountain off Carriger Road known and treasured for its abundance and variety of wildflowers. Over 250 species of common and rare wildflowers and native grasses thrive throughout the property. Carriger Creek, a tributary of Sonoma Creek, runs through the preserve. The property is managed by the Sonoma Ecology Center, with dual goals of protecting the preserve’s botanical, aquatic and wildlife values and providing public access for educational purposes. Now protected by an Open Space District conservation easement, the preserve welcomes visitors by guided tour each year during the spring when the flowers are at their peak. Reservations are required and space is limited; for reservations, contact Elly Seelye at (707) 996-0712 ext. 124, or email elly@sonomaecologycenter.org. A donation of $20 per adult and $10 per child is requested, though no one will be turned away.

Go Organic Wine-tasting and Take a Vineyard Tour

On your way to or from Jack London State Park, pull of London Ranch Road into the Benziger Family Winery. The entire portfolio of Benziger wine is certified sustainable, organic or biodynamic.

The Benziger family has been growing grapes on Sonoma Mountain for almost 30 years. According to the co-owner Chris Benziger, his brother Mike and sister in-law Mary discovered the vineyard in the late 70’s and purchased it with help form their parents. Three other brothers and a sister joined the business.

“In the beginning we farmed the same way as everyone else around here. You spray to keep the weeds in check, to keep the bugs away, and to increase yields,” observed Chris. But, he added, after a few years Mike pushed the family to consider something different.

To discover the results of their transition to a more sustainable yet still commercially viable model, go to their website www.benziger.com for information on tours and tastings.

Meditate at a Zen Center

The Sonoma Mountain Zen Center (or, Genjoji) is an 80-acre Soto Zen practice center located on Sonoma Mountain Rd.

Founded by Jakusho Kwong and his wife Laura Kwong in 1973, Kwong-roshi is the current guiding teacher of the Zen center. The center offers residential training and a practice regimen for local members and visitors from all over.

The Zen Center supports itself through members’ donations, proceeds from its Zen Dust bookstore, and by offering rooms for rent.

Author Sarah Ban Breathnach described the center in her book A Man’s Journey to Simple Abundance:

“Near the top of the mountain, the road dips, bends, then snakes through a small grove of redwoods. The dense canopy blocks all ambient light, so that when you emerge on the other side of the grove, you feel as though you’ve passed through a portal into another world. It’s a fitting way to approach Sonoma Mountain Zen Center, because people there view reality just a little bit differently from the way most of us do.” For more information on programs and access, go to www.smzc.net.

Soak and Swim in a Warm Spring

Bordering Sonoma Creek just west of Glen Ellen and nestled among a canopy of large oaks, open meadows and rolling hills, Morton’s Warm Springs is perfect for picnics, reunions, family recreation, corporate retreats and meetings, weddings, and class field trips.

The Wappo Indians, early residents of the area, recognized the healing properties of the geothermal mineral springs and considered the waters sacred.

In 1939 Ethel and Harold Morton purchased the property and began operating it as Morton’s Warm Springs Resort. The site not includes natural mineral pool, picnic and BBQ sites, bocce ball and a variety of other courts and fields.

Morton’s is open during summer months; go to their website for directions, dates and times.