Sep 072023

The Three Watersheds of Sonoma Mountain.

A watershed is an area of land that catches and drains precipitation to a common body of water such as a river, lake, or ocean. Every place where water collects has its own watershed. No matter where you live, you live in a watershed.

“I think of watersheds as living lifeboats from ridge to river, from summit to sea, from stem to stern.”

Brock Dolman

The springs and creeks of Sonoma Mountain feed into three different local watersheds: the Petaluma River, Sonoma Creek, and Laguna de Santa Rosa. 

Petaluma River Watershed

Petaluma River Watershed is the smallest of Sonoma Mountain’s three watersheds. Sonoma Mountain, at 2,295 feet, is the highest point in the watershed, which is located in southern Sonoma County and a portion of northeastern Marin County, with Petaluma at its center.

The headwaters and ephemeral tributaries of Sonoma Mountain’s southwest slopes are the major source of water for the Petaluma River’s 146 square-mile basin, which run approximately 19 miles long and 13 miles wide. 

The Petaluma River’s tributaries include Lichau Creek, Lynch Creek, Washington Creek, and Adobe Creek. Adobe Creek’s headwaters at the Lafferty Ranch were once the major source of water for Petaluma.

The Petaluma watershed is fifty-six percent mountainous or hilly upland areas, which also includes the southern slopes of Mecham Hill, the eastern slopes of Weigand’s Hill and Mt. Burdell. Thirty-three percent is the valley. The lower 11% of the watershed are salt marshes, which include the lower 12 miles of the Petaluma River and the Petaluma Marsh – the largest remaining salt marsh in San Pablo Bay. The marsh covers 5,000 acres and is surrounded by approximately 7,000 acres of reclaimed wetlands. The Petaluma River watershed empties into the northwest portion of San Pablo Bay.

Petaluma River is a slough, and it rises and falls with the tides. 

The Petaluma River Watershed hosts several federally endangered fauna and animals including the salt marsh harvest mouse, the North American River Otter, and Ridgway’s Rail.

Wild steelhead spawn and grow-up in the Petaluma River watershed are wild. Chinook salmon are seen in the main stem of the Petaluma River the turning basin, near the Lynch Creek confluence.

The headwaters and tributaries of Petaluma River begin on the steep southwest slopes of Sonoma Mountain. The confluence of Willow Brook, Liberty Creek, and Weigand’s Creek form the headwaters of the Petaluma Watershed just upstream of Rainsville Road and Stony Point Road. The Petaluma River itself flows across the Denman Flat area and through the City of Petaluma. Tidal influence extends upstream of the confluence with Lynch Creek (beyond the railroad crossing).

Sonoma Creek Watershed

The first trickle of Sonoma Creek begins northeast of Kenwood in the rugged hills of Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. It travels west, then curves to the south, converging with tributaries from the western slopes of the Mayacamas and the eastern slopes of Sonoma Mountain. At the northwestern edge of the watershed are Sonoma Mountain Vernal Pools and Yulupa Creek.

Sonoma Mountain’s principal contributions to Sonoma Creek include Felder Creek, Carriger Creek, Dowdell Creek, Mill Creek, Ashbury Creek, and Graham Creek. Graham Creek runs through the upper regions of Jack London State Park and was historically called Wild Water Creek, a name used in the time of author Jack London. The creek inspired some of his work, including Valley of the Moon

Tributaries to Sonoma Creek Watershed from the Mayacamas include Calabazas Creek, Bear Creek, and Schell Creek.

The watershed covers approximately 170 square miles and Sonoma Creek itself flows 33 miles from its headwaters on the west side of the Mayacamas Mountains to the Napa-Sonoma Marsh in north San Pablo Bay. It includes the City of Sonoma, Kenwood, Glen Ellen, Boyes Hot Springs, and Schellville, and harbors a diverse range of habitats from redwood/fir forests to chaparral, oak woodland, and wetlands. 

The watershed provides habitat for several native threatened or endangered species of concern, including steelhead trout, Chinook salmon, and California freshwater shrimp. Beavers have also recolonized Sonoma Creek after having been missing for over a century and are currently located in both Sonoma and Glen Ellen. A “keystone species,” the beaver has created habitat that has, in turn, led to the return of the river otter.

Tolay Creek: 

The Tolay Creek watershed is generally listed as part of the Sonoma Creek watershed, though it never meets with Sonoma Creek. Technically, it is a small watershed of its own. Located south of Sonoma Mountain, between the Petaluma River and Sonoma Creek Watersheds, the 12-mile-long creek originates near Stage Gulch Road, feeds Tolay Lake, then flows south to eventually empty into the Napa-Sonoma Marsh.

