In the mid 1970s a group of Sonoma Valley residents realized the surrounding landscapes they treasured were at risk. At the suggestion of noted environmentalist Otto Teller they went to the Trust for Public Land in San Francisco to see if they could get money to buy the properties. TPL pointed to the success of land trusts in New England and advised the group to form a local land trust. Thus, the Sonoma Land Trust came into being – around the same time as the Peninsula Open Space Trust in the South Bay and the Marin Agricultural Land Trust a few years later. Many seeds were planted in the 1970s
The Early Protected Lands
Operating initially as a volunteer organization with a land consultant, the Trust expanded its focus from Sonoma Valley to the entire county. Early acquisitions included an outright gift from Anne and Otto Teller of the 300-acre Secret Pasture above Glen Ellen, a 535-acre agricultural conservation easement over the Watson Ranch along Highway 101 north of Petaluma (the county's first permanent agricultural preserve) and a conservation easement covering 1,068 acres near the coastal town of Elk in Mendocino County.
Year by year the Trust took on more protected lands, both preserves to own and manage and properties covered by conservation easements including ones that protect stands of old growth redwoods, working farms, varied plant communities and oak woodlands. When Charlie Laufenburg passed away in 1987 he left his historic ranch in Knights Valley to the Trust because he wanted it to go to "an outfit that wouldn't sell it."
Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation & Open Space District
Land conservation in Sonoma County was turbo-charged in 1990 with the creation by the voters of the quarter-cent sales-tax-funded Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District. The nonprofit Sonoma Land Trust and the County Open Space District have virtually identical missions and work closely to leverage each other’s efforts. Together the Trust and the District have permanently protected over 100,000 acres, with the Trust bringing a focus of habitat restoration to owned and managed lands.
Working on a Landscape Scale
In the 21st Century, Sonoma Land Trust has been able to work on a landscape scale; that is, with many individual parcels of land protected, the focus has shifted to making connections and protecting systems such as watersheds and trail and wildlife corridors as well as agricultural lands and working landscapes.
Regional Conservation Plans
With funding from our key partner, the California State Coastal Conservancy, the Land Trust undertook a Russian River/North Coast Parcel Analysis in 2002 documenting the conservation opportunities that exist on the coast from the mouth of the Russian River north to the mouth of the Gualala River. The following year, again with funding from the Coastal Conservancy, the Land Trust with our colleagues at the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation completed a Laguna de Santa Rosa: Resource Atlas and Protection Plan.
In 2002 Glen Ellen resident Joan Cochran passed away and left her historic Glen Oaks Ranch to the Land Trust. Glen Oaks is adjacent to Secret Pasture and the Bouverie Preserve operated by Audubon Canyon Ranch. Like Laufenburg Ranch, Little Black Mountain in Cazadero, and the Estero Americano Preserve on the Sonoma-Marin border, Glen Oaks is an Anchor Preserve owned and managed by Sonoma Land Trust that gives us an important presence as community landowners.
The Sonoma Land Trust acquired its first Baylands property along Highway 37 in the mid 1980s. Other acquisitions followed, culminating in the purchase of the Dickson Ranch in 2004 and the North Point Joint Venture property in 2005. Together, these properties comprise the Sears Point Restoration Project integrating agriculture with a segment of the Bay Trail and large scale habitat and tidal wetlands restoration. Today the Land Trust owns or holds easements over most of the land on both sides of Highway 37 from the Petaluma River to Sears Point and Tolay Creek, excluding the Port Sonoma marina.
For 40 years the Sonoma Land Trust has been a vehicle for people with passion, persistence and a love of the land to come together to protect forever one of the most beautiful counties in America.