Wendy Eliot retires from Sonoma Land Trust after 21 years

As conservation director, she protected 18,000 acres of land — and much more

Wendy Eliot, retiring after serving 21 years as conservation director of Sonoma Land Trust, was born with an appreciation for land conservation in her blood. Landscape architect Charles Eliot (1859−1897), brother of her great grandfather, established the first land trust organization in the United States in 1891 in Massachusetts. “He believed everyone should have access to nature,” says Wendy. “This was during the Industrial Revolution and Charles thought people needed open space close to urban areas.” 

Wendy Eliot

For that very reason, four generations and 130 years later, Wendy convinced Sonoma Land Trust to pivot from solely protecting large rural properties to working to acquire the Santa Rosa Southeast Greenway in the heart of the city and to save the Sonoma Developmental Center land for the surrounding community. “I have to admit, I’ve always loved having Charles Eliot’s vision as part of my legacy,” says Wendy.

She also inherited a love of the land from her parents, the late Ted and Pat Eliot, well known in Sonoma County for protecting the land in their own ways. Ted, a former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, was one of the key proponents for passing the sales tax measure that created Sonoma County Ag + Open Space and Pat was a co-founder of LandPaths. But their biggest contribution, by far, was their daughter, Wendy, who has protected more than 18,000 acres around the county during her tenure at the Land Trust, and whose imprint on the San Pablo Baylands, in particular, includes the 1,000 acres at Sears Point restored to tidal marsh and another 10,000 acres in the planning phase. 

Impact on Sonoma County

After graduate school, Wendy worked for the California Coastal Conservancy (SCC), the Washington State Department of Ecology and the Capitol Land Trust in Olympia, Washington, before she and her family returned to the Bay Area. She became Sonoma Land Trust’s eighth staff member in 1998.

“It’s hard to imagine many people having left such a mark on Sonoma County like the one Wendy has realized over the years,” says Eamon O’Byrne, executive director, Sonoma Land Trust. “I’m in awe of her accomplishments and the plans she is leaving to achieve significantly more land acquisition and restoration. What she has set in place will help our community deal with climate change and also get more people out on the land.”

“Wendy has had one of the most significant environmental careers of anyone I have known while working in the field for over 40 years,” says Neal Fishman, former Sonoma Land Trust board chair and retired deputy executive officer of the California Coastal Conservancy. “She is a bright light, not only for her skill, patience and dedication that so often has paid off with extraordinary land conservation projects, but for her sense of humor and fun. She is a joy to be around and will be missed by the entire Bay Area conservation community.”

Proudest accomplishments

Along with her groundbreaking work in the Baylands, also resulting in the new 2.5-mile section of Bay Trail being named the “Eliot Trail” in her honor, her other favorite acquisition is Tolay Creek Ranch. She crafted the deal for purchasing this 1,665-acre ranch in 2007 and, after the stewardship team performed extensive restoration work along Tolay Creek, Wendy transferred it in 2017 to Regional Parks to expand Tolay Lake Regional Park, making it the largest park in the system. 

“Wendy has been a mentor and inspiration to generations of conservation professionals,” says Bert Whitaker, director, Sonoma County Regional Parks. “Her gift is her grace and practicality conserving countless thousands of acres that are forever protected and cherished by our community. Thank you!”  

She also acquired 1,000-acre Haire Ranch on Skaggs Island, which unlocked the door to restoring 4,000 acres of wetlands; saved the summit of Sonoma Mountain for the public to access; protected key properties in the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor to retain wildlife movement; and raised $54 million dollars for these and numerous other land conservation projects.

“Throughout her tenure at Sonoma Land Trust, Wendy has been a cornerstone of the land conservation community in Sonoma County,” says Bill Keene, general manager, Sonoma County Ag + Open Space. “Smart, passionate and indefatigable, Wendy has truly helped to shape the landscape of our region and we are all beneficiaries of her tireless efforts to preserve what we love about Sonoma County. Her legacy is undeniable and is visible in the scenic vistas, rolling grasslands, oak woodlands and pristine natural areas throughout our county — protected forever for us now, and for future generations.”

Other accomplishments of which she’s most proud include helping to grow the organization from eight to 27 staff members and leading the charge to become an accredited land trust that received the National Award of Excellence last year.

During Wendy’s tenure, the organization moved from accomplishing one-off projects to putting together large, connected systems. “Under her conservation leadership, the organization evolved to encompass a sense of what’s happening on those acres and how they are contributing to the landscape for wildlife, people and water to create more resiliency over time,” adds O’Byrne.

Succession plan

Wendy forged a strong acquisitions team of talented and knowledgeable staff. John McCaull, who joined the Land Trust in 2013, is being promoted to land acquisition director. John, who is also an attorney and former lobbyist, has managed key projects, such as the Sonoma Developmental Center and McCormick Ranch, and has led the organization’s campaigns for major funding measures, like AA for the Bay and M for Parks. In addition, while Wendy’s last day on staff was October 16, she is continuing on as a consultant through March to ensure a smooth transition and to handle some special projects.“I have loved my time at Sonoma Land Trust and the opportunity to work with landowners and colleagues throughout the county who share a love of Sonoma County,” says Wendy. “We face unprecedented challenges — for Sonoma Land Trust and the planet. Nonetheless, I’m confident that under Eamon’s leadership and with our brilliant staff, partners and supporters, we will continue to save land and focus on the important challenges, like climate change, that face us.”