Laguna de Santa Rosa Watershed

The Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed is the largest of Sonoma Mountain’s three watersheds. The 254-square-mile basin encompasses most of the Santa Rosa Plain and drains into the Laguna de Santa Rosa, a 22-mile wetland complex that extends from Cotati to the Russian River at Forestville. Sonoma Mountain’s major tributaries include Copeland Creek, which springs from Fairfield Osborn Preserve; Crane Creek, which begins east of Crane Creek Regional Park; and Matanzas Creek, its headwaters flowing through North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park. Other major tributaries to the laguna include Mark West Creek, Blucher Creek, Windsor Creek, and Santa Rosa Creek. 

Though the watershed makes up only 16% of Sonoma County’s land mass, it is home to over half the county’s population, containing all or part of Windsor, Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Sebastopol, and Forestville.

The Laguna de Santa Rosa is an ecological system covering more than 30,000 acres and comprised of a mosaic of creeks, open water, perennial marshes, seasonal wetlands, riparian forests, oak woodlands, and grasslands. It lies on the Pacific Flyway, an important global bird migration route, and is home to a wide variety of life: more than 200 species of birds, endangered salmon, steelhead, mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, mink, badger, and river otter. It includes rare vernal pool areas and critical habitat designated for the endangered California Tiger Salamander.

The Laguna de Santa Rosa also serves as a holding basin during our wet season and as an overflow area when the Russian River floods. It is the largest tributary to the Russian River, which originates near Willits in Mendocino County and runs 115 miles to the Pacific Ocean at Jenner. 

Jul 032023

Evil in the Hills: The Infidelity of Copeland Creek.

by John Sheehy

Frank Burton, who settled at the northwestern foot of Sonoma Mountain in the 1850s, claimed that the trout in nearby Copeland Creek ran so thick he could reach in and catch them by hand. Copeland Creek’s abundance of fish and year-round fresh water made it a valuable resource for Yankee pioneers like Burton, but the creek also had a checkered reputation for infidelity. In stormy conditions, Copeland Creek was known to jump watersheds, venturing from its usual streambed in the Russian River watershed to the nearby Petaluma River watershed, where it contributed to the periodic flooding of Petaluma.

Calls for imposing flood control on the wayward creek began over a century ago with the Petaluma Courier’s plea to “remedy the evils in the hills.” Those calls were raised again in the winter of 2018, after Copeland Creek jumped its banks along Lichau Road in Penngrove, spilling into an already-flooded Petaluma. As in the past, they were met with concerns over regulations, private property rights, and questions about where the money would come from.

Copeland Creek originates from Elphic Spring near the summit of Sonoma Mountain, naturally flowing onto the Santa Rosa Plain at the southern edge of the Russian River watershed. While winter storms annually drop an average 23 inches of rain on the plain, the top of Sonoma Mountain, its 2,464-foot elevation literally scraping the rain from passing storm clouds, averages 50 inches.

Prior to the 1870s, rainwater flowed down Copeland Creek’s bed of basaltic armor and fanned out into a large seasonal lake across parts of current day Cotati and Rohnert Park, providing a habitat for egrets, herons, ducks, amphibians, and trout.

The increasing development of farms on the plain in the 1870s led to a large-scale draining of  Copeland Creek’s seasonal wetlands. To do so, a nine-mile channel was constructed to connect the creek with the main stem of the Laguna de Santa Rosa, ultimately feeding the creek into the Russian River. 

But the collection of sediment and storm debris that built up during the winter hindered the channel’s flood control function, contributing to Copeland Creek’s inclination to jump into the nearby Petaluma watershed, where it pushed debris and sediment to the Petaluma River, impeding riverboat navigation and exasperating flood conditions in Petaluma. The channeling also appears to have brought about a steep decline of trout in the creek.

In 1872, Copeland Creek became a primary water source for Petaluma, along with two other year-round creeks that flowed down Sonoma Mountain’s west slope, Adobe Creek and Lynch Creek. A diversionary dam was built midway up Copeland Creek that piped roughly half of the creek’s stream flow to Petaluma reservoirs. Even so, come rainy winter seasons, Copeland Creek failed to change its evil ways. State engineer reports in 1896 and 1902 called for remedies for shoring up its banks, but ranch owners responded by threatening the city of Petaluma with trespassing lawsuits. 

In 1914, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers recommended the construction of a restraining wall on the creek, but the Cotati Land Company, a large landholder in the southern Santa Rosa Plain, sued Petaluma, arguing that such a wall would result in flooding their farmland. Heavy rainfalls in the late 1920s brought repeated flooding to the chicken ranchers of both Petaluma and Cotati. Citizen petitions for flood control were met with a deaf ear by the Petaluma City Council.

In 2021, the City of Rohnert Park was awarded a $6 million FEMA grant toward the construction of the detention basin for Copeland Creek to help mitigate flood problems, with matching funds coming from the city’s development fees.[1] Capturing stormwater in the basin will allow a slower recharge of the groundwater while also creating habitat for fish passage, including for steelhead trout. Not so long ago they ran so thick as to be caught by hand.

