by Kate Freeman
Eelgrass: a coastal treasure.
As residents of California, we have an extra special relationship to grass. We watch it paint the hillsides gold in summertime. We learn to live without it on our lawns. We have even legalized the use of psychoactive grass for adults. While the quality of one’s lawn or cannabis laws are both rich and riveting topics, I am not here to discuss grass in either regard. Today, I would like to bring to your attention the under-glorified yet inimitable grasses of the sea — and by that, I mean seagrass!
by Kyle Pinjuv and Tom Tolliver
Sonoma Land Trust holds conservation easements over 44 properties throughout Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, eight of which were impacted by the fires in 2017. We have a special relationship with our conservation easement landowners: Through their stewardship on their privately-owned properties, they help further our mission by preserving and protecting some of the most unique and important landscapes throughout our county.
We’ve been working closely with our CE landowners whose properties were impacted by the wildfires by connecting them with local organizations, state agencies and professional colleagues that specialize in the ecological impacts and restoration of fire-affected landscapes. We continue to monitor the properties closely for fire related changes to the conservation values and, if requested, assist the property owners during the ongoing recovery process.
This wildfire season, as fires continue to ravage parts of the state — and Sonoma County continues to recover — we want to share with you, our Land Trust community, information, resources and experience we learned through our post-fire management caring for our properties, and through our CE landowner’s own experiences:
by Heather Ah San
These days, protecting endangered species seems to be at the forefront of everyone's minds given the recent news about the fate of the Endangered Species Act.
Across the country, far from the where the future of the Act will be determined, we at Sonoma Land Trust have a vested interest in one small — but important! — endangered plant species: the white sedge. White sedge (Carex albida), was previously thought to be extinct until it was identified in 1983 at Pitkin Marsh, an environmentally significant wetland located between Graton and Forestville. The Land Trust owns a portion of this marsh, 27 acres worth, of which is home to the only known population of white sedge.
by Julian Meisler
One of the more iconic photos following the fires at Sears Point Ranch was that of a western burrowing owl standing amidst the blackened grassland near the Ralph Benson Center at the Baylands. The picture evoked images of recovery and resilience. On a simpler level, it also suggested that burrowing owls might be using some of the artificial burrows that Sonoma Land Trust, San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge and a whole lot of volunteers installed several years ago.
by Tony Nelson
Seems like only a few months ago we removed an old bridge structure in Stuart Creek near Glen Ellen that blocked steelhead from returning to former, still high-quality spawning areas upstream for the last couple of decades. The restored 900-foot stretch of creek at our preserve, Stuart Creek Run, was specially designed to provide passage and rest for steelhead on their way to spawn.
Now, three years later, I’ve just finished drafting and submitting a final report for a grant that we received to open Stuart Creek to steelhead passage. I wish I was writing to let everyone know that I’ve found steelhead, but none have been confirmed yet. There are trout in the creek, so we know conditions remain good, but they may be offspring of resident fish — until we see large steelhead or find spawning beds (otherwise known as “redds”), we can’t say that steelhead have returned. So we wait.
The sites themselves look vastly better than before the project. The former fish barrier site now looks like a natural creek channel with beautifully developing vegetation growing alongside it.
by Kate Freeman
It’s Independence Day week and for most people that means celebrating with fireworks. While I too enjoy the site of colorful exploding missiles in the night sky, I often find myself questioning a tradition that produces both chemical and noise pollution. California hosts many naturally occurring phenomena that are as equally awe-inspiring as fireworks. Below I will introduce you to a few glowing alternatives that do not involve gunpowder (I recognize that the pyromaniacs have checked out already).
If you enjoy glow sticks, starry skies or glitter, then you will undoubtedly be enchanted by bioluminescence, which is the biochemical emission of light by living organisms. This spectacle is found in many marine organisms, such as bacteria, algae, jellyfish, crustaceans, seastars, fish and sharks (most of these are deep sea dwellers).