Wild and scenic Gloeckner-Turner Ranch soon to be protected forever

The view from Gloeckner-Turner Ranch


Sean Dowdall
President, Landis PR

Amy Ricard
Ag + Open Space
Community Relations Specialist
(707) 565-7261

3,364-acre ranch boasts significant natural resources and scenic values, offers climate change resilience

SANTA ROSA, CA – Sonoma County Ag + Open Space is pleased to announce the upcoming conservation of Gloeckner-Turner Ranch – a sprawling 3,364-acre property along Rockpile Road near Lake Sonoma – through the purchase of a conservation easement from the Gloeckner-Turner family. The ranch, which has been in the family for decades, will soon be protected forever from development thanks to combined contributions from the family itself, Ag + Open Space, Sonoma Land Trust, Sonoma Water, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. The Gloeckner family, led by twins Robert Gloeckner and Jean Turner, offered a $4.44 million discount, donating nearly half the value of the easement. Sonoma Land Trust contributed $500,000, which includes $250,000 from the Moore Foundation and $250,000 from their donors; Sonoma Water offered $15,000; and Ag + Open Space contributed $4.5 million in public funds toward the discounted purchase price of $5.015 million. The deal is expected to close next week.

The easement will preserve a highly visible scenic corridor, as well as the property’s diverse habitats that include Oregon white oak and mixed hardwood forest, chaparral, Douglas fir and redwood forest, riparian woodlands, grasslands, and the Wheatfield Fork of the Gualala River. With 29 of the possible developable parcels eliminated, development will be limited to four designated areas clustered near the road so the interior of the ranch remains in open space. The easement will prohibit commercial timber harvest but allow for up to 53 acres of planted vineyard and continued cattle grazing, using best management practices to protect the riparian areas and natural resources.

“We’re so grateful to the Gloeckner family for working with us over the past several years to conserve their family ranch, which represents a real win for both our human and natural communities,” said Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who sits on the Ag + Open Space Board of Directors and whose district includes the ranch. “The mosaic of habitat types across the property are critical for wildlife movement and survival, and the diverse habitats not only provide a stunning landscape for all to enjoy, but also provide opportunities for climate change adaptation and resilience.” 

The ranch has been in the Gloeckner family since the 1970s and was originally a sheep ranch that is now used for cattle grazing and as a family retreat. Views looking west over the property are stunning and the interior offers similarly spectacular views of multiple ridgelines. The ranch also boasts rare serpentine hardwood areas and serpentine grasslands. 

Joining nearly 40,000 acres of public and/or protected lands in the immediate area, nearly all of the property is identified by the Conservation Lands Network as “essential” or “important” to protect biological diversity in the Bay Area. The ranch is part of a network of wildlife corridors that crisscross Sonoma County and allow wildlife to move safely through the landscape, and these critical habitat corridors link habitat in western Marin to Lake Sonoma and beyond. These wildlife linkages, the varied elevations, and the large habitat “transition zones” on this property offer a wide variety of opportunities to adapt to climate change by allowing both flora and fauna to move in response to climatic shifts. 

In addition to the numerous springs and waterfalls scattered throughout the ranch, the headwaters of the Wheatfield Fork of the Gualala River run northwest 2.1 miles through the property, and 3.6 miles of the headwaters of Rancheria Creek run south into Lake Sonoma. The Gualala River is an anadromous stream with threatened steelhead trout and Lake Sonoma supplies drinking water to cities and towns throughout Sonoma County.

“While Ag + Open Space is protecting this property because of its vast natural resources and scenic landscapes, we were also able to allow for agricultural use on the ranch through continued cattle grazing and up to 53 acres of planted vineyards,” said Louisa Morris, a Land Acquisition Specialist with Ag + Open Space. “We are always so thrilled to work on these types of projects where we can achieve multiple benefits on one property – protection of water and wildlife resources, preservation of unique scenic landscapes, continued agricultural use, and resiliency to climate change.”

The Gloeckner-Turner Ranch has been long been on land conservationists’ radar, with the expectation that the purchase price would be significant given the property’s size, development potential, and the values of other properties in the area. Last year, Ag + Open Space was working to reach agreement on a purchase price that met the landowners’ needs while staying within the agency’s budget. Fortunately, Sonoma Land Trust was willing and able to make a pivotal contribution toward the purchase that helped consummate the deal. Through the work of their staff and with the agreement of their board, they made the unprecedented move to put $250,000 from their Land Protection Fund into the ground. Additionally, they brought in the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to match their commitment.

“We were so pleased to provide the additional funds to get this project over the finish line,” said conservation director Wendy Eliot. “This is a phenomenal deal for the people of Sonoma County, which will provide numerous natural benefits for generations to come.”

The Gloeckners are an active local family with deep roots in Sonoma County. With several firefighters in the extended family, the Gloeckners plan to work with CAL FIRE to implement a forest management plan that will include fuels management and prescribed burning. The family also agreed to sell the conservation easement at a 47% discount and to allow up to four public tours annually, in coordination with Sonoma Water.

“We are very happy to partner with Ag + Open Space to protect our family ranch in perpetuity. Having the privilege to own such a large and beautiful ranch comes with a special responsibility to always conserve and protect the property and maintain open space to the extent possible,” said the Gloeckner Turner family. “The easement will provide the protection the ranch deserves while allowing agriculture to provide for family financial sustainability. We offer many thanks to Ag+ Open Space, including all of the funding partners and Supervisor Lynda Hopkins for facilitating the negotiation of the easement.” 