[1]Rohnert Park wins $6 million grant to help build flood-control basin,” Santa Rosa Press Democrat, November 14, 2021

May 252023

Wildlife Fair at Jack London Park, May 20

What a gorgeous day to hold a Fair! People circulated through the thirteen booths distributed inside the Winery ruins in Jack London Park.

Up front there were three live birds: a raven, an owl, and a red tail hawk. Visitors were pulled right in and asked lots of questions.  Further along, there were bones and skulls and stuffed animals on display. Spread throughout were over 60 dramatic wildlife photos exhibited on panels. They brought the space to life.

Children approached with eyes wide and mouths round. “Birdie,” flap flap, or “Look Doggie,” woof woof. They were completely prepared to take it all in and love it. They rushed on to the next booth to see the fox and on and on.

Around 1500 people passed through in a constant stream. They paused to listen to the speeches given by local experts ranging from the effect of fire on wildlife, living with lions and bears, and the various ways throughout history that people have lived with local wildlife, all overseen by John McCaull, of Sonoma Land Trust, who wrangled the lot. The crowd’s response was enthusiastic, even raucous. 

Francisco Kilgore was present interviewing people to air on The Morning Show on KSVY 91.3.

We were incredibly lucky to have Sonoma Land Trust as a sponsor for the fair. But each of the thirteen organizations and three individual photographers participating brought their own passions and commitment to sharing their work and knowledge with the families and public who attended. All contributed to the success of the fair. Thanks to Uli Kolbe for taking many photos, allowing you a glimpse of the fun.

The participants circulated to share tales with their co-exhibitors, in some cases whom they hadn’t seen for years due to COVID. Having all these dedicated environmentalists in one space really created a frisson of energy and hope. Hope for the 30 by 30 goal – protecting 30% of our landmass for open space by 2030. Maybe even 50% one day. 

May 012023

Helping at the Wildlife Fair

by Nancy Kirwan

There is deep concern for the piecemeal approach that is requiring enormous effort on the part of the residents of and communities surrounding Sonoma Mountain to protect local open space and to sustain the wildlife corridor. There are interconnected watersheds, fragile habitats, and enormous beauty. Whenever a piece of land is developed in these areas, they are put at risk of land, water, and air pollution, increased fire risk, disruption of natural ecosystems, and the degradation of the natural environment.

After working on the book, Where the World Begins, it occurred to Sonoma Mountain Preservation (SMP) that looking at Sonoma Mountain as a whole rather than as its constituent parts might help us to come up with an effective method for protecting it as a bulwark against climate change and urban sprawl. We have been discussing the idea of a wildlife zone that would encompass the entire Mountain and set permanent standards regarding development. The idea of a conference connecting all the constituent environmental organizations that work on educating about, advocating for, and protecting the corpus of Sonoma Mountain and environs is being considered so that we could figure out the needed terms of such a blanket protection.

As I was mulling how to start pursuing that effort, I was contacted by Deborah Large, the Community Events Coordinator at Jack London State Historic Park (JLSHP), and asked about assisting her with a wildlife fair at JLSHP. I literally jumped at the chance. It is not a conference, but I saw it as an opportunity to have SMP work with JLSHP on bringing those same organizations together in an informal gathering that will be educating the public about Sonoma Mountain and the wildlife thereon while it connects the organizations in a common effort. Preliminary steps to a long-term goal.

Through contacts made during SMP’s advocacy work on protecting Sonoma Mountain and educating the public on its attributes over the last six years, I was able to reach out to a couple of dozen organizations, asking them if they’d be interested in participating.  The thrust of the solicitation was to thank each organization for all the work they had done in their particular area of expertise and to ask if they would like to share that expertise at a Wildlife Fair. LandPaths responded by saying, “This sounds like a fantastic event for sharing with the community the opportunities we have for them to get outside and about our mission to foster the love of the land in Sonoma County.”

We are thrilled to be bringing together over a dozen leading Bay Area nature, environmental, and rescue organizations who will be providing information and hands-on activities about local wildlife, challenges to survival, and ways that we can all successfully coexist. John McCaull of Sonoma Land Trust said that he is “really psyched about this event,” generously pledged SLT’s support for it and agreed to be Master of Ceremonies for the oral presentations!

The Fair includes educational booths, kids’ activities, a photo gallery of photos taken by local photographers, and participating organizations and speakers. There will be birds from the Bird Rescue Center, Activities about Our Wild Neighbors, and some booths will have video from trail cameras or slide shows of local wildlife captured on camera. John McCaull will give an introduction to Wildlife Corridors. Arthur Dawson will address what he has learned from indigenous elders. Eric Metz will be speaking about the wildlife he has encountered in the JLSHP. Quinton Martins will share his experiences with local mountain lions. Wendy Hayes will discuss living with black bears as they move back into the environs of Sonoma Valley, and John Roney will share what Sugarloaf has learned about fire and wildlife.

