by Tom Tolliver
Since 2008, Sonoma Land Trust has been restoring the riparian corridor — the land along streams — of Tolay Creek. The stream was unraveling because of loss of vegetation and bank erosion. This process was set in motion because the main creek channel was dropping lower, which we call incising. When this happens, the stream can’t flood as easily and the water’s energy scours the channel and eats away at the streambank. That causes significant erosion and the creek takes all that dirt downstream. It also strips the vegetation of the streambank, which makes the banks more susceptible to erosion, both from the creek, but also from the grazing cattle who run up and down the creek banks to get from one side to the other.
To remedy this, the main creek stem and major tributaries were fenced off from grazing to allow grass, shrubs and trees to return and help stabilize the streambanks and the nearby eroding grasslands. In partnership with STRAW, a program of Point Blue Conservation Science, we undertook a major planting and irrigation program to install native forbs (an herbaceous flowering plant), shrubs and trees in the creek channel and along the banks to further hold and stabilize the soil. Over several years, STRAW has brought hundreds of elementary schoolchildren to the creek to plant thousands of native trees and shrubs.
Though the Land Trust no longer owns Tolay Creek Ranch, we have an agreement with Sonoma County Regional Parks, to whom we gave the property in 2017, that we will complete the riparian restoration project by 2023.
Maybe you’ve volunteered to assist with plant installation, plant maintenance or monitoring — so you know the hard work it takes to return a degraded stream to its natural process. This work is labor intensive and couldn’t be done without a dedicated corps of volunteers that has endured difficult conditions, weather, bugs and ticks to make it happen. It’s our hope that, one day, children and volunteers will return to Tolay Lake Regional Park to find a healthy, flowing stream, and say with pride that they were part of the restoration of Tolay Creek — a project that reduced sediment flow into San Pablo Bay, increased wildlife habitat and returned native vegetation to the landscape.
Recent workday at Tolay Creek Ranch: Planting coyote brush and juncus
Tom Tolliver is the fire recovery project manager at Sonoma Land Trust. Almost daily he gets to enjoy spectacular views and witness nature at its finest, and he continually asks himself, “They pay me for this?”
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.