About Sonoma County Ag + Open Space

Sonoma County Ag + Open Space permanently protects the diverse agricultural, natural resource and scenic open space lands of Sonoma County for future generations. The agency is responsible for the perpetual protection of over 118,000 acres of land throughout our region. These agricultural and open space lands are protected through a quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1990 and reauthorized in 2006. For more information, please visit www.sonomaopenspace.org

About Sonoma Land Trust

Sonoma Land Trust believes land is the heart of the community and that when the land is healthy, the community is healthy. Since 1976, Sonoma Land Trust has protected more than 50,000 acres of scenic, natural, agricultural and open land for future generations. Sonoma Land Trust is the recipient of the National Land Trust Excellence Award 2019 by the Land Trust Alliance and is accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. For more information, please visit www.sonomalandtrust.org.

New land acquisition adds acreage to Taylor Mountain Regional Park

View from hill overlooking Santa Rosa
Cooper Creek area of Santa Rosa, California.
map of Cooper Creek


Sean Dowdall
President, Landis PR

Amy Ricard
Sonoma County Ag + Open Space

Meda Freeman
Sonoma County Regional Parks

Also creates possibility of future trail link to Santa Rosa Southeast Greenway and Trione-Annadel State Park

SANTA ROSA, CALIF — One of Sonoma County’s most popular regional parks is about to expand. Tomorrow, Sonoma Land Trust, in partnership with Regional Parks and Sonoma County Ag + Open Space, will complete an acquisition of 54 undeveloped acres immediately adjacent to and north of Taylor Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve in southeastern Santa Rosa. Named Cooper Creek, the Land Trust will immediately transfer the property upon closing to Sonoma County Regional Parks while Ag + Open Space will simultaneously protect it further with a conservation easement.

Getting more people out into nature
“This land will offer more people easy, walkable access to Taylor Mountain Regional Park and the many health and community benefits that parks provide,” says Eamon O’Byrne, executive director, Sonoma Land Trust. “Protecting Cooper Creek is part of a larger vision of ours — to create a network of parks through the heart of Santa Rosa and bring nature back to the city by restoring creeks and natural habitats.”

“We are so thankful for our partnership with Sonoma Land Trust, Ag + Open Space and the voters of Sonoma County for making park expansions like this possible. This important parcel of land will allow more trail access for neighborhoods and nearby disadvantaged communities,” says Bert Whitaker, director, Sonoma County Regional Parks.

The Cooper Creek Addition also adjoins a subdivision and was at high risk of being developed. By remaining in its natural state, it provides numerous vistas across southern Santa Rosa as well as a scenic backdrop to nearby neighborhoods. Over time, it is anticipated that the property, through a future Farmers Lane extension and associated bikeway, will facilitate trail connectivity to the long-awaited Santa Rosa Southeast Greenway — which will link up with Spring Lake Regional Park and Trione-Annadel State Park.

“This project offers a unique opportunity to expand neighborhood access to Taylor Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve, enable future connections between the park and planned urban trails, and protect riparian habitat on a scenic hillside property,” says Bill Keene, general manager, Ag + Open Space. “We are pleased to have played a significant role in protecting it.”

The creek itself
The headwaters of Cooper Creek rise on the northern slopes of Taylor Mountain. The creek then flows north onto the Cooper Creek property, where it runs for a half mile through a steep and lush canyon formed by the Rodgers Creek fault. The creek is shaded by a forest of coast live oak, California bay laurel and California buckeye. The preservation of this reach of stream is recommended in the 2014 Santa Rosa Citywide Creek Master Plan because of its value for wildlife. The riparian (streamside) area provides cover, forage and water for numerous species and is a known wildlife migration corridor.

Financing the acquisition
Funding toward the purchase price of $1,350,000 was provided by Sonoma County Ag + Open Space, Parks Measure M sales tax approved by voters in 2018, California State Parks (Habitat Conservation Fund) and the California Coastal Conservancy.

“This project exemplifies how the County agencies and the nonprofit Land Trust work together to benefit our communities and the natural world on which we depend,” says O’Byrne. “We’re all very pleased about this acquisition and how it will enhance the ability of more people in urban Santa Rosa to access the incredible parks and open spaces that surround the city.”

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 more than 50,000 acres of scenic, natural, agricultural and open land for future generations. Sonoma Land Trust is the recipient of the 2019 Land Trust Alliance Award of Excellence and is accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. For more information, please visit www.sonomalandtrust.org.

About Sonoma County Ag + Open Space

Sonoma County Ag + Open Space permanently protects the diverse agricultural, natural resource and scenic open space lands of Sonoma County for future generations. The district is responsible for the perpetual protection of over 118,000 acres of land throughout our region. These agricultural and open space lands are protected through a quarter-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1990 and reauthorized in 2006. For more information, please visit www.sonomaopenspace.org.

About Sonoma County Regional Parks

Sonoma County Regional Parks includes more than 50 parks and beaches from Petaluma to Gualala and Sonoma to Bodega Bay. Many offer wild landscapes and miles of trails. Others feature sports fields, playgrounds and campgrounds. Regional Parks also manages the county’s largest ocean marina and largest extracurricular environmental education center. Visit www.sonomacountyparks.org

Wildlife-friendly fencing for landowners


Wildlife-friendly fencing for landowners

One focus of our work in the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor (partly funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation) is to promote improvements on the landscape that help animals move more freely. With help from our wonderful volunteers, we’ve removed nearly all fencing that impeded and risked entangling animals traveling to and from our Glen Oaks Ranch Preserve, which sits within a critically important wildlife corridor in the valley. Where fences are necessary, such as for containing farm animals, then the design of the fencing can make or break animal passage. Four landowners on Sonoma Mountain, some with cattle operations, agreed to let us make “wildlife-friendly” changes to their fences to see what happened. We replaced woven-wire fence in several sections with fences specifically designed for easier wildlife passage, while keeping cows safely inside. A foreman of one of the landowners put up a couple of his own cameras to watch how the cows reacted.

