Lower Pitkin Marsh
Russian River Watershed
Small and Remarkable Pitkin Marsh
Sometimes, the small story is the big story. A tiny, largely unknown, generally unattractive sedge grows among the seeps and springs in a small, relatively unknown marshland in western Sonoma County. It’s only 27 acres. Still, in the neighbors’ eyes and hearts there is a big story: This little marsh may be the only place in the world in which the white sedge exists!
The white sedge (Carex albida), previously thought to be extinct, was identified in 1983 in Pitkin Marsh, located in the Atascadero Creek watershed along a stretch of Highway 116. Here, a complex interaction of soil structure, hydrology and chemistry creates unusual conditions that support the only known population of white sedge, has an assemblage of other rare wetland plants that don’t often grow together and also hosts the rare Pitkin lily. Pitkin Marsh has been identified as one of Sonoma County’s most important biological habitats for rare plant species for decades now and is a target for preservation, which is why Sonoma Land Trust became involved in protecting it to prevent potential development.
Previously envisioned as the site of a residential care facility, Sonoma Land Trust purchased the 27 acres on the Lower Pitkin Marsh in 2001 after neighbors and members of Friends of Pitkin Marsh contacted us and helped raise the community attention and funds necessary for its preservation. With the encouragement and support of this community, the California Native Plant Society, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and with funding from Sonoma Ag + Open Space and the California Wildlife Conservation Board, the Land Trust was able to purchase the property in 2001.
The primary management goal for Pitkin Marsh is the protection of rare, endangered and other sensitive plant species and wildlife communities that inhabit its mixed habitat. This preserve also provides improved connectivity for wildlife moving through other nearby protected lands. Stewardship funds to develop a management plan for the preserve and to perform key management actions to help protect the rare species were secured via grants from the Partners for Wildlife program of USFWS, a Supplemental Environmental Project from Graton Community Services District, and additional funds provided by Sonoma Ag + Open Space.
A Unique Habitat
In addition to the white sedge, Pitkin Marsh is home to the Pitkin lily and rare assemblages of beaked rushes. Many of the plants are endemic to Sonoma County and have been in decline for many years due to loss of habitat, changing water systems and competition with exotic species. The property’s wetlands — complex mixed native riparian, marsh, oak woodland, grasslands, unique perennial wet freshwater marshland and quaking bogs — have been recognized and studied for many years for their unique physical habitat characteristics and significant botanical attributes.
Land Trust staff and volunteers carefully manage the preserve and its rare species through mowing and hand removal of non-native grasses, particularly around the white sedge. These management methods help the sedge compete against exotic and invasive species by giving them more sunlight and room to grow. We want to improve the habitat and increase the number of sedge plants so they can continue to persist.
No matter how small, how unimportant it may seem to the rest of the busy world, here in Sonoma County, we see this as a big win.