The Fair is free to all, though a parking fee of $10 or a state parks pass is required. As part of JLSHP’s free pass program, La Luz, Mentoring, Boys’ and Girls’ Club, and St. Leo’s are all being encouraged to distribute free parking passes for the day of the Fair to their families.

I can’t wait to see how all these organizations are working to support and protect the wildlife and wildlands on and around Sonoma Mountain. See you there!!!

Nancy Kirwan
Sonoma Mountain Preservation

May 012023

Developer chosen for SDC campus

By Melissa Dowling and Tracy Salcedo
Originally published in the April 15th edition of Kenwood Press

California’s Department of General Services (DGS) has selected Rogal & Partners and The Grupe Company as buyers for the 180-acre developed campus of the former Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC)

The April 3 announcement comes three months after the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors approved a Specific Plan and environmental impact report (EIR) for the campus that allows for construction of at least 620 homes, more than 400,000 square feet of commercial space, and a resort hotel. The EIR currently faces a legal challenge contending it violates a number of provisions in the California Environmental Quality Act.

At least three groups submitted proposals for purchase of the campus, including a homegrown coalition, the Next 100 Years Plan, which envisioned retaining the property in public ownership via a special district. DGS, the state’s real estate branch, determined that the Grupe/Rogal team’s proposal “was most in keeping with the County’s plan for the site and has a track record of successfully delivering projects like this,” said Jennifer Iidapublic information officer with DGS.

Selection of a buyer initiates an exclusive negotiating agreement (ENA) process, which Iida explained is “an agreement between two parties that establishes processes and expectations for the sale of the property. It is just an initial step.” No firm timeline for the ENA has been established, Iida added, and the pending lawsuit against the county challenging the EIR “does not impact the timing or process” for the ENA.

“There will not be community outreach during the ENA process,” Iida noted. DGS also declined to provide a copy of the winning proposal until the purchase and sale agreement for the core campus is executed.

Selection of a buyer does not affect the anticipated transfer of approximately 750 acres of surrounding open space to California State Parks, Iida said. The state budget for fiscal 2023-2024 includes $3 million to enable that transfer.

The winning bidders

Rogal & Partners have either successfully redeveloped, or are in the process of redeveloping, two properties in the Napa Valley. A visit to the website highlights the Carneros Inn project, which transformed “three separate and deteriorating properties” totaling 27 acres into a mixed-use resort hotel encompassing 96 hotel cottages, three restaurants, and 41 residences.

Napa Pipe, a redevelopment encompassing 168 acres along the Napa River, is also featured on the website. Yet to be built outs, Napa Pipe is described as “a compact, walkable, urban neighborhood, with great streets, parks and public amenities, expressly designed for the needs and desires of today’s smaller households of all ages and incomes.” Senior (150 units), affordable (190 units), and market-rate (755 units) housing is planned for the site, along with a hotel, restaurants, light industrial and office space, and a Costco.

The website states development of Carneros Inn and planning for Napa Pipe has included “substantial” and “unprecedented” community engagement and outreach.

The Grupe Company has developed “more than 12 master-planned communities [and] more than 50,000 homes in 35 cities nationwide,” according to its website (, as well as “preserved wildlife habitat areas and open spaces” associated with those developments Current and past projects include single family subdivisions, apartments, and storage facilities in the East Bay, Sacramento, Lodi, and Nevada.

Keith Rogal of Rogal & Partners, responding to questions from the Kenwood Press via email, said, “We feel honored to have been chosen by DGS as the right team to take on such an important responsibility.” He noted that the SDC is an “extraordinary property, with so many exceptional attributes. We are thrilled by the opportunity to work with the community in protecting and preserving natural resources of the SDC, enhancing the landscape, and creating a built environment that can meet present and future County needs and goals.”

Asked what he believes compelled the state to chose the Grupe/Rogal proposal, Rogal said, “We don’t know which factors were at work in the State’s decision process, but our two companies have deep experience in complex, mixed-use projects, specifically in and around small city and rural settings. We understand and care passionately about sustainability, natural resource conservation, the design of parks and open spaces, and the creation of vibrant, walkable communities for persons of all ages and incomes.”

Looking to the future, Rogal explained that, “a top priority is to review with great care the many comments already provided by members of the community, through the Specific Plan process. We have also put up a website at to provide a place for interested parties to get their thoughts to us directly, and/or just to let us know they’d like us to keep them informed as the process moves ahead.

Addressing a timeline, Rogal said, “from now through summer and on into the fall, we will be principally in an information-gathering mode, and community input is central to that foundational planning work.”

Asked if there are specific plans yet for the development, Rogal said, “Our plan is to implement the vision defined by the County in the SDC Specific Plan. At this early stage, we do not have additional detail above and beyond that which was created by the County planning process.”