The foreman recently let us know that “the wildlife-friendly fences were one of the best things that has ever happened.” He was skeptical at first, but now believes there will never be an issue with the cattle. He “garnered great joy in seeing the wildlife passing by his cameras and in simply knowing they can.” Now he and another neighbor plan to replace old fence with wildlife-friendly versions.

Sonoma Land Trust announces deal to purchase 654-acre ranch in Mayacamas with storied past — will be added to park system


Sean Dowdall
President, Landis PR

Property will expand Hood Mountain park, ridge trail and wildlife linkage — and build resiliency to wildfire and climate changes

SANTA ROSA, CALIF.  ­­— Sonoma Land Trust has signed an agreement to purchase the breathtaking and historic 654-acre McCormick Ranch, which spans the ridge between Sonoma and Napa Counties in the southern Mayacamas Mountains, for $14.5 million. The purchase is scheduled to close in November 2020 and ownership will be transferred to local park agencies. Adjacent to 7,800 acres of already protected land, the portion of the ranch in Sonoma County will be added to Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve and the Napa County parcel will be owned by Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District. Both agencies will jointly manage the new parkland.

“Acquiring such a large and wild landscape along the top of a mountain range is particularly important because of the many benefits it will bring to people and wildlife,” says John McCaull, Sonoma Land Trust’s acquisition manager for the Sonoma Valley. “From scenic vistas to new hiking opportunities, clean water, climate adaptation and managing land to reduce wildfire risks, McCormick Ranch has it all.”

Historical background
The matriarchs of McCormick Ranch
McCormick Ranch has been owned by members of the same family for 175 years. William McCormick and his family first settled the original ranch in 1844 and began raising cattle and sheep. The family was ordered by the Mexican government to leave the land shortly thereafter, but returned to the property after the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846. The ranch eventually passed to William’s son, Henry. When Henry died in a hunting accident in 1879, his wife, Molly Hudson McCormick, took over managing the ranch.

Sadly, before leaving on his ill-fated trip, Henry had sold his herd of cattle and buried the proceeds — no one knew where. With five children and no money, help or herd, Molly became a shrewd businessperson to keep her family, ranch and butcher shop afloat. When she passed away in 1905, her son John worked the ranch for another generation, raising his daughters Ina and Edna (“Babe” as Edna became known) to have a keen appreciation for the ranch’s rugged beauty as well.

Babe McCormick Learned lived on the ranch as the Napa Valley transformed into a world-renowned wine-growing region. Babe’s pioneer spirit endured: She could be found corralling rattlesnakes, searching for Henry’s buried treasure with a metal detector, and ranching with her husband and son until she lost them both during one tragic year. After their deaths in 1975, Babe and her daughter, Sandra, continued running the ranch and eventually sold 1,000 acres off to Sonoma Ag + Open Space to expand Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, now known as the McCormick Addition.

Fifth-generation Sandra Learned married Jim Perry in 1986 and, in 1997, formed a nonprofit foundation, Acorn Soupe, to provide environmental education to children in Napa and Sonoma Counties. Over the years, hundreds of schoolchildren visited McCormick Ranch to learn how to be good stewards of the land.

After Sandra’s death in 2015, Jim and their sons, Scott and Cole, began exploring the possibility of a conservation sale of their beloved family ranch to protect it forever and reached out to Sonoma Land Trust.

“My late wife came from a long line of strong women who worked the ranch,” says Jim Perry. “We knew how much they loved this land and wanted to preserve it for future generations.”

McCormick Ranch has it all
When Sonoma Land Trust considers properties to protect, it looks at an array of ecological factors and conservation targets, including watersheds, wildlife habitat, vegetation diversity, endangered and at-risk species, ability to foster climate resilience, recreational access and more. The organization also looks at the potential threats from not protecting the property, which, in this case, would include critical habitat and natural resource loss, and no public access if the land were converted to residential or agricultural use. It is zoned for up to eight estate homes and the area has considerable vineyard coverage.

Just as the Sierras collect and store much of California’s water supply, our regional mountain ranges are critical to the water resources and river health of Napa and Sonoma Counties. Situated along the crest of the Mayacamas Mountains, McCormick Ranch frequently receives three times as much rainfall as Santa Rosa and adjacent valleys. The ranch serves as Sonoma County’s “continental divide” with Napa County, with tributaries and stretches of Santa Rosa Creek, Iron Mine Creek and Bear Creek, flowing into the Russian River, Napa River and Sonoma Creek, respectively. Chances are good that some of the water that a Sonoma County resident uses today started its journey on McCormick Ranch.

The 654 acres comprising the ranch are also in the center of the Marin Coast-Blue Ridge Critical Linkage, an 85-mile wildlife movement corridor stretching from Point Reyes to the Berryessa-Snow Mountain National Monument. Protecting the ranch is particularly important for the survival of wide-ranging carnivores, like black bear and mountain lion. The property, which remains a largely pristine, natural habitat, also supports a mosaic of native plant communities, from oak woodland and forest to chaparral and grassland.

Climate change and wildfire
Landscape connectivity is the most widely cited strategy to achieve climate adaptation because it allows for the migration, movement and dispersal of wildlife and plants, resulting in healthier ecosystems. Protecting and stewarding large, intact landscapes like McCormick Ranch is one of the best strategies for improving climate resiliency. With its diverse topography and biological attributes, the ranch meets many of the criteria that scientists recommend to ensure that conservation projects are resilient to climate change.

