Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Martina Morgan’s black hair whipped about as she gazed out from Stewarts Point in northwest Sonoma County this week at a stunning expanse of Pacific Ocean.
Far below her, waves crashed on a rock-strewn beach where Morgan and her great-grandfather gathered shellfish, seaweed and other dietary staples of the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians. Leonard Marrufo is gone now, but the rope the pair relied on to rappel down the 70-foot cliff to access the beach is still there, attached to a wooden post buried deep in the bluff.
Now vice chairwoman of the Kashia tribe, Morgan said the site between Jenner and The Sea Ranch is sacred ground for the tribe’s 1,000 members, the place where they believe their creator sent down spirits with explicit instructions that they take only what they need and leave the rest.
“That’s our island,” Morgan said, pointing to a large flat-top rock she said her ancestors climbed to access the land.
The tribe’s special connection to what Morgan referred to as “the beginning place” is part of a historic new land use agreement for Stewarts Point Ranch that marries elements of cultural preservation, habitat protection, outdoor recreation and economic development through logging.
Those wide-ranging provisions comprise a $6 million conservation easement recently purchased for Stewarts Point Ranch by the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District and other public and private agencies.The deal encompasses 868 acres of coastal land that incorporates about a mile of coastal bluff north of Salt Point State Park and extends inland for some 2 miles across grazing lands and mountains straddled by dense forest, including 100 acres of scattered old-growth redwoods skirting more than a mile of the Gualala River.
Read more at: Sonoma Coast’s Stewarts Point becomes part of historic agreement for coastal ranch | The Press Democrat
J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A large illegal marijuana farm trashed part of a remote section of land owned by Sonoma County’s open space district, requiring what is expected to be a costly cleanup and highlighting once more the scourge of renegade pot operations on public land.
The now-abandoned plot, which county officials estimated had more than 1,000 pot plants, was discovered by an ecologist about four months ago on the former Cresta Ranch, which takes in steep, forested land northeast of Santa Rosa. The public property is among some 1,000 acres of land designated to one day become the Mark West Creek Regional Park and Open Space Preserve.
Sonoma County supervisors voted Tuesday to pursue $50,000 in grant money from CalRecycle, the state solid waste agency, to help repair the site. The Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District would tap its sales tax revenue for a similar amount to help cover the estimated cleanup cost.
The decision Tuesday, which included the first public report on the pot farm’s discovery, comes as local voters are already casting mail-in ballots for Measure A, a proposed cannabis business tax that is the only countywide issue in the March 7 special election. Measure A funds are intended to help cover the cost of implementing the county’s new medical marijuana regulations and would assist with cleanup of illegal sites like the one found at the former Cresta Ranch, officials said.
Read more at: Sonoma County advances cleanup of illegal pot operation on public open space | The Press Democrat
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Supplemented by local funding, the venture aims to boost stream flows and groundwater and clean up the Russian River and its tributaries.
A coalition of Sonoma County resource agencies has been awarded $8 million in federal funds to advance an ambitious series of conservation projects intended to improve water supply and quality and enhance wildlife habitat on local agricultural lands.
The efforts will take in vineyards and farmland and aim to reduce erosion, boost stream flows and groundwater and clean up the Russian River and its tributaries while restoring habitat for imperiled fish and wildlife species.Sonoma County’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District is the lead agency and will contribute $14 million of the $15.8 million local match for the U.S. Department of Agriculture grant.
Most of the funding will go toward the purchase of conservation easements on farmland along key stream corridors and in areas where flood plains and groundwater basins can benefit.
One objective is to fortify the water supply for growers and wildlife in the face of drought and amid the uncertainty posed by climate change.
Read more at: Sonoma County coalition awarded $8 million grant for water conservation work
Angela Hart, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County officials are scaling back their ambitious plan to expand agricultural production on thousands of acres of county-owned land and public open space after the initial effort largely fell apart, with much of the acreage deemed too pricey or environmentally sensitive to be used for farming.
The initiative, launched four years ago, originally called for opening up as much as 1,900 acres on vacant county-owned lots, county park and open space land to budding farmers for crop production and livestock grazing.
But government officials charged with advancing the effort said they ultimately found only one of 17 identified sites suitable for developing as farmland at this point. Most of the vacant parcels lack sufficient water supplies, and many of the park properties contain sensitive wetlands or other wildlife habitat, including land covered by protections for the endangered California tiger salamander, according to Stephanie Larson, director of the University of California Cooperative Extension for Sonoma County.
Still, officials said they did find one grassy 45-acre plot on the eastern edge of Rohnert Park that could serve as a good proving ground for farmers just getting into the business. The idea, unveiled at this week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, is to lease plots to budding farmers and ranchers who are interested in growing produce or raising livestock, akin to the business incubators that help entrepreneurs with funding and expertise to advance their ideas.
Supervisors this week endorsed the concept, pointing out that the county will benefit threefold — by supporting agriculture, encouraging a new generation of farmers and boosting the amount of food grown locally.
Read more via Sonoma County envisions small start in effort to | The Press Democrat.
Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County’s latest gem of a park opens Saturday on the north face of Sonoma Mountain, affording visitors miles of new trails and stunning views rarely seen by the general public.
