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.