McCormick Ranch proved critical to CAL FIRE’s efforts to combat the Nuns Fire in 2017. Its 2,500-foot-high summit was used to create a fire break and staging area that prevented the blaze from crossing into Napa County and threatening St. Helena.

Getting out on the land
A property’s suitability for public recreation is another factor that Sonoma Land Trust considers in conjunction with the potential impact on wildlife. As a relatively wild and undisturbed landscape accessible only by existing trails from Hood Mountain and Sugarloaf Ridge parks, McCormick Ranch will provide a long-anticipated connection for two- to three-day backpacking trips along a 20-mile multi-use loop trail. And with views of Mount St. Helena, the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, Sonoma Mountain, the Sonoma Coast and San Francisco Bay, McCormick Ranch will add an awe-inspiring three-mile stretch to the Bay Area Ridge Trail.

“The views from McCormick Ranch are unparalleled and will provide park visitors an experience unlike any other in the Mayacamas,” says Bert Whitaker, director of Sonoma County Regional Parks.

“From the top of ‘Big Hill’ on McCormick Ranch, visitors are treated to 360-degree views of the Sonoma Coast, San Francisco Bay and the Sierra,” says John Woodbury, general manager of Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District. “We are grateful to the Perrys for making this incomparable landscape available to us all.”

Partners and funding
Sonoma Land Trust is under contract to purchase McCormick Ranch by November 2020 and is collaborating closely on the project with Sonoma Ag + Open Space, Sonoma County Regional Parks, Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District, and the Land Trust of Napa County.

The Land Trust has spent much of the last three years working to assemble the major funding needed and has secured commitments for $12.75 million. That includes a landowner bargain sale of $3.625 million, $6.875 million from public funding sources, $2 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and $250,000 from an individual donor, leaving an additional $1.75 million to be raised by next year.

“When people support Sonoma Land Trust, they can feel good about how much their gift is leveraged,” says Eamon O’Byrne, executive director of Sonoma Land Trust. “With much of the financing already secured, we now need the community’s help to bring us over the finish line.”

After the deal closes
Upon acquiring the property, Sonoma Land Trust will immediately transfer the ranch to the Sonoma and Napa county park agencies, which will jointly own and manage the land as part of Hood Mountain Regional Park. The property will also be forever protected by two conservations easements held by Sonoma Ag + Open Space and the Land Trust of Napa County, which will spell out specific conservation values and stewardship objectives for habitat and wildlife conservation. After the purchase is completed, Sonoma County Regional Parks will initiate a planning process with public engagement to develop a management plan for the property. Once the plan and any necessary infrastructure improvements are completed, McCormick Ranch will open to the public, realizing the conservation legacy of the McCormick Family.

“We are incredibly pleased to see this wonderful addition to our county’s Regional Park system,” says Sonoma Ag + Open Space general manager Bill Keene. “Over 20 years ago, we had the good fortune to work with this family to conserve their ranch. Today, we have come full circle and are pleased to realize the long-term goal of protecting their remaining land as both a wilderness area and new public access point up on the ridge.”

For complete press kit, click here

About Sonoma Land Trust

Sonoma Land Trust believes land is the heart of the community and that when the land is healthy, the community is healthy. Since 1976, Sonoma Land Trust has protected more than 50,000 acres of scenic, natural, agricultural and open land for future generations. Sonoma Land Trust is the recipient of the National Land Trust Excellence Award 2019 by the Land Trust Alliance and is accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. For more information, please visit www.sonomalandtrust.org. #ProtectThePicture

Sonoma Land Trust receives National Land Trust Excellence Award


Sean Dowdall
President, Landis PR

SANTA ROSA, CALIF. ­— Sonoma Land Trust has been presented with the Land Trust Alliance’s 2019 National Land Trust Excellence Award. The Land Trust Alliance (LTA), a national land conservation organization working to save the places people need and love by strengthening land conservation across America, represents more than 1,000 land trusts nationwide, including Sonoma Land Trust. Each year, a leading land trust organization is honored by LTA for excelling in one or more of the following areas: broadening support for land conservation, outstanding collaboration, and outstanding communications, education and outreach.

The award was presented to Sonoma Land Trust staff and board members at LTA’s recent National Land Conservation Conference held in Raleigh, North Carolina. “It’s a privilege to give Sonoma Land Trust some of the recognition they deserve,” says Andrew Bowman, LTA’s president and CEO.

“Receiving this honor is an especially proud moment for Sonoma Land Trust and the marvelous community of volunteers, supporters and partners who were crucial in making it possible,” says Eamon O’Byrne, Sonoma Land Trust executive director. “Such peer recognition confirms that we are national leaders in protecting land for all … forever.”

Watch the award video about Sonoma Land Trust here.

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 more than 50,000 acres of scenic, natural, agricultural and open land for future generations, and is accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. For more information, please visit www.sonomalandtrust.org. #ProtectThePicture

Sonoma Land Trust adopts 10-year Diversity, Equity & Inclusion plan


Sean Dowdall
President, Landis PR

SANTA ROSA, CALIF. ­— To achieve Sonoma Land Trust’s mission of protecting the land of Sonoma County forever, we need an array of voices reflecting our community embodied in our organization, from board and staff to partners and supporters. In 2016, a group of six California land trusts, including Sonoma Land Trust, agreed to be “early adopters” of the California Coalition of Land Trusts’ (CCLT) Conservation Horizons initiative to develop organization-specific Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) plans. After three years of training and planning, Sonoma Land Trust has produced a 10-year DEI plan, which was recently adopted unanimously by our board of directors.