County and community response

In a press release announcing the selection of the Grupe/Rogal partnership, First District Supervisor Susan Gorin said, “We’re deeply grateful for the state’s work on this and for naming a developer for this vital site in the heart of Sonoma Valley … We look forward to helping ensure the developer provides numerous opportunities to outreach and hear from the community to develop a project that reflects the qualities of Sonoma Valley while addressing the needs within the guidelines of the SDC specific plan.”

Sonoma County isn’t part of the sale process, noted Bradley Dunn, policy manager with Permit Sonoma, which is responsible for ensuring redevelopment complies with the Specific Plan.

Permit Sonoma may enter into a development agreement with the buyer once the sale is finalized, but because the developer “initiates a development agreement,” Dunn couldn’t comment on what that might entail “or the timeline for a hypothetical agreement.” If a development agreement is reached, however, Dunn said “it would require hearings with the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. Both would include public participation.”

Teresa Murphy of the Glen Ellen Historical Society (GEHS) and a member of the Next 100 Years team, composed a letter to the editor expressing that group’s frustration with the outcome. “Hundreds of hours of testimony, meetings, and planning were based on the dream that this community could actually influence the outcome” of redevelopment of the SDC, she wrote. “The dream was dashed with the award by [DGS] to the Napa developer Rogal and Partners and the Grupe Company.”

Speaking only for himself, not as a representative of any organization, Bean Anderson, a community stakeholder affiliated with the GEHS and the Next 100 Years Plan, worried that selection of the Grupe/Rogal partnership threatens the integrity of the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, which includes the campus. “Future zoning changes at the request of a large developer could easily destroy what little is left of the wildlife corridor,” he said.

Both Anderson and Murphy asserted the need for continued community advocacy for the campus and its retention as public land.

“The protection of the ecological, historic, and environmental integrity of the area depends upon the land being managed for the public good—by remaining in public hands or in a responsible trust. This should be our goal,” Anderson stated.

For details on the Specific Plan and the EIR, visit For information on the lawsuit, visit the Sonoma Community Advocates for a Liveable Eldridge (SCALE) at

Tracy Salcedo is an award-winning writer based in Glen Ellen. She is a board member of Sonoma Mountain Preservation, which is part of SCALE.

Apr 022023

Support the Lawsuit to Save SDC

Sonoma County’s Board of Supervisors has approved a plan to build 620 homes, 410,000 square feet of commercial space, and a resort hotel on the 180-acre campus of the former Sonoma Developmental Center. A deeply flawed environmental impact report sanctioning up to 1,000 dwellings was approved alongside the plan.

The plan and its EIR thumbed its nose at you, and hundreds like you, who spoke up in letters and showed up at meetings with ideas that should have been integrated into the plan and concerns that should have been studied in the EIR, but weren’t.

The county’s decision could have been the end of the SDC’s transformation story. But that story is still being written.

Your concerns and ideas form the foundation of a lawsuit filed in January 2023 challenging the validity of the SDC Specific Plan’s EIR. The goal of the plaintiffs, Sonoma Community Advocates for a Liveable Eldridge, and Sonoma County Tomorrow, Inc., is to ensure that this redevelopment in the heart of Sonoma Valley is based on solid science and real-world experience, scaled appropriately for the site, and environmentally sound. As we tackle the balancing act of preserving our natural resources while also adding needed housing, the SDC project needs to be evaluated for its effects on the lives of everyone in the community—including wildlife—and not constrained by economics and politics.

Challenging the status quo requires funding. We need your help. Your generous donation to the SDC Legal Fund will support the ongoing grassroots campaign that began a decade ago, when stakeholders first began to reimagine the SDC. Any amount will help. You can:

  • Make a tax-deductible donation at
  • Send a check, payable to: “Sonoma County Tomorrow,” to PO Box 983, Sebastopol, CA 95473. Put “SDC” on the memo line. Or use the Paypal option at  Also tax deductible.
  • Send a check to “Susan Brandt-Hawley Trust Account” with “SDC” on the memo line to: Brandt-Hawley Law Group, PO Box 1659, Glen Ellen, CA 95442; Attn: Jeanie Stapleton. Contact for questions.

100% of your donation will go to the Sonoma Developmental Center Legal Fund.Add signature line 

PS: If you have already donated, we thank you. Your going support will ensure the SDC is redeveloped as a community asset, not an environmental disaster.  

Fern Lake at the Sonoma Developmental Center. Image by Scott Hess.
Mar 282023

Getting to Know Kim Batchelder,
Conservation Hero

This is the seventh of a series of monthly interviews we are conducting with the Sonoma Mountain Preservation board members. 

Kim’s dedication to environmental conservation and forestry has made a significant impact in Sonoma County and beyond. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology and environmental conservation from the University of Colorado and a master’s in forestry from Duke University. Kim began his career managing Wilderness Areas in Colorado. He later worked on reforestation projects in rural Costa Rica, followed by forest management from Mexico to Chile, including working for The Nature Conservancy – Mexico.

