SEA CHANGE: Redrawing the map of San Francisco Bay

= Nearly 1,000 acres of future tidal marsh connected to the earlier Sonoma Baylands restoration site in the background;  B = Separated from the tidal marsh by the railroad track and the new habitat levee, this area will be a focus for seasonal wetland enhancement; and  C = Sears Point uplands, nearly 1,000 acres of grasslands, seasonal wetlands and riparian drainages. Photo by Robert Janover.


Sean Dowdall
President, Landis PR

On October 25, Sonoma Land Trust will breach Sears Point levee to create 1,000 acres of tidal marsh

SANTA ROSA, CALIF. ­— A major transformation is coming to the northern coast of San Francisco Bay. After 10 years of planning and raising $18 million, on Sunday, October 25, Sonoma Land Trust will breach the levee along the bay at Sears Point Ranch (located just south of the Highway 37/Lakeville Highway intersection) to allow salt water to fill the recently constructed 1,000-acre tidal marsh basin. This area will begin to evolve to tidal marsh, much as it was 140 years ago before being diked off from the bay. This new tidal marsh, along with enhancing the entire bay ecosystem, will offer the following significant benefits:

  • providing habitat for endangered and native species,
  • capturing carbon,
  • filtering pollutants, and
  • buffering our infrastructure (highway and railroad) from the rising seas and storm surges expected as a result of climate change.

A new 2.5-mile-long section of the San Francisco Bay Trail on top of the new levee will also provide some of the best access to the bay in Sonoma County. The trail, and a kayak ramp, will open to the public by early 2016. This restoration has benefited from lessons learned from previous projects — and from nature itself — and incorporates several innovations to reduce the cost and increase the pace at which the marsh is expected to grow. “We have turned a new page in the history of wetlands at San Pablo Bay,” says Dave Koehler, Sonoma Land Trust executive director. “Returning the tides to Sears Point restores health to a natural resource that is vital to our future. The Sea Change event is a celebration for the thousands of people who have contributed to this project, rolling up their sleeves alongside resource professionals to accomplish one of the largest tidal marsh restoration projects in the Western United States.”

“Tidal wetlands are natural infrastructure that help protect our shoreline,” says Janelle Beland, California Undersecretary for Natural Resources. “This project is a great example of how we can work in partnership with nature as we adapt to rising sea levels.”

SEA CHANGE events on October 25

In the morning (starting at 9:30am), a private brunch and program will be held for elected officials, project partners, wildlife agencies and key contributors to the project, followed by the levee breach at noon. Among others, speakers will include U.S. Representative Mike Thompson, State Assemblymember Lois Wolk, and Greg Sarris, Tribal Chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. In the afternoon, the public is invited to witness the returning of the tides from 2—6pm. Participants may visit the newly-breached levee site to watch the waters rushing through and explore the future 2.5-mile addition to the San Francisco Bay Trail. Native seed packets will be distributed so that attendees can help to seed the new tidal marsh. This rare opportunity is offered free of charge and pre-registration is required at

It’s all about partnerships

Numerous federal, state and local agencies and organizations have been involved in this massive project. Ducks Unlimited has been a key partner in permitting, final design, construction management and funding. “This transformation from hay fields back to historic tidal marsh will be an incredible benefit for the birds, fish and people of the Bay Area,” says Ducks Unlimited regional biologist Renee Spenst. “Ducks Unlimited is honored to have been involved in nearly every step of this large and complicated project that encompassed the best available science, technically challenging design and construction conditions, as well as a fundraising effort that sets a new model for large and complex conservation projects.”

“We are very grateful to have had the benefit of working with so many of the best minds around the bay on this project,” says Sonoma Land Trust’s Baylands program manager Julian Meisler. “We are a united community all working toward the common goal of a functioning tidal ecosystem.”

History of this land

Fortunately, unlike the other counties around San Francisco Bay, farmers along Sonoma County’s bayshore never developed their lands that had been diked in the mid-1800s, but used them instead to grow oat hay and graze cattle. However, in 2002, the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria announced plans for building a casino on the ranch. Once tribal leaders recognized the environmental sensitivity of this land and its significance to their history, the Tribe changed its plans and donated their option to purchase the property, valued at $4 million, to Sonoma Land Trust. That donation kick-started a $17 million campaign to buy the 2,237-acre Sears Point Ranch, which was achieved in 2005; since then, $18 million has also been raised to restore 1,000 acres of the ranch to tidal marsh. When the project is completed by the end of this year, it will be transferred to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and become part of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

“We are very excited to be joining Sonoma Land Trust in celebrating the return of the tides to these lands,” says Anne Morkill, manager of the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex. “The Land Trust has been a key partner in helping the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service achieve its mission by acquiring and restoring lands for the benefit of wildlife and the enjoyment of the public.”

The breach itself

With the help of an excavator, a 285-foot-wide breach will be created at high tide that will fully connect the project site to the bay. The water is expected to fill the tidal basin within 24 hours. Then, since tidal marshes form over long periods of time, it will take two to three decades to fill in with vegetation. In the meanwhile, waterfowl and other birds will fill the basin with flight and song. “We are literally changing the map of the bay with this project,” says Meisler. “That’s important not because we are trying to go back in time, but rather, because we all depend on a functioning bay. It is vital to our safety, our economy, and for all the wildlife who call it home. This is our legacy and it’s wonderful to have one of which we, as a community, can be proud.”  

Previous media coverage 

ABC News 

Press Democrat 

Sonoma News

About Sonoma Land Trust

Sonoma Land Trust believes land is the foundation of our economy and our community’s health and well-being. Since 1976, Sonoma Land Trust has protected over 50,000 acres of scenic, natural, agricultural and open land for future generations, and is accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission.

