The Jenner Headlands — Protected Forever!

December 17, 2009

Sonoma Land Trust acquires iconic coastal property

After a five-year quest, and in spite of significant hurdles related to California’s economic crisis, the Sonoma Land Trust closed escrow December 17, 2009 and acquired the stunning 5,630-acre Jenner Headlands — a nationally significant project and the single largest conservation land acquisition in Sonoma County. This $36 million purchase was completed due to the extraordinary efforts and collaboration of 10 public and private funding partners.

“This is an example of what can be achieved, even in these challenging times, when we work together,” said Amy Chesnut, Sonoma Land Trust acquisitions director and manager of this project from the outset. “We’ve been fortunate to have conservation-minded landowners and enthusiastic partners all willing to do what was necessary to make this deal succeed. It’s been an outstanding collaboration on behalf of the public and future generations.”

Located north of the town of Jenner where the Russian River meets the Pacific Ocean, and extending two-and-a-half miles along Highway 1 and inland toward Cazadero, this one-of-a-kind coastal treasure has it all — rich habitat for fish and wildlife, dramatic views, extensive opportunities for future recreation and a spectacular segment of the California Coastal Trail.

“Along with its sheer scenic beauty that all of us will now be able to enjoy, the vast ecological values of this intact landscape will also help us and other species adapt to the effects of climate change,” said Efren Carrillo, Sonoma County Fifth District Supervisor. “Instead of a handful of estate homes, we’ll have thousands of acres of diverse habitat and, in the future, many miles of hiking trails, all protected forever.”

Acquisition funding

Financial support for this acquisition was provided through grants and loans from the following agencies and organizations:

  • Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District ($9.15 million);
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program ($5.85 million);
  • USDA Forest Service, Forest Legacy Program ($1 million);
  • Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation ($4 million); and
  • The Wildlands Conservancy, Save the Redwoods League, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, which provided bridge loans totaling $16 million to make the acquisition possible in advance of anticipated grant funds from the State Coastal Conservancy and Wildlife Conservation Board.

“The Jenner Headlands is an immense and incomparable treasure, and its protection has been sought for decades by the land conservation community,” said Sam Schuchat, executive officer of the Coastal Conservancy. “We are inspired by the Sonoma Land Trust’s ability to enlist so many funders and bring this extraordinary project to fruition, especially during this very difficult time in California.”

In addition to their funding contributions for the acquisition, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District have agreed to contribute $2 million and $1 million, respectively, to support the Land Trust’s management, stewardship and public access activities for the property. The property was purchased from Sonoma Coast Associates, Gualala Redwoods, Inc. and Russian River Redwoods, all interrelated companies. As part of the transaction, the sellers have donated $1 million to support the Sonoma Land Trust’s efforts.

“This is one of the most spectacularly beautiful tracts of land on the entire Pacific Coast. We are so pleased to be a part of this transaction,” said Ollie Edmunds, CEO of Gualala Redwoods, Inc. “We are glad that the new owners are passionately committed to caring for and protecting this beautiful tract of land after closing today,” added David Ferreira, Russian River Redwoods resident partner.

Property management and public access

The Sonoma Land Trust will own and manage the Jenner Headlands for several years until an organization or agency is identified as the permanent owner. The Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District will hold a conservation easement on the property that removes the threat of development and requires that the land be managed to protect and enhance the natural resources, which are plentiful:

  • 13 habitat types;
  • 8 watersheds;
  • 8-1/2 miles of streams;
  • 3,100 acres of redwood and Douglas fir forest;
  • 1,500 acres of rare coastal prairie; and
  • numerous threatened and endangered species, including the northern spotted owl, steelhead trout, Coho salmon, peregrine falcon, red tree vole and osprey.

The Sonoma Land Trust is committed to balancing the protection of these sensitive resources with public use. The first order of business will be to conduct natural and cultural resource assessments to inform the development of a comprehensive resource management plan. During this time, guided hikes will be offered regularly by the Land Trust and its recreational partners on the coastal portion of the property beginning in January, 2010. Throughout this initial phase, which is expected to last from one to two years, ways to provide broader, multi-use access will be explored.

“This is a good day for conservation in California — the protection of this rare and remarkable property is the right outcome for the public and our wildlife,” said John Donnelly, executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Board.

“It was a long time in coming, but it is a thrill to be able to add the Jenner Headlands to the sweep of permanently protected lands along the Sonoma coast,” said Ralph Benson, executive director of the Sonoma Land Trust. “There is a 19th Century etching of the Jenner Headlands showing the Russian River flowing into the Pacific, and it’s a wonder to know that the old Rule Ranch will look as open, beautiful and wild in the 21st Century as it did through time immemorial.”