PDF map of North Sonoma Mountain
About 2 miles along the park’s new main trail, the forest thins to reveal a 180-degree view of northern Sonoma Valley and the Santa Rosa Plain. On a clear morning this week, a number of prominent landmarks were visible in the distance, including Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Hood Mountain and Mount St. Helena.North Sonoma Mountain’s New Park
Almost as astounding, reaching this vantage point at an elevation of about 2,000 feet did not require strenuous effort, thanks to the cleverly designed trail, which weaves across the diverse landscape at a relatively modest incline.
Planners of what officially is known as the North Sonoma Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve hail the 820-acre site as a model of ingenuity and collaboration among public and private entities. The preserve, located about 3 miles up Sonoma Mountain Road from Bennett Valley Road, abuts Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen, offering hikers, runners and equestrians unfettered access to both outdoor settings.
Connecting parks in such seamless fashion is considered the “holy grail” of park planning, said Bill Keene, general manager of the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.
via New county park on Sonoma Mountain offers miles | The Press Democrat.
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Nearly 30,000 acres timberland straddling the Sonoma-Mendocino county border and stretching across the mouth of the Gualala River have been put on the auction block, creating what conservationists are calling a prime opportunity for a landmark preservation deal that could permanently protect and restore a giant swath of forest, allow for potential park development and consolidate a protected area larger than Point Reyes National Seashore.
Gualala Redwoods Inc. has put its entire timber holdings out to bid, offering an expanse of mixed redwood and Douglas fir, nearly 20 miles of river frontage and a developable 58-acre bluff-top parcel in town.
The 47-square-mile property abuts several others acquired over the past decade or so for conservation, including the nearly 20,000-acre Buckeye Forest, once known as Preservation Ranch, near Annapolis.
The outcome of any sale won’t be known for months— offers aren’t due until early next year — but a coalition of conservation groups is assessing the Gualala Redwoods property and exploring options for a deal that could permit lighter forestry practices, watershed reclamation and recreation.
“It’s a pretty amazing opportunity — just the scale of it,” said Ralph Benson, executive director of the Sonoma Land Trust, which has assembled a group of potential conservation partners to evaluate options. Those involved include the Save the Redwoods League, the Mendocino Land Trust, the Redwood Coast Land Conservancy, the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District, Sonoma County Regional Parks, the Sonoma Land Trust and the Conservation Fund, a national non-profit that manages the adjoining Buckeye, Garcia River and Gualala River forests, totalling more than 57,000 acres.
Read more via Gualala Redwoods Inc. puts 30,000-acre property up for | The Press Democrat.
Jeremy Hay, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A bucolic 9-acre pasture grazed by cows on Sonoma’s northwest edge has become an unlikely battleground of late, pitting local government officials who want use it to manage flood and drought concerns against neighbors who say the county promised to preserve it forever in its natural state.
The pasture, protected by what is known as a conservation easement, is the southern point of the 98-acre Montini Preserve, which spans the oak-studded hills above it. The Sonoma County Water Agency is eyeing the pasture for a $4 million detention basin big enough to hold almost 4 million gallons of water.
The proposal has a group of area residents up in arms.
The project would demonstrate “a blatant disregard for the imperative to preserve and conserve” the property, said Mary Nesbitt, who lives on Montini Way next to the pasture.
The neighbors contend, too, that the site is in other ways unsuited for a detention basin, and that the Water Agency and county have pursued the project without properly involving the public.
via Neighbors riled up over Montini Preserve water basin plan | The Press Democrat.
Jamie Hansen, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Thanks to a grant from NASA, Sonoma County will soon have $1.2 million worth of high-detail information about its forests, including how those forests can help the county fight climate change.
Specifically, the state-of-the-art maps will show how much carbon Sonoma County’s forests can hold. They come as local governments and conservation agencies are eyeing open space not just for recreation and habitat conservation, but also for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“When we think about preserving land, the first thing we think about is maintaining a quality of life,” said County Supervisor Shirlee Zane. “But we also have to look at how we’ll preserve land for generations to come. Instrumental in that is greenhouse gas emissions.”
Sonoma County has set a goal of knocking back its 2015 emissions to 25 percent below 1990 levels. One way to keep emissions down is to preserve land, Zane said. Doing so limits development, but it also saves trees, which sponge carbon dioxide — a greenhouse gas — from the atmosphere.
“There’s a natural connection between land conservation and reducing greenhouse gas,” said Tom Robinson, a conservation planner for the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.
via High-detail maps to help county reduce carbon footprint | The Press Democrat.
Brett Wilkison, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors today is set to consider a financial policy that seeks to break the fiscal logjams that have delayed public access to thousands of acres of taxpayer-protected open space.
For park agencies looking to open up those lands, the policy would allow for broader use of an estimated $41 million in county open space funds over the next 18 years.
The central change would explicitly make available that money — drawn from a share of the budget for the county’s Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District — to build key improvements, including parking lots, restrooms, trails, fencing, signs and other capital projects geared toward enabling initial public access.
via Sonoma County grapples with providing public access to open space | The Press Democrat.
Sean Scully,THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma County supervisors on Tuesday approved an offer by winemaker Paul Hobbs to permanently protect 117 wooded acres near Forestville from development, but they insisted the preservation-oriented gift will not sway them if Hobbs attempts to move ahead with a controversial adjacent vineyard project.
Accepting the easement “in no way mandates, requires or ties the board’s hands” in any other matter related to Hobbs, said Supervisor Efren Carrillo, who represents the area.
via Supervisors accept Sebastopol winemaker's preservation offer | The Press Democrat.