“At Sonoma Land Trust, we’re committed to building relationships with diverse community groups and being of service by delivering the benefits of land conservation to everyone,” says executive director Dave Koehler. “Our DEI plan calls Sonoma Land Trust into action as a welcoming organization, dedicated to providing equitable access to our programs for all people throughout the region.”

Sonoma Land Trust is a member of the national Land Trust Alliance (LTA) as well as CCLT. In 2015, both organizations published reports and a call to action challenging land trusts to reflect the demographic makeup of California and deepen their missions to provide the outdoor experiences that many Californians seek. A recent report commissioned by Green 2.0 surveyed hundreds of environmental nonprofits, agencies and foundations and found that, despite being over 30 percent of the U.S. population and supporting environmental protections at higher rates than whites, people of color, on average, make up only 12 to 16 percent of their staff and only five percent of nonprofit boards.

Sonoma Land Trust’s commitment to DEI principles is part of a coordinated effort by land trusts across California — including Big Sur Land Trust and Peninsula Open Space Trust — and the nation to bring greater diversity, equity and inclusion to their conservation work, the workplace and the communities they serve. In creating an organizational DEI plan, staff and board members from Sonoma Land Trust participated in a comprehensive training and capacity-building program that included retreats, coaching sessions and three years of committee work to produce this 10-year plan.

Read the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion plan here.

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 more than 50,000 acres of scenic, natural, agricultural and open land for future generations, and is accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. For more information, please visit www.sonomalandtrust.org. #ProtectThePicture

Sonoma Land Trust announces new leader

Elizabeth Pepin Silva


Sean Dowdall
President, Landis PR
(415) 286-7121 (cell)

Eamon O’Byrne appointed executive director as of September 9

SANTA ROSA, CALIF. — After a national search, the Sonoma Land Trust board of directors has chosen award-winning conservation leader Eamon O’Byrne of The Nature Conservancy’s California Chapter as the organization’s new executive director. O’Byrne will succeed Dave Koehler, who is retiring. O’Byrne joined The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in 2008, initially serving as the California Chapter’s associate director of operations and then, in 2013, becoming director of the California Islands Program. Recognized for his ability to manage large, multi-faceted projects, he led a team of scientists, conservation practitioners and partners in the ecological restoration and recovery of the Conservancy’s 52,000-acre Santa Cruz Island Preserve.

In this role, O’Byrne also spearheaded cross-island collaborations to protect the extraordinary biological diversity of the archipelago, widely known as the Galapagos of North America, and to develop innovative restoration tools to build resiliency into fast-changing ecosystems. In 2015, he and his team received the prestigious Endangered Species Recovery Champion Award from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their contributions to the recovery of the endangered Island fox — representing the fastest recovery of an endangered mammal in the history of the Endangered Species Act.

“Eamon has made major contributions to protecting California’s natural heritage and brings both Bay Area and worldwide connections and perspectives,” says Sonoma Land Trust board chair Allison Sanford. “We are so happy and proud to have him joining us for the next chapter of our history and look forward to great things ahead.”

Raised in Dublin, Ireland, O’Byrne, 52, developed a passion for working in conservation when he and his wife traveled across the United States on their way to California 25 years ago, visiting several National Parks along the way.

“I couldn’t believe that a country would protect so many remarkable landscapes and natural resources,” he says. “It captured my imagination and made me want to do my part to conserve more. And now, with climate change lifting the tides and scorching the land, it has become even more urgent.”

O’Byrne’s nonprofit career began in 2000 with the San Francisco Maritime National Park Association, first as the education program manager and then as executive director. In his 20s, he was active in adventure sports, serving as a professional guide and instructor in sailing, hiking and outdoor-based team building. He is also a former yacht racer, professional mariner and charter boat skipper.

“Eamon is an exciting choice and I look forward to supporting his leadership of Sonoma Land Trust into the future,” says current executive director Dave Koehler. “His breadth and depth of experience in conservation and nonprofit management, and his personal commitment to protecting biodiversity and engaging culturally diverse communities with the land will continue the Land Trust’s upward trajectory in protecting the land for everyone’s benefit.”

O’Byrne graduated from University College, Dublin, with a double major in English and history. His wife, Stephanie Linder, also a conservationist, is the executive director of the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society and former advancement director at the Sierra Club.

“When we first moved to California, I fell in love with the breathtaking coastlines and forests of Sonoma County,” says O’Byrne. “That bond has only grown stronger over the years and I’m looking forward to being part of Sonoma Land Trust’s work to make Sonoma County a resilient and thriving place for generations to come.”

O’Byrne’s first day at the Land Trust will be September 9.

Community Foundation Sonoma County grants $700,000 to Sonoma Land Trust to protect critical open space land at Sonoma Developmental Center

Hazel and Roland Todd. File photo courtesy of Community Foundation Sonoma County.


Sean Dowdall
President, Landis PR

Caitlin Childs
Community Foundation Sonoma County
(707) 303-9615

SANTA ROSA, CALIF. — Thanks to the vision of a family that cared deeply about the future of Sonoma County, the Sonoma Land Trust has received a $700,000 grant from Community Foundation Sonoma County and their regional affiliate the Sonoma Valley Fund to protect more than 700 acres of open space, trails and natural resources at the site of the former Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC). This grant is made possible by a 2009 bequest to the Foundation from Hazel and Roland Todd to help fund projects benefiting health, human services and open space protection, primarily in the Sonoma Valley. Funding from the Community Foundation will be used as a match for land acquisition and management costs as part of a coordinated, multi-agency effort to connect SDC’s remarkable open space with 9,000 acres of adjacent parks and protected lands.