Key property in Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor acquired for parkland by Sonoma Land Trust, Ag & Open Space District and Regional Parks

A view of the Mayacamas from the Curreri property. Photo courtesy of Sonoma Land Trust/Scott Hess Photography.


Sean Dowdall
President, Landis PR

SANTA ROSA, CALIF. ­— By the end of this month, Sonoma Land Trust expects to acquire 29 acres known as the “Curreri property” along Highway 12 in Glen Ellen, with partial funding from the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. Upon close of escrow, the Land Trust will immediately transfer the property to Sonoma County Regional Parks to be added to the 162-acre Sonoma Valley Regional Park. On Tuesday, October 14, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors will be asked to approve a general plan amendment and zoning change that will facilitate this land transaction. On October 21, the Board will consider the final funding authorization for the District’s share of the purchase price. 

“The District is pleased to be a partner with Sonoma Land Trust on the acquisition of the Curreri property,” says Bill Keene, District general manager. “It features a dramatic hillside backdrop to Glen Ellen, preserves an important wildlife corridor connection and is a great addition to Sonoma Valley Regional Park. The purchase of this multi-benefit property is an excellent example of what the voters who created the District intended to fund.”

The significance of this property

The Curreri property sits in the “pinchpoint” of the imperiled Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, which stretches east to west across the Sonoma Valley, connecting more than 9,000 acres of protected wildlife habitat in the Mayacamas and on Sonoma Mountain. The pinchpoint indicates where the corridor has been narrowed considerably due to the combined influences of development and geography, restricting where animals like mountain lion, bear, fox, bobcat and others may safely traverse the Valley floor. Acquisition of the Curreri parcel is a critical component of Sonoma Land Trust’s overall strategy to protect the corridor by purchasing properties, collaborating with local landowners on wildlife-friendly management and conducting scientific research.

“The importance of this acquisition belies its smaller acreage,” says John McCaull, Sonoma Land Trust project manager. “Like a puzzle, sometimes it is the smaller pieces that make everything come together.” 

Along with its value for wildlife, the Curreri property offers panoramic views of the Sonoma Valley, Sonoma Mountain, the Mayacamas Range, and San Pablo and San Francisco Bays. It also harbors iconic oak woodlands, as well as grasslands, a seasonal wetland and a year-round spring-fed pond.

The threat to this landscape being developed is real. Because the 29 acres have been maintained in their natural state, this property is highly vulnerable to estate and vineyard development, the dominant land uses in the area. “For my family, this is a legacy issue,” said Paul Curreri, who explored the property as a child. “Our land is really more valuable as a place where children can connect with nature and wildlife can continue to roam.” 

Developed in partnership with the Land Trust, the District will hold an innovative conservation easement that will protect the property’s natural resources and its essential function as part of the wildlife corridor. Some elements of public use and recreation may impact wildlife presence and movement through the corridor, but by carefully considering biological surveys, the Land Trust’s monitoring efforts, and input from corridor ecologists during the pending update to the park’s master plan, the Curreri Family’s vision for this important property can be achieved.

Transaction details

Sonoma Land Trust and the Curreris entered into a purchase agreement in October 2013, which has been extended through October 2014. The entire property consists of 35.36 acres, 6.39 of which are already developed and will be retained by the Curreri Family. The total purchase price is $1,110,054, with the District contributing $526,500 for the conservation easement over the 28.97-acre acquisition portion of the property. Additionally, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which has helped finance the Land Trust’s other purchases in the Wildlife Corridor, is providing $573,554, and the Sonoma County Regional Parks Foundation is contributing $10,000. Additionally, the Regional Parks Department is asking the District for $77,613 to cover master-planning of the park expansion and initial public access. 

“We look forward to considering the acquisition of the Curreri property,” says Susan Gorin, Board Director of the District and First District County Supervisor. “This great collaboration among our County agencies and Sonoma Land Trust will benefit both wildlife and park users, and help retain the beauty of Sonoma Valley for generations to come.” 

This acquisition is contingent on Board approval of a general plan amendment and zoning change to allow for a lot-line adjustment to expand Sonoma Valley Regional Park, and to create a properly zoned legal lot that includes the existing structures to be retained by the Curreris, who wish to live there. 

Regional Parks’ staff will begin planning for public access this winter. Meanwhile, interim use of the site’s existing trails will commence next spring and trail improvements could begin as early as next fall, once the park’s master plan is amended to include the Curreri addition. “We are thrilled to be able to add such a crucial piece of land to Sonoma Valley Regional Park, with its importance to wildlife movement, the viewshed and its significant beauty,” says Regional Parks director Caryl Hart. 

“The Curreri property will be a sweet addition to Sonoma Valley Regional Park,” concludes Ralph Benson, Sonoma Land Trust executive director. “We hope people will enjoy it forever.”   

About Sonoma Land Trust Sonoma Land Trust believes land is the foundation of our economy and our community’s health and well-being. Since 1976, Sonoma Land Trust has protected over 50,000 acres of scenic, natural, agricultural and open land for future generations, and is accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission.

About Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District

The Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District permanently protects the diverse agricultural, natural resource and scenic open space lands of Sonoma County for future generations. Since 1990, the District has protected more than 109,000 acres. Agricultural and open space lands have been protected through a 1/4-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1990 and reauthorized in 2006. For more information, please visit

About Sonoma County Regional Parks

The Regional Parks represent the natural beauty and diversity of Sonoma County. The Regional Parks include more than 50 parks and trails throughout Sonoma County, from Petaluma to Gualala and from Sonoma to Bodega Bay. The Regional Parks offer opportunities for recreation, education and conservation, enhancing the quality of life and well-being of Sonoma County residents and visitors. For more information, visit