Kim currently serves as the Vegetation Management Coordinator for Sonoma County. He develops tools and treatments to improve the health and resiliency of the county’s landscapes while protecting communities from large-scale wildfire events. He manages the Vegetation Management Grant Program and collaborates with County agencies, local non-profits, and fire services agencies to determine the best way to utilize the PG&E Settlement with the County after the 2017 fires. Besides being on the SMP board, Kim serves on conservation and research committees for Santa Rosa Junior College and the Sonoma County Conservation Working Group

How long have you been working in conservation, and how did this decision come about?

I’ve always been interested in conservation and have been actively participating since my undergrad days in Boulder, Colorado, from Wilderness area management with the USFS to tropical reforestation in Costa Rica with the Peace Corps to tropical forest management and conservation throughout Latin America with Rainforest Alliance and conservation forestry in Mexico. Now, I’m helping protect land with Sonoma County Ag Preservation and Open Space District and providing resources to communities to help them become more resilient to wildfire.

How did you come to know Sonoma Mountain? 

My first project assignment in 2005 with Sonoma County Ag + Open Space was to design a backcountry trail and trailhead from the west side of Sonoma Mountain to connect to Jack London State Historic Park. This assignment linked more than 1200 acres of protected lands to Jack London State Park and provided public access to Sonoma Mountain. It introduced me to many amazing partners like Sonoma County Regional Parks, State Parks staff, Bay Area Ridge Trail, Coastal Conservancy, and Sonoma Land Trust to name a few. It was the first trail I had ever developed, and it was a very steep learning curve, but I am very proud of this incredible trail for its ability to gently climb the western and northern shoulders of our unique mountain! I love all the habitat types and vistas; now everybody can enjoy this amazing trail. 

What do you do for the board at SMP, and how long have you served?

My role is primarily to help understand the connection between protected lands and gaps where more work could be done to preserve more areas. I like the challenges of creating more public access points while considering the important ecological functions that should be conserved and protected.  I believe I started to commit my time to SMP around 2015, about the time the book was being developed. 

What is the best part of serving on SMP’s board? 

I love the people and their commitment to protecting this valuable treasure. Many folks live on or near the mountain and are very dedicated to seeing it protected forever. Love their spirit – very infectious.

What do you see in the future of Sonoma County regarding conservation and development? 

That would entail a very long answer, but more protection of our natural resources and ecological functions is critical – i.e., water catchments and networks of riparian corridors are a huge priority. Also, we need to become wildfire resilient, where our lands are healthier, and fire is part of our land management options so that prescribed burns can become an economically feasible treatment for our landscape and our community can embrace the use of fire rather than fear it. I hope our community will develop a greater appreciation of the lands that have been protected and get the chance to enjoy our spectacular natural landscapes. 

Do you have a favorite story about Sonoma Mountain?

I really enjoyed exploring the backcountry when we were looking at various trail alignments; I’d be out on my own without any signs of human intervention, sometimes spooking a coyote thinking he/she too was all alone on the Mountain. I remember one particular instance when the mountain was completely enveloped by fog, and I was trying to get a sense of where I was with just a few small flags to try to guide us. It was soooo thrilling to be almost lost but also using all senses and a couple of veg maps, trying to read various oaks or bay canopies and other features to dial in as to what direction we needed to head. Then suddenly the fog lifted and we could see all the way across Sonoma Valley and the Santa Rosa valley and not see any of the urban development still below the fog! What a site to behold – it took me right back to an ancestral view of the valley pre-development. Great memory!

Interview conducted by Soneile Hymn. This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.

Feb 052023

Protecting the Land – An Interview with Teri Shore

This is the sixth of a series of monthly interviews we are conducting with the Sonoma Mountain Preservation board members. 

Teri Shore is a long-time environmentalist, born and raised in the Bay Area. Over the last couple of decades, she has championed winning campaigns to preserve greenbelts and open space, create safe havens for endangered species, and clean up cruise ship, ferry, and container ship pollution. She has worked for Greenbelt Alliance, Turtle Island Restoration Network, Friends of the Earth, and Bluewater Network. She also volunteers with Sierra Club. Her current focus is protecting at-risk open space and rural lands in Sonoma County from urbanization and the harm it causes to our climate, environment, and communities.
An avid hiker, backpacker, and wilderness advocate, Teri has led Sierra Club backpack trips and has climbed many peaks including Mt. Shasta and Mt. Whitney. Before committing full-time to environmental work, she was a journalist and newspaper professional. She graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Journalism.

What do you do for Sonoma Mountain Preservation?

I serve on the board to help make decisions about the policies and direction of Sonoma Mountain Preservation and to advocate for open space protections on the mountain and beyond. I’ve been on the board for about five years, now.

What is your favorite thing about working on the SMP board? 

Collaborating with passionate like-minded individuals – including our board, our members, and the community – to protect our lands and environment from overuse and urban development.

You are an avid hiker and mountain climber. What are some of the most amazing hikes or climbs you have been on?