Elizabeth Brown, president and CEO of Community Foundation Sonoma County, speaks to the legacy the Todds have left for the community: “The Todds’ Sonoma County roots ran incredibly deep. Roland Todd’s family had been in Kenwood since 1852, and the Valley was a unique and special place for both Roland and Hazel. We are so honored to continue to share their story through our grantmaking in partnership with the Sonoma Valley Fund, and we hope that the community will keep their memories alive and share in our gratitude when they visit this beautiful open space.”

According to John McCaull, land acquisition program manager for Sonoma Land Trust, “The legacy of protecting SDC’s open space land as a future park and wildlife corridor also honors its legacy of care for people with developmental disabilities. The Todds wanted their bequest to support priorities that linked human health and environmental protection, and that is what SDC has brought to Sonoma County for over 127 years.”

In December 2018, the State of California closed SDC as a residential hospital for people with developmental disabilities. The 200-acre developed campus along Arnold Drive in Eldridge (the census name for the property) is nestled in the middle of a much larger — and wilder — 900+ acre landscape that stretches from the slopes of Sonoma Mountain to the Valley floor.

After nearly four years of negotiations over the future of SDC, local lawmakers delivered on their promise this year to craft a deal with the State of California for protection of the property’s open space and wildlife corridor lands, while also funding a reuse plan for the 200-acre developed campus. The $43 million agreement — which was approved by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on April 5 and is included in the State’s FY 2019−2020 budget — funds basic upkeep of the campus and infrastructure for three years and provides $3.5 million to Sonoma County to create a specific plan for SDC pursuant to the County’s general plan.

While the County administers the specific planning and community engagement process, there is a parallel effort led by state and county park agencies to prepare for expanding Jack London State Historic Park and Sonoma Valley Regional Park to include SDC’s open space lands. Funds from the Community Foundation grant will be used for the purchase of a conservation easement over portions of the SDC property, and to fund the rehabilitation, restoration and improvement of the property’s trails. All parties are working to make the transfer happen concurrently with the adoption of the County specific plan in late 2021.

Sonoma Land Trust is working in partnership with the members of the SDC Coalition Lands Committee, including Sonoma County Regional Parks, Sonoma County Ag + Open Space, Sonoma Ecology Center, Jack London Park Partners and Sonoma Mountain Preservation.

Community and environmental significance
SDC’s open space property stretches from the oak woodlands along Highway 12 to redwood groves high up in Sonoma Mountain’s creek canyons; it is also situated in the heart of the Sonoma Valley Wildlife Corridor, a narrow linkage of wildlife habitat connecting Point Reyes to the mountains of Napa and Lake Counties. Protecting SDC’s open space land adds a critical “missing piece” of a puzzle to connect all the adjacent lands, opening an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities and preserving a large greenbelt between Sonoma and Glen Ellen that creates a natural, open landscape and a buffer to development.

Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin has represented the First District — an area that includes the Sonoma Developmental Center property — since 2012 and has been instrumental in negotiations with the State of California about the future of the SDC property. “The Sonoma Developmental Center is the jewel in the crown of Sonoma Mountain — a significant part of the watershed and landscape in Sonoma Valley. The grant to Sonoma Land Trust will help to preserve in perpetuity the undeveloped land on SDC.”

“We’re thrilled to see this project moving forward with a combination of public and private funding to protect this key open space area,” said Bill Keene, general manager for Ag + Open Space. “While we have worked with the State in the past to acquire portions of SDC to add to Jack London State Park and Sonoma Valley Regional Park,  we haven’t had an opportunity quite like this one to protect such a large piece of land that provides so many benefits to both our human and natural communities. We look forward to continuing to work with the coalition of partners to protect forever this critical wildlife corridor and extraordinary natural area.”

A 2015 assessment prepared by Sonoma County Ag + Open Space concluded that SDC is “integral to the character of the Sonoma Valley and the ecological health of the North Bay.” Similarly, protecting the open space lands that serve as critical habitat, riparian corridors, groundwater recharge and the watershed has long been recognized as vital to not just the Sonoma Valley, but to the larger regional community.”

About Community Foundation Sonoma County

Community Foundation Sonoma County is the hub of philanthropy for the county, connecting people, ideas and resources to benefit all who live here. Founded in 1983, CFSC works with philanthropists to create plans that will make an impact in our community and become part of their family’s legacy. In the Sonoma Valley, this work is done in partnership with the Sonoma Valley Fund, an affiliate group of dedicated local advisors who encourage philanthropy in the community and support the foundation’s grantmaking. For more information, please visit sonomacf.org

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 more than 50,000 acres of scenic, natural, agricultural and open land for future generations, and is accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. For more information, please visit www.sonomalandtrust.org. #ProtectThePicture

In landmark decision, judge upholds law protecting conservation land in Sonoma County

The photo displays the extent of damage during the removal of one of the protected heritage oak trees from the conservation easement property by the Thompsons. There was further damage to the CE property when the tree was dragged 1/3 mile to be placed on the adjacent property to enhance the landscape of their new home.


Sheri Cardo
Director of Communications
(707) 526-6930 x111

Nina Erlich-Williams
Public Good PR
O: (510) 336-9566
C: (415) 577-1153

Sonoma Land Trust delivers on its promise to “protect the land of Sonoma County forever”

SANTA ROSA, CALIF. — On April 16, Superior Court Judge Patrick Broderick entered a judgment that forcefully upholds the Sonoma Land Trust’s authority to protect natural resources through conservation easements, and enforces a key law used by land trusts to permanently protect land from development.