Is the chandelier firework what you’re after this holiday? Then I highly recommend getting your phosphorescent-fix somewhere along the coast. Head to Tomales Bay where single-celled organisms called dinoflagellates float near the water’s surface. Mechanical agitation — i.e., by a boat, a hand or the surf — causes a reaction resulting in a burst of bright blue light. When concentrations of dinoflagellates are high and waters are calm, you might witness a full-on aquatic firework display.
by Tom Tolliver
In the 2015 Sonoma County Community Wildfire Protection Plan it describes the 1964 Hanley and Nuns Canyon fires that burned in the same manner and path as the 2017 Tubbs and Nuns Canyon fires. It’s clear from our history that Sonoma County burns. If you haven’t done so already check out the interactive county fire map depicting wildfires from 1939 to 2016 developed by our GIS guru Joe Kinyon:
If fire is a natural occurrence on our landscapes, how does the Land Trust become as resilient as the landscape we protect? By being prepared for future fires. In the coming months we’ll update our fire disaster planning template to address three key areas: fire prevention, fire response and fire recovery. Using this template to create and implement a fire disaster plan for each preserve will become an important element of our property stewardship.
by Bob Neale
Our world is so busy now that it is often difficult to take a moment to breathe, to take a moment to step back and look at the big picture or see the results of our work. Last week I was out at Tolay Creek Ranch counting how many trees were alive in the lower stretch of the creek. As the day was progressing, I realized that I had been working on restoring that lower section of creek for more than 10 years — a decade of oak trees, creeping wild rye and children planting seedlings (and ticks, poison oak and sunburns…).
The reason I was counting the trees is that the number of trees that lived is one of our primary metrics for success. But our work out there is so much more than just the trees we planted. It involves changing behavior, like how the cattle are managed and how the landscape responds. It involves coping with things we can’t control, like drought and floods, and the changes these natural events bring to the landscape. I started thinking about what change had actually occurred and I realized I couldn’t exactly remember those first visits I made in 2006 and 2007 and what Tolay Creek looked. Like the face of my daughters over the years, I knew the creek had changed; it was different. I couldn’t exactly say how it was different, just that it is.
So when I returned to the office I looked for photos of those early days and was stunned — in a good way. So I thought I’d share:
by Katy Reynolds
It is not often in life that you experience something coming full circle. But when it happens, it is something to savor and appreciate. Recently, I led a hike with 20 or so 12 to 13-year-old girls on Laufenburg Ranch. They were from a school in the Bay Area and had come out to the ranch for a father-daughter campout — the first we’ve ever had the opportunity to host on one of our properties.
We walked along the trail and talked about Sonoma Land Trust’s mission in our community and the importance of environmental conservation. At one point, we passed by an old habitat restoration site. Dotting the field along the creek, you could see the young oak trees that had been planted there over 10 years prior poking out of the tall grass. It was heartening to see the trees thriving and naturalizing into the landscape, providing habitat, erosion control and other important functions, just as they were intended to do. We stopped and talked about restoration and why it matters, but best of all, I was able to share with them that it was, in fact, my class all those years ago that had planted the trees, and how proud I was to come back and see them today.
by Ingrid Stearns
Running Sonoma Land Trust’s On the Land program, I find myself at the interface of humans and nature. My job is to design ways to get people into the outdoors to experience the places we have been working to protect. A basic premise is that when people directly experience a place, that personal connection helps bring the abstract ideas of land conservation into a tangible reality.
While we might not get to experience every inch of every area that we’ve put into protected status, our On the Land program brings people close enough to taste a variety of the landscapes and habitats that make up this amazingly diverse county — from redwood forests to coastal prairies, tidal marshes to oak woodlands, and on and on.
Recently I’ve been contemplating what brings people into the outdoors and what inspires people to take a walk with us. For some, it’s the opportunity to experience places they can’t otherwise see. For others, it’s the opportunity to learn something new about nature. And some people experience a deep nourishment from being in natural landscapes, away from the concerns of the world. Yet what I’m beginning to realize is one of the true values of our program is providing people the opportunity to connect with each other in the natural world.
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.