by Trevor George
As we all know, Sonoma County has recently endured severe rainstorms. We’ve seen serious impacts from these storms on our roads, yards, homes, and more. After events like these, stewardship staff take stock of the infrastructure and natural resources on our preserves. While inspecting Laufenburg Ranch, I came across a portion of Bidwell Creek that, from afar, looked to be missing trees. I walked toward the creek and found this:
At some point during one of the powerful recent storms, this colossal oak tree met its demise. The tree, whose trunk was four or five feet in diameter, was so huge that its limbs reached out and took down most other trees in a 100-foot radius, creating an eerie opening in the previously dense riparian (or creekside) canopy.
I first approached the tree with a somber attitude: It’s sad to see such a magnificent symbol of beauty come crashing down. This tree must have been a favorite of Charles Laufenburg, and it was surely acquainted with even earlier settlers and visitors. It’s quite likely that the tree had been weakened or in decline for a while before a storm dealt the final blow. Hundreds of woodpecker holes in the trunk suggest the birds had been taking advantage of the weakened bark for some time while the tree awaited its fate.
Though the tree is dead, it isn’t done giving life to the vibrant riparian ecosystem of Bidwell Creek. A lot of money and restoration effort today goes into good projects to install woody debris in creeks, providing improved habitat for fish and other wildlife. Steelhead and salmon need in-stream structural diversity that provides pools, riffles and cover for both adults and juveniles to hide in. In a creek that’s been impaired over time by development, this tree provided a perfect natural in-stream restoration project all on its own. So did we lose a natural resource or did we gain one? It’s hard to definitively say, but the natural system is working as intended and this venerable tree will remain an important part of the ecosystem for a long time.
Trevor George is a stewardship project manager at Sonoma Land Trust.
Sonoma Land Trust is a local nonprofit based in Santa Rosa, CA, that conserves scenic, natural, agricultural and open lands in Sonoma County for the benefit of the community and future generations. This blog focuses on SLT's stewardship team, whose members do hands-on work to directly protect, restore, and safeguard the land for generations to come.