In the case of Sonoma Land Trust v Thompson, Case No. SCV-258010Judge Broderick upheld the Land Trust’s actions and claims to restore an environmentally sensitive parcel in an area of Sonoma County known as Bennett Valley, outside of Glen Ellen. The court found that the owners’ unlawful actions killed heritage oak trees and destroyed a portion of the ecosystem on the protected land. The judge ordered payment of $586,289 into an escrow account to fund restoration of the damaged ecosystem. Sonoma Land Trust, which holds the conservation easement, will restore the property.

“Sonoma Land Trust made a promise to the donor and a commitment to the community to protect the integrity of properties covered by conservation easements,” stated Dave Koehler, executive director of Sonoma Land Trust. “Our citizens believe strongly in protecting our natural resources and have demonstrated this belief by providing tax breaks to landowners whose properties include conservation easements. It is essential that both landowners of protected properties and taxpayers can trust Sonoma Land Trust to do our part in ensuring that these conservation easements are honored and the lands are protected forever.”

The land in question was voluntarily placed under a conservation easement in 2009 by the previous owners, Katherine and Peter Drake. In donating the easement to Sonoma Land Trust, the Drakes intended to protect this land in its natural state in perpetuity. “When we purchased this lovely 34-acre parcel, it appeared to have been untouched for many decades. The easement was intended to protect this special land forever, regardless of who owned the property,” said Katherine Drake.

Conservation easements are voluntary, permanent agreements that private landowners place over their lands to protect important natural resources forever. They are developed in partnership with land trusts, like Sonoma Land Trust, which agree to protect the conservation values and uphold the terms of the conservation easement in perpetuity. The land stays in private ownership and the conservation easement becomes part of the permanent title record. Future landowners are required to follow all the terms of the conservation easement.

Toni and Peter Thompson purchased the Drake property in 2013 with full knowledge of the easement. The court found that they committed numerous violations of the easement while building a compound on their adjoining vineyard. “While we’re disappointed that litigation was required to enforce the easement,” said Drake, “we’re grateful to Sonoma Land Trust for taking the necessary action to protect and restore the land we placed in its care.”

The easement permanently protects the ecological and scenic values of the property, which includes an exceptionally intact ecosystem dominated by undisturbed native vegetation rarely seen in Sonoma County today. It prohibits or significantly restricts most activities on the protected property, including building roads, cutting trees, grading soils, dumping waste, altering drainage and planting new vegetation.

The Thompsons’ illegal actions included hiring contractors with heavy equipment to excavate three heritage oak trees located on the protected property (one very large tree was estimated to have been 180 years old) and then dragging the trees through shallow and sensitive soils to the adjoining Henstooth Ranch, where the trees were to enhance the landscape of a new home and accessory buildings. Additional harm resulted from bulldozing a 1/3-mile road cut to haul the trees, killing and removing 12 more trees in the process, and dumping pond sediment laden with invasive weeds onto the protected property.

The court found that the Thompsons systematically concealed these actions and related damage from Sonoma Land Trust. The Thompsons repeatedly resisted efforts by Sonoma Land Trust to evaluate the extent of the destruction and develop a realistic restoration plan. The court also concluded that, without the Land Trust’s knowledge or permission, the Thompsons regraded the property and planted non-native grass in an attempt to cover up their violations. According to the court, these cosmetic measures, which also violated the easement, failed to restore the ecology of the property and instead caused further damage. Left with no other choice to protect and restore the property, Sonoma Land Trust took legal action to enforce the terms of the easement through the courts.

“The significance of the outcome in this case cannot be overstated,” added Sarah Sigman, attorney with Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP, the law firm that represented Sonoma Land Trust in the case. “Conservation easements are legally binding and people who purchase land under easement must understand that protecting these properties is not optional.”

Today’s decision by the court affirms the validity of the Drake Family Easement and finds that the Thompsons intentionally violated its terms. The remedy is for the violators to pay to restore the property as closely as possible to its condition prior to the destruction that they caused. Sonoma Land Trust will oversee the property’s restoration.

Andrew Bowman, president of the national Land Trust Alliance, emphasized the importance of the court’s decision: “Land trusts across the country have a permanent obligation to hold and protect conservation easements forever, often long after ownership of the land changes hands. The Land Trust Alliance is pleased that the court recognized the importance of this protected place, the strength of Sonoma Land Trust’s conservation easement, and the intent of the donor who so generously protected it.”

Land trusts throughout the United States work together to identify best practices and support each other in protecting conservation easements. Sonoma Land Trust was able to enforce the Drake Family Conservation Easement, in part, due to its participation in, and support from, Terrafirma Risk Retention Group, a conservation defense liability insurance charitable risk pool owned by the 528 insured land trusts across America.

With this court decision in place, landowners and donors can feel confident that Sonoma Land Trust will make good on its promise to protect the land of Sonoma County forever.  

The trial was conducted between July 27 and September 14, 2018 before the Sonoma County Superior Court. Read the court’s decision.

Sonoma Land Trust is a non-governmental, nonprofit organization funded largely by membership contributions. Its purpose is to protect the land of Sonoma County forever. Since 1976, Sonoma Land Trust has protected more than 50,000 acres of scenic, natural, agricultural and open land for future generations. It is accredited by the national Land Trust Accreditation Commission and, like more than 400 land trusts across the country, has adopted the Standards and Practices set forth by the national Land Trust Alliance. For more information, please visit www.sonomalandtrust.org. #ProtectThePicture

Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, LLP is a law firm specializing in government, land use, renewable energy and environmental law. Since 1980, the firm has provided public agencies, nonprofits, tribes and community groups with the highest quality legal representation, offering an array of litigation, regulatory, counseling and planning services.