Solo-hiking the John Muir Trail in July of 2014. It took twenty-one days and was my proudest backpacking achievement. Climbing to the top of Mt Shasta was the hardest climb I ever did, finally making it after three tries (way back in 1996). The most fascinating was a week-long supported hike on the Lurujarri Trail in remote Northwestern Australia in July 2013, led in part by members of the Goolarabooloo “mob” of the region.

What are your goals for the future related to Sonoma Mountain and/or your dedication to conservation? 

I want to protect the remaining open space. We are working on conservation easements and policies to prevent overdevelopment, as well as enforcement of the longstanding county design standards for Sonoma Mountain that were forged by our founding members Pat Eliot and Mickey Cooke, and others. 

What would you like to see happen with Sonoma Mountain? 

A “One Mountain” partnership like “One Tam.” All public and private landowners and people who live on or near the mountain partner, as well as schools, elected officials, and non-profits work together to seek the best environmental and community outcomes for Sonoma Mountain’s oak woodlands, forest, creeks, grasslands, to support the birds, plants, and wildlife that rely on the mountain.

Do you have a story or experience to share about Sonoma Mountain?

One of the most moving experiences was after an SMP retreat on the mountain a couple of years ago. Meg Beeler took us to the top for a sacred ceremony to thank and bless the mountain. To be honest, I was skeptical at first. But after we shared our thoughts and visions for Sonoma Mountain and other mountains, and then participated in a simple ritual, I felt light and happy like I hadn’t been in a long time. We laughed and giggled in delight at the beauty of it all the way back down the mountain.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to protect Sonoma Mountain and other wild spaces in Sonoma County, what would that be?

Support a designated wildlife corridor across Sonoma Mountain and across Sonoma Valley and beyond by contributing to SMP and reading the fantastic book about the mountain: “Where the World Begins.”

Interview conducted by Soneile Hymn. This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.

Jan 022023

Arthur Dawson: Author, Historical Ecologist, and SMP’s New Board Chair

This is the fifth of a series of monthly interviews we are conducting with the Sonoma Mountain Preservation board members. 

Arthur Dawson, SMP’s new board chair in January 2023, is a writer and historical ecologist. He was a Poet-Teacher with California Poets in the Schools for thirty years. He has also worked with the Sonoma Ecology Center, Sonoma Land Trust, Pepperwood, and a myriad of other regional ecological and educational organizations. As a historical ecologist, he’s collected oral histories from local elders and contributed research to local and regional restoration efforts. He has written three local bestsellers, and was the primary writer for SMP’s, Where the World Begins: Sonoma Mountain Stories and Images. His work is regularly published in regional and national magazines, papers, and anthologies on topics such as Sonoma County’s natural and cultural history. Arthur lives with his wife, Jill, in Glen Ellen.

What drew you to join the board of SMP? 

I first became aware of Sonoma Mountain Preservation when they were involved in getting the SDC orchard transferred to Jack London State Park, which happened between 2000 and 2002. A few years later I remember sitting in on some meetings at the Sonoma Ecology Center, where I was working. I can’t remember exactly how I joined the board, but I remember I was impressed with the people who were involved. 

What’s your favorite part of being on the board

The people are wonderful! Dedicated, determined, passionate and joyful about the mountain.

What do you do for SMP? 

I’ve served as Vice Chair for several years and I am now in the process of transitioning into the Chair position. I’ve been putting out the Journal for about the last 10 years—as the main editor and writer. I’ve led some outings, including the two-day Sonoma Mountain treks we did for a couple years just before the pandemic. I had the privilege of being the primary author for our award-winning, bestselling book, Where the World Begins: Sonoma Mountain Stories and Images. I’ve also been serving as the main distributor—doing mailings and deliveries to stores.

How did the book come together? What’s the story? 

For quite a while I had the idea of a book on Sonoma Mountain in the back of my mind. At some level I was waiting for the write moment to begin. Then we got a surprise donation from Suzie Schroll to spend on “whatever will most benefit the mountain.” The board held several meetings over several months, weighing different possibilities before settling on a book about the mountain. I was chosen as primary author in the Spring of 2017 and started working on it. Then in October, I lost my house to the wildfires and was scrambling around trying to get settled enough to start working on it again. I credit the book project with helping me keep a sense of purpose and balance when everything else in my life was very chaotic. Two months after the fire I spent a long weekend on writers retreat at the cottage headquarters of Sonoma Mountain Ranch Preservation Foundation (no relation to us) near the summit. The views and the solitude were wonderful and allowed me to get back my head fully back into the book. I did that several times over the next couple years. 

One of the best parts of the book process was sitting with Meg, Nancy, Mickey and Jack Nisson (apologies if I forgot anyone) and choosing from among the 2500 photos we got from so many community members and professional photographers. That’s what the book really taught me—was how many people really care about the mountain and how big that community is. And the book really came out of the contributions of so many people.

