by Shanti Edwards
At the height of the summer season, the heat in the air is palpable as the dry leaves crunch underfoot and the haze of distant forest fires cloaks the horizon. One’s senses sharpen — and the reality of the need for emergency response planning and rural evacuation routes hits home.
Devastating fires in the 1950s through the 1970s shaped the North Coast landscape and marked those communities forever. Sonoma Land Trust’s Little Black Mountain Preserve was donated to the Land Trust in 1979 following the Creighton Ridge Fire of 1978, which charred over 12,000 acres in the region. The Thieriot family — who barely made it out alive — donated the land to Sonoma Land Trust soon after and moved to Massachusetts to initiate forest conservation activities there.
Little Black Mountain is a forested landscape still regenerating after the historic logging practices of the ’50s and the destructive fire of 1978. The steep, rugged terrain is rich with a mosaic of streams, springs and habitat types that make this property a sanctuary for wildlife and humans alike. For nearly four decades, Sonoma Land Trust has been managing the Little Black Mountain forest for fire resiliency, forest health and wildlife habitat in partnership with CalFire, FireSafe Sonoma and Conservation Corps North Bay.
Building on our partnerships with CalFire and other forest conservation and stewardship groups, Sonoma Land Trust is glad to support the continued use of the Pole Mountain Fire Lookout, which has operated from the Pole Mountain summit since 1981. Sonoma Land Trust acquired the iconic Pole Mountain property in 2014 with the vision of creating a contiguous protected area from the shore to the highest point along Sonoma’s coast, providing a critical wildlife and recreational connection between the Jenner Headlands and Little Black Mountain.
The Pole Mountain Fire Lookout is a public service entity that detects fires to prevent wildland forest fires, personal injury and property damage. On average, the group observes some 15 to 20 fires per year, and is the very first to report about two fires per year. They confirm fires that are reported and provide weather updates that help determine fire danger and the size and type of crew and equipment dispatched to a new fire. They also are a resource for area residents who telephone the lookout if they see smoke (707-632-4143). The Pole Mountain Fire Lookout is on the National Historic Lookout Register, is the last functioning fire lookout tower in Sonoma County, and is one of only 30 remaining staffed fire lookouts in the state of California.
In addition to spotting fires, lookout staff members regularly take weather station data (temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction), which can be found online at: http://www.weatherlink.com/user/polemountain/
According to an archived written history of the lookout, the idea of a lookout was first discussed in 1967 following the devastating fires of 1927, 1945, 1955, 1961 and 1965 that occurred in the region. Though it was agreed that Pole Mountain was the most suitable place for a lookout, no access roads were available at the time. So the lookout was constructed on Red Oat Mountain in 1967 and then moved to Pole Mountain in 1981. It is staffed by locals, including some of whom are descendants of original Cazadero pioneer families.
The lookout continues its annual donation drive pancake breakfast in Cazadero in April of each year. If you’d like to support the fire detection services of the Pole Mountain Fire Lookout, checks can be sent to PO BOX 568, Monte Rio, CA 95462.
Stay tuned to our outings page for SLT guided hikes at Pole Mountain scheduled for October. And, next year, look for Pole Mountain to be opened for public recreation in conjunction with The Wildlands Conservancy’s Jenner Headlands coastal trail project and parking lot along Highway 1.
Shanti Edwards is Sonoma Land Trust's stewardship project manager.
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.