The book launches were exciting, gathering 250 or more people each in Santa Rosa and Sonoma, and less in Petaluma where the venue was smaller. So glad that was in 2019—it wouldn’t have worked a year later with the pandemic!

How did you “meet” Sonoma Mountain?

When I first visited Jack London State Park in 1985 and had a picnic with my grandparents. Chapter three in the book describes my early impressions of the mountain.

In the beginning, I was only casually aware of Sonoma Mountain. That first winter I noticed dusk falling early, saw the December sun setting behind the mountain, and realized I was standing in its shadow. I saw storms blow in over the ridge and in summer, fingers of fog spilling over from the Petaluma side. On rare occasions over the following years, I’d awaken to discover the upper slopes blanketed with snow. Arising before dawn to get my kids off to school, I often caught a glimpse of the ridgetop turning pink as the first light flooded the mountain’s eastern slopes, marking the start of the day.

Where the World Begins, page 25

Do you have a favorite personal story of Sonoma Mountain? 

Getting charged by a mountain lion! See chapter seven.

The lion and I locked gazes again. We stared at each other long enough for me to begin wondering if I might be making it angry. I knew grizzly bears interpret a stare as a direct challenge – something they respond to aggressively. But lions? I couldn’t remember what I’d heard. Turning my gaze sideways again, I watched the lion with my peripheral vision. No change. When I shifted back to a direct look, we again locked eyes. 

Where the World Begins, page 61

Interview conducted by Soneile Hymn. This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.

Dec 042022

Reciprocity: Giving back to the Sonoma Developmental Center
by Tracy Salcedo

We want so much from this land. We want it to host a thousand homes, or half that many, or something between. We want it to support workspace for a thousand people, or more, or less. We want it to be a resort hotel. We want it to be a climate center. We want it to be an historic district. We want it to be a park. We want an agrihood, a community center, a maker space, a school, playing fields, a coffee shop …

We want, and we will take. It’s what we do. We have parceled out this piece of land and now we fight over how much we want and where we want it. It is not land; it is commodity. 

We want, and we will take, but what do we give in exchange? The land doesn’t take money. 

I’ve been reading a book called Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer, holder and teacher of Indigenous wisdom. A member of the Potawatomi Nation, she writes about reciprocity, about how the Potawatomi give back to the plants and animals that feed and sustain them. When they harvest, they harvest only what they need. When there isn’t enough, they don’t take. They choose with care and seek connection with the thing they need. They ask permission. They receive and then they reciprocate, sometimes planting, sometimes tending, sometimes with prayer. Sometimes they are simply grateful.

Reciprocity gives voice to the flower and the soil and the jackrabbit. Reciprocity asks us to acknowledge that they can be overused and abused. Reciprocity asks us to respect their rights, to leave them in peace, and to thank them for their gifts. Reciprocity acknowledges the give and take between people and all the others who share the planet we inhabit. “It is an odd dichotomy we have set for ourselves,” Kimmerer writes, “between loving people and loving land.”

So here we are, gifted with 180 acres of land that can — some say should — be developed, surrounded by 765 acres that can — some say should — become parkland, surrounded by a village that can — some say should — become urbanized, in a beautiful valley that everyone wants. We tug at this place with our desires and think only of how it can serve us. In our selfishness we are hurtful, and in our selfishness, we see that hurt as being inflicted only on ourselves, not on the land and all it nurtures. We don’t think about how this place is hitched to everything else in the universe.

What would it look like if we reciprocated at SDC? What would it look like if we abandoned the idea that this land’s future, and our own futures, are best decided by economic feasibility? What would it look like if we abandoned the idea that only by building more homes can we build more homes we can afford? What would it look like if we changed our politics and stopped calling each other names? What would it look like if we left behind the climate center, the historic district, the maker space, the coffee shop, the park?

What would it look like if, instead of needy and demanding, we were simply grateful? Would we temper our demands? Would we look with new appreciation at what is already here? Would we bring buckets of water to dampen the roots of thirsty trees? Would we sweep the sidewalks? Would we bring paint to the old buildings, to revive their tired walls, inside and out? Would we open the windows to let the fresh air in?

What would it look like? What would the land do? Everything and nothing, would be my guess. It would just be. It would continue to do the unappreciated things it does for us right now, in this moment. It would breathe for us, slow us down, let us sit and walk and play and just be ourselves, on it, with it, without judgement, without knowing us or labeling us or determining our value.

photo by Marc Longisto

And in this moment — a moment that stretches back to when a shovel first broke the earth to build a home, and stretches ahead to when someone drives a shovel into the earth and breaks it again — we can reciprocate. We can look closely at what we want and why we want it. We can be thankful; grateful. Then, maybe, instead of taking more, we will see a way to take nothing; to borrow only what is offered.

Tracy Salcedo is board member of SMP and an award-winning writer who lives and works in Glen Ellen. This essay originally appeared in the Kenwood Press.